Silent books for refugees in Lampedusa, Italy: IBBY UK’s selection of wordless books

Since 2012, the Italian section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) has been collecting donations of silent and wordless picture books for a refugee library on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, and for portable sets of books for children picked up by rescue boats, “Books on Board”. Here IBBY UK shares their selection of wordless books to be donated to the project…

Thousands of refugees have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa, one of the main arrival ports for people wanting to reach Europe. In response to this, in 2012, IBBY Italy launched the international project “Silent Books, from the world to Lampedusa and back”. The main purpose was to create the first library of silent books (wordless picture books) on Lampedusa and collect remarkable books with no texts from around the world.

Although everything started from this small island, these collections gradually increased, travelled to many countries and were enjoyed by not only refugees, but also readers of all ages worldwide. An exciting new part is the “Books on Board”, a portable sets of books to use in emergency situations on the rescue boats. 

Once again this year, all national sections of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) were called to support this initiative by nominating and submitting the best silent books published in their country since 2017.

IBBY UK is proud to present their selections below. It is noteworthy that the chosen books are five, a high number compared to previous years’ nominations. This shows that the market and readership of these books have increased. Due to the absence of language restrictions, wordless picture books have become an excellent tool not only for second language teaching, but also for early readers and anyone who enjoys visual stories. Most importantly though, these books can enhance visual literacy skills and their art, aesthetically pleasing as it is, can attract both children and adults.

1)  Dandelion’s Dream by Yoko Tanaka (Walker Books). A dandelion morphs into a real lion, its petals becoming a magnificent mane, and he sets off to explore. He travels by land and sea to a city, and this tiny creature is almost overwhelmed as well as excited by what he sees. After all his adventures, he seems to return to his former state, but it looks like he can reach for the stars. The pictures seem to have a sepia tint, with the dandelion’s yellow halo and tail tip standing out.

2) The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer (author) and Mariachiara Di Giorgio (illustrator) (Walker Books). The fair is closed for the night to humans, but the woodland animals, including bears, deer and foxes, see it is now their opportunity for some fun! Will they be discovered? The atmosphere and movement in the pictures have a cinematic quality.

3) Hike by Pete Oswald (Walker Books). A father and child go on a hike together. They walk through a forest, cross a river, climb rocks. The story is told in a combination of full-page pictures and vignettes and with the stages of their journey seen from a variety of angles. In the beginning, there is a clue to their specific purpose in addition to the joys of simply walking in the countryside and the warm relationship between parent and child is apparent throughout. Shortlisted for the 2021 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.

4) Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell (Penguin Books). An encounter between a little girl in a red coat with a hood and wolves is at the heart of this 2018 winner Caldecott Medal. However, it is not “that” tale – it is a story about reciprocal rescue. The only “words” are onomatopoeic sounds.

5) Wanderer by Peter Van den Ende (English edition by Pushkin Children’s Books; first published in Flemish as Zwerveling [Belgium]).  A paper boat takes a voyage through the oceans, encountering a range of creatures, some realistic, some strange and surreal, not to mention many dangers, along the way. The progress of its journey can be tracked on the final endpaper. The illustrations, entirely in black and white, have a remarkable subtlety in their use of shade and pattern and deliver depth and drama. As the adventure deepens, so does our understanding of the sea and humankind’s relationship to it. There is a profound concern with the environment and the ways in which we are harming it, and through that ourselves.

You can find more about the Lampedusa project activities and the collections of wordless picturebooks on the IBBY official website. For the IBBY UK section, please visit www.ibby.org.uk

What is IBBY?

IBBY reaches out across all supposed barriers of border, language and race. It helps us understand each other, and helps our children to feel that they are members of a single, fragile, extraordinary world.

~ David Almond

The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) is a unique international alliance for anyone interested in children’s literature – a network of academics, librarians, writers, illustrators, publishers, teachers, literacy workers, booksellers, and parents.

IBBY UK is just one of IBBY’s 70+ national sections in countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe working together to promote international children’s literature and literacy.