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The European Picture Book Collection

The European Picture Book Collection (EPBC) was facilitated by a grant from the European Commission and created by European colleagues working in the field of children's literature and teacher education. The idea was conceived by Dr Penni Cotton (Roehampton University, UK. p.cotton@roehampton.ac.uk ).

In 1996, the first EPBC symposium was held in France at the Institut Universitaire Formation des Maîtres (IUFM) in Douai. Here delegates from the 15 initial EU member states of the European Union, as well as presenting papers about children’s literature in their own countries, decided upon the following criteria for selecting each EPBC book:

  • it should comprise one picture book from each country and reflect a universal childhood theme
  • where possible, this should be within a specific cultural setting
  • the narrative should be from the viewpoint of the child and should draw upon childhood experiences that countries have in common, rather than what separates them
  • the story from each book should be available on CD in the original language, to enable children to become aware of the linguistic diversity within the European Union
  • a short rationale for choosing each book should be included, plus a translation/re-telling of the story in English
  • three practical ideas should be suggested which would encourage trainee/practising teachers to use the books in school.

Over a period of about a year, many picture books were reviewed and discussed. The final decisions were then made for each country, using specific rationale. Each book needed to:

  • tell a good visual story
  • have minimal text with some words common to more than one language
  • be considered, by both children and adults, to be amongst the very best from that country
  • be used widely in primary schools
  • depict a universal childhood theme
  • reflect the culture of that country, where possible.

The EPBC now comprises 20 books:

  • ONE each from Austria, Denmark, France, Finland, Greece, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden,
  • FOUR from the UK (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales)
  • TWO from Belgium: one in French and one in Nederlands
  • plus ONE from Switzerland (a non-EU country that has made a significant contribution to the development of picture books)

UK Pilot Study

During 1997, the EPBC was used in six UK schools with upper primary classes (10-11 year olds). The teachers chose to use the EPBC because they wanted their children to learn more about their European neighbours. Some of these teachers spoke a number of European languages and had spent time in several European countries. Others, however, were interested in learning more about Europe.

After the UK pilot study, the following points arose:

  • all teachers felt that they, themselves, had learned a great deal both about Europe and picture books
  • they were surprised how little their children in school knew about Europe before the project
  • they were amazed about how much they knew after the project
  • the children were fascinated by the books and the languages
  • many parents of mainland European origin became involved in the project, which helped those with little English to be more involved with the school
  • although the books were mainly used with 10 and 11 year old children, teachers of younger children also found the books of value
  • all teachers felt that the materials supported the National Curriculum for England and Wales and could provide the basis for a year's work in school.

Detailed more formal analysis of other EU triallings, plus articles about children’s literature from all the countries involved in the EPBC project, can be found in European Children's Literature I, II & III (Cotton, 1996; 1998; 2000).

 

The project received the award of

Innovative Reading Promotion in Europe (1997)

from the European Committee of the International Reading Association

 

Follow-Up

In 1998, EU colleagues met at a second symposium in Austria. It was held at the Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Stadtschlaining, Burgenland, In addition to the original contributors, children’s literature experts from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia were present. As well as discussing the first EPBC triallings, we also focused on ways in which visual texts can enhance children's reading development/ knowledge of literary forms, and the need to share expertise across nations. Dr. Peter Schneck, from the Federal Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, thought that holding the EPBC symposium in his country would enhance Austria's standing within the European community. His choice of Das Land der Ecken (The Land of Corners) was made because he felt that this Austrian picture book was truly European, and an example of possible harmony within the differences that exist between countries.

In 2000, the third and final EPBC symposium funded by the EU was held in Hungary. It was hosted by the chair of Education in the University of Budapest, and the final results of the traillings were presented. What was really exciting, for those of us that had been present at the first Douai meeting, was to see what had initially been just the gem of an idea become a reality. Young teachers, from many EU countries, explained some of the innovative things that they had been doing with the EPBC to help their children to learn more about other European languages, literatures and cultures. These activities are now published in European Children's Literature III (Cotton, 2000 ), together with articles about Central European picture books. We hope that you will enjoy reading about them and maybe try some of the activities yourself. There are also more ideas in EPBC Books on this web site, in the EPBC video (see Ordering Details) and in Picture Books sans Frontières.

A European Dimension in Primary Education

The project received EU funding, under the Comenius scheme, in order to develop materials which would implement a European dimension in primary education. The EPBC is to be used by teachers working with pupils in European primary schools (10 - 11 year olds). The books have minimal texts in the original languages, and are accompanied by a CD with the stories told in these languages.

These stories all relate to the universal childhood theme of friendship and allow, through the visual narratives, a recognition of those aspects of 'Europeaness' with which all children can identify. Alongside the visual texts, teachers and pupils have the opportunity to listen to other languages and, in so doing, can begin to gain confidence in the realisation that there are similarities between tongues. It is hoped that this will alleviate the fears that many children, particularly those who are monolingual, may have about language learning.

A European School Education Training course

In 2001, additional EU funding was received to develop an on-line European School Education Training course (ESET), which is freely available to all. The course is based on the European Picture Book materials and aims to provide a structure for teachers/teacher educators to help children to learn more about their European neighbours through reading the visual narratives of carefully chosen picture books. The course will be divided into three sections:

Linguistic knowledge: Familiarization with EPBC materials and focus on linguistic similarities and differences.

Literary Analysis: In depth focus on aspects of the visual narratives which texts have in common, plus identification of those aspects which are culturally specific.

Cultural Awareness: Drawing together the two previous strands through looking at the universal childhood themes which permeate the books. This will be done by devising activities that will allow children to explore with each other (through e.mail, chat rooms and the internet) different aspects of each others' cultures.

It is hoped that, through this course, children, teachers and teacher educators will have the opportunity to talk about the similarities which exist between European cultures and celebrate the differences. Alongside this, they will have the opportunity to gain greater linguistic, literary and cultural understanding as well as a sense of what it means to be European. The ESET course is available in English, French, German, Portuguese and Dutch.

If you would like to view the ESET course, the address is: www.ncrcl.ac.uk/eset

 

The NCRCL website is hosted by Roehampton University

ncrcl June 2012