Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the opening of Bologna Children’s Book Fair

04.04.2016 - Speech

-- translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

For most of us, our favourite books have a very special place in our childhood memories. My favourite book was “Karlsson on the Roof”, which I read over and over with great pleasure when I was a child.

When I think about Karlsson, an image of a chubby-cheeked, dungaree-wearing little guy with tousled hair and a little propeller on his back immediately comes to mind – just as depicted in the book’s illustrations.

Of course I knew that Astrid Lindgren wrote the book. But only years later did I understand it was not just thanks to Astrid Lindgren that “Karlsson on the Roof” became my favourite book. Ilon Wikland also played a huge role in this because the image of Karlsson in my mind is the creation of that wonderful artist, who has illustrated almost all of Astrid Lindgren’s books.

Ilon Wikland, who is now well over 80 years old, came to Sweden as an Estonian refugee at the end of the Second World War and met Astrid Lindgren there. The two women worked closely together for decades. During this time Ilon Wikland enjoyed almost complete artistic freedom.

The inspiration for the Karlsson we know and love came from a fish market in Paris, where Wikland saw a chubby, spiky-haired worker in blue dungarees and a red-and-white checked shirt one morning. And this was what gave Karlson his face and shape.

I don’t know where the illustrators at this exhibition usually find their inspiration. It doesn’t always have to be at a fish market! But I can well imagine that some of you know the feeling of standing somewhat in the author’s shadow. I am thus all the more delighted that Germany’s first time as a guest of honour at Bologna Children’s Book Fair is dedicated to you! The spotlight is on you today – and rightfully so!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Germany is a world champion, not only in football but also in exports. And German companies do not only export cars, machines and chemicals – no, German children’s and young adult books are also hugely successful exports. One in six books sold in Germany is a book for children or young adults. And this market segment accounts for as much as a third of the licences sold abroad.

We Germans export a lot, but we also like to import things, including books. Translations of books from foreign countries make up a quarter of the new releases in the German market for children’s and young adult books.

This shows that children’s books work in very different cultures – not least thanks to the wonderful illustrations that complement the written text. Illustrations, which are rarely changed when a book is translated into another language, create a pictorial language that is understood all over the world. They depict children’s dreams and aspirations that are universal, no matter where they come from. Only in this way could “Karlsson on the Roof” become a true global success, not only in Sweden, but also in Germany and Russia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am particularly happy that this cultural exchange on the book market plays an important part in reaching the aims of my ministry’s foreign cultural policy. We want to know more about each other and to learn from and with each other, thus achieving greater mutual understanding. Such understanding is essential for peaceful and respectful co‑existence.

We are currently going through difficult times in Europe. The tasks ahead of us are enormous. All of our endeavours must serve to create a continent that sticks together and acts in concert politically – especially in view of the huge challenges that the refugee issue and the current migration movement pose for us. I firmly believe that we can only overcome these crises if we find common European answers.

Topics such as fleeing and migration have always played a role in the children’s book market, not only through their creators – like Astrid Lindgren’s illustrator, Ilon Wikland, who came to Sweden as a refugee – but also as a topic in many books. Several children’s books that address fleeing, migration and integration were awarded the Lesekompass Prize at this year’s Leipzig Book Fair.

Stories can open doors, not only for children’s imagination, but also as regards situations in everyday life. And the sooner we teach children and teenagers important values like tolerance and respect, the better. That reminds me of “Karlsson on the Roof” again: This book taught me acceptance, patience, and true friendship toward somebody who is difficult to be around. And that is a lesson we all have to learn in our lives.

I am very much looking forward to rediscovering the world of children’s books and to opening this exhibition here today.

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