iBbY Books come to the School of Education

iBbY Books come to the School of Education

Issued: Fri, 09 Feb 2018 11:54:00 GMT

'What makes a book silent?’ may sound like the start of a joke from a Christmas cracker, but it’s a question that staff and students at the School of Education have been trying to answer using a collection of wordless picturebooks on temporary loan from the International Board on Books for Young People (iBbY), the international children’s literature association.

Also known as wordless picturebooks (the ‘silent’ comes from the Italian translation), this travelling exhibition is a copy of a collection assembled in 2012 by iBbY members from across five continents as part of a powerful response to the influx of refugees arriving on the tiny Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.  With the original books now housed in a purpose-built library that is accessible to all, migrants and locals alike, the aim of the touring version is to bring these stories and experiences to a far broader audience.

What makes these book silent is their wordlessness or predominantly visual nature. With the stumbling block of words removed, the beauty of a wordless text comes from the fact that readers of all ages, stages and tongues can engage with its images in ways that seem more fluid, open-ended and democratic. This is not to say that the books are culture-free: on the contrary, many of them offer window-like insights into other ways of being and doing that are simultaneously similar and different to our own.

Our events linked to the books started with a series of drop-in browsing sessions that were open to staff and students from all over the university. Hosted by our growing team of children’s literature and literacies staff and PhD students, the sessions were intended to be informal spaces for reading and discussing the books in as much (or as little) depth as desired. Some of the most enthusiastic readers came from our current cohort of student teachers, who left the sessions with notepads bulging with titles and ideas of possible lesson plans inspired by the books. Many other people simply enjoyed the pleasure that came from wandering around the collection. The books were also read and enjoyed during seminars with our MEd Children’s Literature and Literacies students, who considered how the collection could be extended even further still to include texts from their home countries and contexts.

In our final days with the books, we held a very well-attended workshop, involving participants from both inside and outside of the University, including colleagues from the Scottish Book Trust. Led by senior lecturer Dr Evelyn Arizpe, who introduced the collection and explained the power  and potential of their wordlessness, the focus of the afternoon was very firmly on readers’ responses to the books. Several volunteers had offered to ‘adopt’ a book earlier in the month, and took to the visualiser to share their ideas, questions and enthusiasm with the rest of the room. We are planning to collate all of the ‘adoption’ information together into one document and will make this available to all.

Just as iBbY volunteers continue to use these books with the temporary, multilingual residents of Lampedusa, we have loved sharing them with our student teachers, researchers and staff here at Glasgow. They have introduced us to new models of storytelling, while drawing our attention to the vast quantity of quality texts that have literally become ‘lost in translation’ due to the current publishing climate and dominance of Western texts. And, as ironic as it sounds, we have also discovered that silent books are quite noisy things. The sessions we organised were filled with exclamations, recommendations, conversations linked to meaning-making and brow-scratching, but most loudly of all, laughter.


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