Korean picture book wins top prize of Bologna fair
A picture is worth a thousand words. It is particularly true for children living in different places and cultures. A Korean picture book “A House of The Mind: Maum” (Changbi Publishers) by author Kim Hee-kyung and Polish illustrator Iwona Chmielewska, has won the Ragazzi Award in the non-fiction category for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair slated for Feb. 28 to March 31.
It is the first time for a Korean book to win the grand prize in the fair. The Ragazzi Award is one of the most prestigious recognitions in the sector because publishers around the world submit their best productions with an extraordinary quality of candidates. The award consisting of four categories — fiction, non-fiction, new horizons and opera prima — is given to the works which excel in creativity, educational values and artistic editorial designs among the books published for the last two years around the world.
Established in 1966, the award is growing in influence, and is equivalent to the Nobel Prize in Literature in children’s books. The winners will also give a presentation in front of a large audience at the Illustrator’s Cafe there during the fair.
The jury praised the work by saying: “This book is a short elegant poem. It resounds with the silence beloved by Italian Metaphysical painters. Abstract geometrical forms are executed with pictorial mastery. Allusive constructions trigger philosophical dialogue with the figures ... Everything in this remarkably different, unaffected book — gestures, dreams, memories and quotations — is imbued with a ‘vision of the world.’ It is a vision as intense and rarefied as the interiors portrayed, and like them take time to contemplate and absorb. Books like this one do honor children’s literature.”
Kim and Chmielewska collaborated for the book, which was published in Korea last year, after the Polish illustrator was inspired by Kim’s story and decided to draw pictures reflecting Kim’s philosophical messages.
“I am very glad because my book can be widely read for a long time due to the award. I am sorry for other many good candidates that applied for the award,” Kim told The Korea Times.
The story is about the mind, which is invisible but more important than anything else. The book asks philosophical questions such as, “Where is the mind?”; “What is the mind like?”; and “Who is the owner of the mind?” and envisions them through a house.
“These days, many people judge others mostly by their appearances rather than their inner self. So I want to strengthen the importance of the mind for children. Although it’s invisible, it’s very important,” she said.
The 34-year-old author used a house as a metaphor for the mind, in reference to expressions such as “mind opens” and “closes” and is “broken” in Korean. When a house is tightly closed and doesn’t let anybody in, we have to go up many stairs, sometimes 100 or 1,000 stairs to reach the door of the house. Sometimes, it rains all day long outside the house. The metaphor is creatively expressed in a mixture of Chmielewska’s pictorial artistry.
Kim graduated from Ewha Womans University and works as an educational planner for Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, and currently is undertaking an art project for the Momo Museum to develop exhibitions for blind children and Braille picture books. The book is the result of her endeavors to communicate with the blind through her aesthetic visions.
“Most blind children read books that carry information and knowledge. They are also necessary but I think they need the picture books too, although they are not able to actually see them. So I have tried to develop Braille picture books that can provoke imagination and creativity for them,” she said.
“A House of the Mind: Maum” is her second book in collaboration with an illustrator. “Maps Are Always Talking to Me,” which was published in Korea and Germany, is her first picture book in conjunction with Polish illustrator Krystyna Lipka-Sztarballo.
Her passion for inspiring blind children with imagination and creativity will go on as Kim’s new book “12 Birds” (working title) written in Braille will be released later in the first half of the year.
“I want to try to help many blind children envision their dream through diverse picture books and rich emotions,” she said.
Chmielewska, who was born in Torun, Poland, has released some 20 books and particularly is loved by Koreans as her books have been published here. The illustrator studied graphic art in the Department of Fine Art at Copernicus University and her picture books are highly acclaimed for her philosophical stories, the unique collages with different kinds of paper and cloth, and her various coloring techniques. She has also received the Pro Bologna Award and Book Art Award at the Warsaw International Book Fair. In 2007, she received the BIB Golden Apple Award with her book.
The award ceremony will take place on March 28 at Palazzo d’Accursio in Bologna, Italy. Some 200 publishers from 45 countries have applied for the Ragazzi Award and of them, 17 Korean publishers submitted 66 works.
Another Korean picture book “The Stories Shouldn’t Be True” with text and illustrations by author Gang Gyeong-su and published by Sigong Junior won a mention award in the same category.
The book deals with human rights around the globe and the reality and the sorrow of children hit by injustice and violence through illustrations. “These children speak for all those who are silenced. The book’s compositional harmony and poetic lend a solemn dignity to this tale of suffering,” the jury said.
Also, five Korean illustrators — Hong Ji-hae, Oh Jung-taek, Oh Seung-hee, Park Jeong-wan, Kim Yu — were included in the List of the Selected Illustrators 2011.
The fair is the most prominent international event dedicated to the children’s publishing industry. Renowned authors, illustrators, literary agents, booksellers and librarians attend every year. For this year’s fair, Lithuania is the Guest of Honor of the Illustrators Exhibition.