Silent Books: On the move again!

Silent Book Project_penni_retaille.jpgLampedusa’s amazing first silent picture book collection was at the heart of a recent IBBY UK/IBBY France/IBBY Italia project. It was created almost by accident and has moved at a whirlwind pace since its inception, surprising all those involved and instigating much cross-cultural co-operation. Livres sans Paroles: Destination Lampedusa was set up in the small book-town of Montolieu, in the south of France, as the theme for its 2016 festival of children’s literature.  The seed was sown when Sue Mansfield (IBBY UK) asked Dr Penni Cotton (NCRCL, Roehampton University London) if she had any thoughts about how the silent book collection might be ‘read’ by a wider audience. As Penni spends part of the year in Montolieu - village du livre - and knew that a local artist had created a large painting entitled Lampedusa, she put the two ideas together…

Silent Book Project_montolieu_retaille.jpgAfter initial discussions with the association Montolieu Village du Livre –  Musée des Arts et Métiers du Livre, things moved at a rapid pace with help from Hasmig Chahinian (IBBY France), Deborah Soria (IBBY Italia) and Liz Page, IBBY’s Executive Director. In what seemed like no time at all, the 108 books in the first silent book collection arrived in Montolieu, were ‘read’ by Penni and distributed (according to suitability) to the three primary school classes and the library. The teachers and librarian then explained to the pupils why the collection had been created and, over a period of six weeks, shared the visual narratives with all the primary school children in Montolieu.

The 108 wordless picture books from around the world were available at all times for the children to read alone or share with their friends and, at the end of the project, were displayed by the Association Montolieu Village du Livre in the Musée des Arts et Métiers du Livre  for the general public to ‘read’.

As well as reading the visual stories, the idea began to develop of creating three wordless picture books (one per class) for the library in Lampedusa. These books, it was hoped, would tell the children on the other side of the Mediterranean a little bit about Montolieu. The chief protagonist in this part of the project was ‘Harillo’, creator of the painting Lampedusa. He spent a great deal of time with the children in his workshop and in their classrooms, helping them to plan their silent picture books and design the characters. The older children’s narrative: Montolieu, mon village builds up a visual narrative of their village; each page adding a little more to the final collage. The middle age-range decided that they would like send their own version of a classic French tale, and so created Le Petit Chaperon Rouge. In each case, the children made black and white sketches and ‘Harillo’ chose specific elements of each child’s work and transformed them into a coherent visual story. 
The youngest class was helped by another local artist, Philippe Aïni, who worked with them in Montolieu’s modern art museum La Coopérative – Collection Cérès Franco to create their silent book: Les bestioles de Montolieu. Aïni’s flair for the unusal complemented Harillo’s style and, together with illustrator Nathalie Louveau (who helped the older children to add movement to their characters), the teachers and the association Montolieu Village du Livre – Musée des Arts et Métiers du Livre (who helped the children to bind their books), three very professional visual narratives were created.

At the end of six weeks’ very hard work, the children gave a presentation at the Coopérative – Collection Cérès Franco, on the first evening of Montolieu’s children’s literature festival, in front of an audience of over 150 parents, children and the general public. They spoke about some of the silent books they had read and how the visual stories had given them ideas for creating their own wordless picture books to send to the children of Lampedusa. 
On the second evening, Hasmig Chahinian very eloquently explained how IBBY was created and the work that the organisation has been doing world-wide, highlighting IBBY Italia’s Silent Books: Final Destination Lampedusa. After this Penni Cotton outlined the 6 week project that had been going on in Montolieu and, as she had been taking photos in the classrooms, workshops and museums, was able to tell a visual story of events!
Each evening finished in truly French style with apéritifs offered by the parent/children’s association of Montolieu and the Mairie respectively. Thanks were given to everybody who had worked so hard on the project – not forgetting the bookshops, art galleries and local shopkeepers who had all helped to publicise the festival. This project, however, could not have become such a success without the support of IBBY members, many of whom attended the 23rd Annual NCRCL MA/IBBY UK Conference, on Saturday 5th November 2016 Froebel College, University of Roehampton, entitled: Marvellous Imaginations – Extending thinking through picturebooks where Penni Cotton spoke about the cultural implications of projects, such as the one in Montolieu, for extending imagination with silent picturebooks, crossing boundaries and helping children to understand more about their neighbours across the seas; and Deborah Soria asked: Where are we now? as well as discussing the third Silent Book Collection for Lampedusa.