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Picture books for little ones

The Original French Version HERE - The English version has been translated by Jon-Michael McLean


It is obvious, children's literature is conditioned by the representation of childhood that we make to. The story is well known, it was necessary to consider the child as a being in the process of becoming, with his or her particular needs, in order for authors to decide to put forth particular texts for them. It is in this way that children’s literature developed in the 19th century. What about books for babies, how far do they go back to ?

Well, they arrive quite a lot later. In fact, one century later. Because it was necessary to admit that babies existed, quite simply. This seems a bit excessive, and yet it’s exact. One had to consider little ones as something other than « digestive tubes », according to a formula attributed to René Zazzo, though he himself was a child psychologist. Consider them as sensitive and intelligent beings. A documentary film aired on television in 1983, « Babies are people », deeply moved all of France. The work of Tony Lainé, who co-signed the film, and of the famous pediatrician Françoise Dolto, alternating with professionals of the domain, was soon to make mentalities evolve.

In the domain of books, psychoanalysts as well as childhood and reading specialists, brought together at the heart of the association Acces (www.acces-lirabebe.fr), have encouraged the emergence of literature for little ones through publications, trainings and above all through field work led by readers at the meeting of children and their parents.

The first books addressed to little ones simplify that which is addressed to children at the age of speaking : picture dictionaries. Picture dictionaries are still a central model today in the production intended for babies, so-called « wakening books ».

Claude Ponti is one of the first to have created a picture book that demonstrates by its example that we can take little ones further than mechanical activities that consist in proposing everyday images put simply into book format. Her first book « L’Album d’Adèle » (Gallimard, 1986), while first greeting the child by offering aligned objects in similar fashion to that of picture dictionaries, then takes his or her hand on an adventure in a type of reading that has a go at seeing the relationship of figurations and portrayals in order to bring out a story as well as the imagination.

Some years later, the American photographer Tana Hoban also examined the question of what it means to look and see. If she takes up everyday objects, it is to propose, by means of photogram techniques, silhouettes of them, be it black-on-white or white-on-black, depending on which title of her two picture books. Through this play on maximal contrast, she promotes the taking up of books by children just months old, all the while questioning our rapport with objects through the principle of representation by silhouette.

From these two founding approaches, others will ensue, encouraging creators and publishers on this fruitful path of books of wakening, which have developed in a dazzling manner since the 1990s and into the 21st century, today occupying , thirty years or so since their emergence, a major part of publications for children : according to the latest statistics of the Syndicat National de l’Edition (France), publications destined to early childhood represent 57% of the total production for youth. 

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