10 Most Beautiful Polish Children’s Books of 2018
#language & literature
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Children’s Books of 2018, Polish Section of IBBY, photo: press materials from the organiser, center, ibby.jpg
Dark stories about inequality, growing up and… vegetables. Books teaching the history of culture, feminism and patriotism. Culture.pl presents 2018's 10 most beautiful children’s books – as selected by the Polish Section of the International Board of Books for Young People (IBBY).
Honours for visual design:
Emila Dziubak, 'Horror', Gereon publishing house
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Cover and illustration from the book ‘Horror’, illustrated by Emilia Dziubak, photo: Gereon
A child, growing up in the countryside, has accidentally caught sight of a chicken having its head cut off – and will never forget it. Even the most beautifully served meat will never look the same at dinner. But what about fruit and vegetables? Is peeling a potato an innocent act, or is it the scalping of a living being?
Horror, written by Magdalena Szeliga and illustrated by Emilia Dziubak, is a frightening story full of dark humour. It contains no monsters or ghosts, but a fruit-and-vegetable danse macabre which takes place in the kitchen every day. If your kids remain indifferent to the fate of a tomato dying in spasms, it will surely make for some kind of parenting opportunity. But regardless of that, Horror will open your eyes.
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The illustrator of Horror gives us real proof of her skills. Children will admire the visual ingenuity and dazzling wealth of details, while parents will enjoy subtle references to the history of art – ranging from Spanish baroque still lives to J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting The Slave Ship.
Edgar Bąk, 'Egaliterra', Wytwórnia publishing house
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Cover and illustration from the book ‘Egaliterra’ by Joanna Olech and Edgar Bąk, photo: Wytwórnia
The third joint accomplishment of writer-illustrator Joanna Olech and illustrator Edgar Bąk is a fairy tale about a planet populated by pink and blue teddy bears – but it’s far from pure fantasy. The story of a planet of seemingly equal opportunity is a metaphor for women’s rights in our world, conveyed through the simple language of the author and the clear, minimalist style of Bąk’s illustrations. It tells us that all the bears appear to be equal, but the blue ones are a bit more equal. And while some bears print slogans about equality in newspapers, others have to look after a handful of cubs and wash their dishes.
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Egaliterra is a uniquely simple and clear story, and a primer on equality that can explain metaphors such as ‘glass ceiling’ or ‘sticky floor’ even to young children. Thanks to the Olech-Bąk duo, your children might lead their preschool Barbie dolls out of the playhouse kitchens and organise a little march for women’s rights – or start to ask questions, such as why it is only men who take part in TV discussions about women? In short, a must-read.
Jan Bajtlik, ‘Nić Ariadny’ (Ariadne’s Thread), Dwie Siostry publishing house
If your children are following the winding path of fascination with ancient Greece, leaving you wondering what books to give them (other than your yellowed copy of Edith Hamilton, staring you down from the shelf), look no further than the latest from Jan Bajtlik and the Dwie Siostry publishing house. Nić Ariadny (Ariadne’s Thread) explains the culture and mythology of Ancient Greece through impressive and detailed illustrations.
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Its 40-something pages are visually absorbing, while discretely offering a wide range of knowledge – from the biggest historical events to Greek everyday life. Fans of other hits published by Dwie Siostry, such as Mapy (Maps), will surely appreciate Bajtlik’s masterful labyrinths, populated by hundreds of people, heroes and gods.
Awards for visual design:
Krzysztof Gawronkiewicz, ‘Beneficio’, Timof i Cisi Wspólnicy publishing house
This new book by Krzysztof Gawrynkiewicz and Michał Kalicki is a rather subdued tale about how to look deep within our own minds, instead of admiring a dazzling array of distractions. Beneficio is made up of spreads with a sparse amount of text, full of space and drawn in quick and steady strokes, coloured only by the shades of olive and yellowish green. Instead of playing with side amusements, Gawronkiewicz and Kalicki encourage slow contemplation – by telling a dreamy tale, while also ironically undercutting its poetic gravity.
Robert Czajka, ‘Wszystko Widzę Jako Sztukę’ (I See Everything As Art), Wytwórnia publishing house
Over the last few years, Polish children have been spoiled by an abundance of books on modern art, written by gallery owners and curators or put together by cultural institutions. As part of an exhibition at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Robert Czajka designed and created the book Wszystko Widzę Jako Sztukę (I See Everything As Art).
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Instead of presenting a linear history of art, this collection of stories portrays selected artists and their works in an accessible way for children, highlighting the smaller gestures and variety of methods that can be used by artists (both male and female – it’s worth pointing out the parity in the selection here, which is not always a given). So, if you’re wondering how to tell your kids why peeling potatoes in a gallery is art, let Ewa Solarz and Robert Czajka do it for you – give them this book.
