What Katie Morag did;Reviews;Children's booksSet Play;Books

Robert Dunbar

EUROPEAN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE II. Papers edited by Penni Cotton. pound;10 inc pamp;p from School of Education, Kingston University, Kingston Hill, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey KT2 7LB.

The wheeling and dealing can get pretty vicious in the world marketplace for picture books in Bologna, where the publishers' international children's book fair is in progress this week. Fortunately there is a cheaper and more civilised way to catch up on what artists and writers around Europe, especially those who publish in difficult circumstances, have to offer their neighbours.

The European Picture Book Collection was set up three years ago to encourage cultural exchange in primaries. Fifteen EU countries have supplied picture books in their original language which combine a universal childhood theme with a flavour of the home culture.

Representing the UK are Janet and Allan Ahlberg's Starting School for England, Mairi Hedderwick's Katie Morag and the New Pier for Scotland, Michael Foreman's War and Peas for Northern Ireland and Cantre'r Gwaelod by Sian Lewis and Jackie Morris for Wales.

European Children's Literature II, edited by the project's founder, Penni Cotton, combines an update on how the collection is being used (Katie Morag now has fans in Finland) with overviews of the development of children's literature around Europe and a section on the role of picture books in communicating across nations.

Contributions from East European delegates form the central part of the collection and provide fascinating glimpses of the development of children's literature in territories "in the period of transition". This was the term used by Michael Zajac of Warsaw University in describing the state of play in Poland (where publishing for children flourished after the end of communist rule in 1989 but home-grown products are now struggling against an influx of poor quality imports).

Reports from Slovenia, Slovakia and (especially) Romania provide evidence - often very touching - of the consequences of such "transition" on children's writing and publishing. In Romania, 2,000 publishing houses were set up overnight after the fall of Ceausescu but children's writers still cannot make a living.

Margaret Meek Spencer's concluding paper - Common and Core Themes - reminds us that, across all frontiers, adult endeavour with children's literature should ultimately be concerned with the reading development of the young and that picture books have an especially significant role in furthering this development.

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Robert Dunbar

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