Rukavychka by the art studio Agrafka and The Tale about the Old Lion by Mariana Savka, illustrated by Volodymyr Shtanko, were added into the annual catalog of the best books for children White Ravens 2012.
“It was a total surprise for me, and a pleasant one, of course. Besides, Katja Wiebe, a representative of the International Youth Library in Munich, which created the rating list of Ukrainian books, sent us an invitation to the presentation of the catalogue at the biggest children’s books exhibit in Bologna,” shares her impressions with The Day Mariana Savka, editor-in-chief at the Staroho Leva Publishing House and the author of The Tale about the Old Lion.
The annual prestigious catalog of the best books for children in the world White Ravens includes 250 children’s books, picked from more than 40 countries. About 9,000 new books from all around the world are sent to the International Youth Library in Munich every year. Experts pick the best ones and write reviews on them. This is how the books get into the White Ravens catalog. The chosen books and the catalog itself are presented at the children’s books fair in Bologna, and afterwards the books “travel” to many world exhibits. This catalog is a guideline for critics, authors, publishers, illustrators, and the most important, for parents. It does not just provide the information about the best books, but shapes the trends in modern children’s literature.
“The fact that our book was picked by this prestigious international catalog is an unbiased representation of the level of our work. This is also the sign that we chose the right and promising direction. This is very important for us,” share Andrii Lesiv and Romana Romanyshyn – the staff of the art studio Agrafka. By the way, their Rukavychka (published by Navchalna Knyha – Bohdan Publishing House), which was included into the catalog, received an Honorary Award to the Publisher at the prestigious Biannual of Illustration Bratislava (BIB-2011) last fall.
It is interesting that the works by young artist and illustrator Volodymyr Shtanko, who designed The Tale about the Old Lion, have been recognized on the international level before. Recently The Day reported that Evenings on a Farm near Dykanka by Mykola Hohol and illustrated by Shtanko was included into the Roll of Honor of the best modern books for children in 2012. So, there is a pleasant tradition observed in the field of children’s book publishing.
“During the last decade Ukrainian book made a large step forward, the authors grew up, I mean both their age and writing skills. Now our writers are invited to various book and literature festivals, their works are translated more often. For example, Andrii Kurkov is popular in Germany, books by Oksana Zabuzhko and Yurii Andrukhovych sell really well too. As for children’s authors, a whole bunch of them emerged in our country. They write well and a lot. Children’s literature started inspiring respect. It is not well-known abroad yet, but the time for promotion of Ukrainian literature on European book market has come,” Savka says.
Lesiv and Romanyshyn think it is a natural process that “the information about book markets of such a large country as ours becomes available abroad.” “It is a pity that in most cases it happens thanks to the authors’ and publishers’ private initiative, and not on the state level. In general, if compared to modern publications from around the world, Ukrainian books for children look quite conservative, but we see great prospects for the experimental illustration development in children’s books and innovative approaches in publications. This applies to plots, graphic language, and printing. There is no other way for things to develop in a country with such a rich artistic heritage and this huge number of talented people,” explain the founders of the art studio Agrafka. In fact, their books are an obvious proof of the fact that experimental illustration in Ukrainian books for children has great prospects. Thanks to the original approach to the design, the books that are familiar to all of us since early childhood, acquire an absolutely modern meaning.
“In the review of Rukavychka that is printed in the catalog, it says that the jury remarked the modern and non-typical for Ukrainian children’s book illustrations, which make the familiar text sound in a new way. Also, the originality of the concept of assigning a unique icon to every character, the graphic image of a sectioned glove, and the felt case for the book and the coloring poster were noted,” Lesiv and Romanyshyn say. They explain, that when they designed Rukavychka, they decided to “interpret the images in accordance to the modern world trends in children’s illustration, but did not forget about the national component, we added elements of folklore artwork into the illustrations: Easter eggs patterns, national ornaments, etc.”
Savka also talks about the important role of illustration in the success of a children’s book. “I think, first of all, the jury liked the book for Shtanko’s amazing illustrations. And also, that the book is a beautiful faery representation of Lviv, a city, which the Germans are especially sentimental about. Working with books for young readers is a very interesting job, it is creative and diverse. We do not just create books for children, we influence the shaping of children’s good literary, aesthetic, and ethic tastes,” sums up Mariana Savka, children’s books publisher and author.
The art studio Agrafka also likes working with books for young readers, though they have a lot of books for older audience in their portfolio. However, as Andrii and Romana say, it is the “children’s illustration that gives great freedom for the artist.” “You need to have agile mind and come up with new ideas. Though it is a kind of a test for an illustrator, since you need to create your own graphic vision of the text and adapt it for a young reader. This is how a book that contains a whole world is created,” the illustrators explain. Now Agrafka is working on The Counting-out Rhyme by Natalia Zabila.