In 2011 I found myself six months pregnant in Bologna, Italy, ostensibly there to write a piece for School Library Journal. I was actually there to investigate a rumor. For years I had heard that the Bologna Book Fair, held in Bologna each year, was not going to be of much interest to me, a mere children’s librarian.

After all, it is widely considered primarily a rights fair, where big deals are done in the name of children’s books.

Heck, Bologna is where Arthur A. Levine reportedly discovered Harry Potter.

Yet when I arrived and saw it for myself, I was shocked and delighted by the experience.

Display after display of international children’s art was made available.

Talks in English and other languages abounded. Awards were awarded to books I’d never heard of and would never see in the States.

While there I took a close look at the Illustrators Exhibition. I luxuriated in what I saw, but after a while it became clear to me that something was amiss.

This was an international exhibit. Art from all over the world was eligible for display. So where were the Americans?

I found only a single piece for Jennifer Uman’s “Jemmy Button” (a book that would not be published in the States for another two years).

Increasingly it became clear that Americans do not much care about international exhibits. Not that I minded particularly. But it seemed odd.

Fast forward to 2019. I’m having dinner with the marvelous Michael Neugebauer of children’s book publisher mineditions and the subject turns to a small Korean island.

To my astonishment, the guests I was dining with were all well and truly familiar with something called the Nami Island International Picture Book Illustration Concours or just Nami Concours for short.

In 2013 an international biannual picture book award was begun on this island and it, “seeks to encourage artistic creativity and advance the quality of picture book illustrations worldwide.”

What is the point of this award?

As the website says, it’s to introduce illustrators to a more international audience and to “find a way for illustrators from all over the world to be exposed to
an even wider audience.”

The jury this past year consisted of Evanston’s own Junko Yokota and was chaired by internationally renowned author/illustrator Roger Mello, who will be  conducting a Jammie Time at the Evanston main library on Oct. 17.

In search of international children’s books of your own?

Consider looking through the magnificent selection at the bookstore Bookends and Beginnings or at Evanston Public Library. Name the country and we’ll see what we have. You never know. You might find your next favorite book.

Betsy Bird

Betsy Bird is the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library. She has been writing for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.