Last month I went to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and I had a great time there (If you’re interested, you can read my experience at BCBF18 and some tips here). One of my pleasures at the fair is to see beautiful picture books from all over the world and buy books that are not available in UK. This year I bought a Spanish book illustrated by my favourite illustrator Raphaël Urwiller, ¿Cuánta tierra necesita un hombre?, written by Annelise Heurtier (Ediciones Ekare 2016) and a beautiful Portuguese ABC book, Hoje Sinto-me… by Madalena Moniz (Orfeu Negro 2014). For this month’s pick, however, I’m going to share a poetic, paper engineering masterpiece I bought in Bolonga, The Forest, written by Riccardo Bozzi and illustrated by Valerio Vidali and Violeta Lopiz (English edition, Enchanted Lion Books 2018).
Every year during the BCBF, a little cafe/bar called Zoo in Bologna hosts cool picture book related exhibitions and events. My friend and I went to Beatrice Alemagna’s exhibition last year, and going to a Zoo exhibition has soon become our tradition in Bologna. This year we went to see this exhibition for The Forest and I fell in love with the artwork and bought a copy of the book on the spot.
The book is about a forest and explorers’ journey through it. The forest is a metaphor for the various stages of life and we’re the explorers. Sounds heavy for a picture book? Fear not! Riccardo Bozzi’s words are simple and poetic.
The forest begins with just a grove of young pine trees and it gradually transforms to a progressively more crowded forest, then barren woodland as pages turn. The book is also alternated by white pages of debossed face with die-cut eyes through which parts of the forest behind are visible. The first face starts as a baby and it gradually grows older as the forest develops.
In the forest, as youths, the explorers just study insects and invent games with simple awe. Later they encounter fellow travellers and develop rivalry or love. But ultimately, “there is a ravine into which each explorer will eventually fall, despite the precautions taken and the advancements of science.” What follows it a poignant ‘ending’, suggesting a circle of life. I particularly like the final blank pages for contemplation.
The watercolour illustrations of the forest by Valerio Vidali and Violeta Lopiz are stunning. Vibrant colours and gorgeous composition. They provide perfect settings for the white, embossed explorers to wonder through.
Also, physically this book is a piece of art. The paper engineering (embossing, debossing, die cutting) is what makes this book so special. The English edition even comes with a translucent jacket overlaying more vibrant vegetation over the title-less cover.
Recently UK free newspaper Metro reported, “SOME nursery and reception class children are so used to mobile phones and tablets they try to ‘swipe left’ to turn the page when first handed a book, a teachers’ conference heard.” The short article basically said children have less access to books because increasing number of public libraries have been closed due to funding cuts and “For too many families, books are a luxury they cannot afford”. (I personally find the last bit is ridiculous as you can buy a book from a charity shop for like £1.) Nevertheless, the increase in public library closures is a tragedy and the phenomenon of decreasing young book readers is concerning.
OK, I must admit The Forest is more expensive than an usual picture book (I bought my copy for €25). But this book reminds us why a hard copy is the best form of books. The physicality of books – size, weight, colours, textures and smells – makes reading experience richer and more stimulating. So treat yourself or your kids for beautiful books like The Forest because you deserve it 🙂