The award-winning Australian author Ursula Dubosarsky is in Paris undertaking an Australia Council residency at the Keesing Studio. What better opportunity to visit France's biggest salon celebrating children's books?
Well, following the strong recommendation of one Mike Shuttleworth (grand merci, Mike!) I have just attended first open day of Salon du livre et de la presse jeunesse, Paris, an absolutely fantastic and inspiring celebration of children's literature in French.
There were some qualms about how this greatly loved annual event would go this year because of the November 13 attacks, which meant that the usual enormous crowds of school children would not be there as all school excursions have been cancelled until further notice. Still there were plenty of parents with young children, a few small class groups who somehow avoided the ban, as well as crowds of teenagers and of course tons of excited adults...
There were signings and speeches and tv cameras and panels and politicians and craft tables and storytellings and glasses of champagne. And there were books and books and books. And books and books and books and books. Leigh Hobbs (there to promote the French version of Mr Chicken - Mister Poulet débarque à Londres) and I both agreed that the quality and range and energy and artistry of French-language children's books is stunning. Part of it, I suppose, for our Australian eyes, is the freshness of a literature largely unseen and unknown to us Anglophones, so it was like wandering through a beautiful garden full of flowers and strange plants that you had never seen before.
For the whole five days there is also a full program of discussions, performances (some of which had to be cancelled because of the school problem) and masterclasses open to the public. I wandered into a couple of great panel discussions, one where the conversation quickly turned to refugees and the psychology of Paris, and another comparing the artistic strategies of fiction and non-fiction.
Then I sat in on a fascinating masterclass with illustrator Benjamin Lacombe, who described with great vitality the process and intentions of his new edition of Alice in Wonderland, in particular the challenge of illustrating a character such as Alice who has been represented by so many artists over the years – rivalled only by Little Red Riding Hood and Jesus Christ (according to Benjamin!)
Alice in Wonderland was in fact the feature text of this whole very French Salon, with an exhibition "Wonderland, la logique du reve" (the logic of the dream), a kind of physical wonderland of discovery created from silver corrugated iron, neon lights, mysterious voices and music, mirrors, peepholes and books books books scattered about to be read and stared at. On the walls of the corrugated maze were hung original illustrated interpretations of Alice by Gilles Bachelet, Anthony Brown, Chiara Carrer, Rebecca Dautremer and Benjamin Lacombe - as well as the illustrations of John Tenniel and Lewis Carroll himself. Truly entrancing and difficult to leave.
Can I say five stars for the whole experience! Entrance is six euros and Montreuil is not far on the metro, just a few stops from Nation. If you are ever in Paris at this time of year, go!
Words and pictures by Ursula Dubosarsky
About the author
Ursula Dubosarsky wanted to be a writer from the age of six, and is now the author of over 40 books for children and young adults, which have won several national prizes, including the NSW, Victorian, South Australian and Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. Apart from fiction and pictures books such as Too Many Elephants in This House, she has also written the non-fiction Word Spy books about the English language. Her latest novels are The Red Shoe, set during the Petrov spy crisis in 1954, and The Golden Day, set in a girls’ school in 1967. She lives in Sydney with her family.