Cezary Harasimowicz, ‘Mirabelka’ (Mirabelle), Zielona Sowa publishing house
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Cover and illustration from ‘Mirabelka’ by Cezary Harasimowicz, photo: Zielona Sowa
Warsaw’s Nalewki neighbourhood before World War II, observed from the perspective of a mirabelle plum tree. A tree that can speak with children. One that can experience the cruelty of human beings, but not like the dark humour in Magdalena Szeliga’s book – an authentic war tragedy.
As the tree grows older, we share in its observations of consecutive, more or less dramatic years in the history of Warsaw, until the tree itself becomes a victim of a contemporary war – one waged by capital – as it is cut down in order to make room for the construction of a new apartment building.
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Nonethless, Mirabelka by Cezary Harasimowicz is a warm tale, one full of hope. Even the tree has a chance to return to Warsaw, thanks to its seeds that wound up in Washington, DC. A story that not only teaches compassion towards others, but also encourages remembrance of the past, the book stands to turn many children into passionate little Varsovians.
Marcin Szczygielski, ‘Leo i Czerwony Automat (Leo and the Red Automaton), Instytut Wydawniczy Latarnik
Marcin Szczygielski isn’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects in children’s literature. The titular Leo is a boy conceived through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). For him, this is an interesting characteristic, but his school friends don’t share his enthusiasm. This is only the beginning of the trouble, as the unnamed ‘it’ begins to spread in the unspecified City. In this slightly fantastical world, the real and ghastly spectre of fascism starts to grow and enter into human minds. Through the winding adventures of his hero in an increasingly depressing world, Szczygielski demonstrates to his young leaders that there is only one true enemy – hatred.
Dorota Suwalska, ‘Tabletki Na Dorosłość’ (Maturity Pills), Adamada publishing house
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Cover and centrefold of the book ‘Tabletki Na Dorosłość’ by Dorota Suwalska, photo: Adamada
Who hasn’t, at some age, wished to grow up faster? Marek, the hero of Tabletki Na Dorosłość (Maturity Pills), written by Dorota Suwalska, is unlucky enough to have his wish come true. When the 13-year-old swallows the mysterious pills he ordered online, he matures into a 30-year-old. Rather than magically solving all his problems, this only makes things worse.
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But Suwalska’s book isn’t a black-and-white story, in which the main character simply has to follow a specific chain of events to learn his lesson. The book is full of nuance and shades of grey, especially in the character of Marek’s father – an ageing rocker who, unlike his son, doesn’t want to grow old. The story is beautifully complemented by the excellent blue-and-grey illustrations of Marta Ruszkowska, which only underline its air of melancholy.
Joanna Jagiełło, ‘Jak Ziarnka Piasku’ (Like Grains of Sand), Nasza Księgarnia publishing house
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Cover and title page of the book ‘Jak Ziarnka Piasku’, Joanna Jagiełło, photo: Nasza Księgarnia
In her book Jak Ziarnka Piasku (Like Grains of Sand), Joanna Jagiełło also delves into the turbulent teenage years. At its starting point, the story of Anna and Nina resembles one that will be familiar to the older readers of Elena Ferrante’s Naples series. Two inseparable childhood friends grow apart when one is accepted to the school of her dreams, while the other is not.
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Eventually, one of them commits suicide, and the other discovers a secret that her friend has hidden away from everybody… Jagiełło’s book is a strong and authentic story, dealing not only with the difficulties of growing up, but also with sexual violence. But above all, it is a story about the importance of listening to one another’s voices.
Michał Rusinek ‘Jaki Znak Twój? Wierszyki Na Dalsze 100 Lat Niepodległości’ (What’s Your Sign? Poems For the Next 100 Years of Independence), Znak Emotikon publishing house
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Cover of the book ‘Jaki Znak Twój? Wierszyki Na Dalsze 100 Lat Niepodległości’ by Michał Rusinek, photo: Znak Emotikon
The Rusinek duo (Michał and Joanna) decided to take a challenge for the 100th anniversary of Polish independence and create a book teaching children about patriotic sensibilities – in a different way than the publications full of hussars and enduring soldiers that can be found in every post office.
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Michał Rusinek rewrote and Joanna Rusinek illustrated Władysław Bełza’s Katechizm Polskiego Dziecka (Creed of Polish Children, a very popular traditional work) to fit it a bit more to the modern reality. With its smoothly flowing verse, Jaki Znak Twój? teaches that patriotism also means hospitality, openness to others and making sure that the communal lawn is clean.
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Originally written in Polish, Dec 2018; translated by MW, Dec 2018