First there is Hakim, this old man with a back twisted by a life spent laying tiles, then Maryline, her arms covered in red patches since she was in pain at work. Or Rebecca, who became fat to “put several layers” between her and the boys who harassed her. Awarded the 2023 Landernau Youth Prize and aimed at 6-11 year olds, People Are Beautiful (ed. Les Arènes) shows bodies that we are rarely used to coming across in children’s albums. With a strong message: let’s love each other with our faults and not make fun of those who are different. Behind the imperfections, sometimes difficult lives hide.
Remarkable in its accuracy and sensitivity, this book written by the doctor Baptiste Beaulieu and beautifully illustrated by Qin Leng stands out from traditional children’s literature, where princes are often charming and ugliness synonymous with wickedness. It demonstrates a new freedom granted to author-illustrators and a desire by publishers to better reflect the diversity of the real world (skin color, weight, height, disability, etc.).
Show different bodies
For children’s author Clémentine Beauvais, “a revolution is underway”. In 2015, she signed Les Petites Reines, a colorful novel around three “bouboules” schoolgirls, who, after being elected “boudins of the year”, decide to take their revenge by accomplishing a feat: going up to Paris by bike. from Bourg-en-Bresse. “It took eight years for the novel to be adapted into a comic book and for the bicycles modestly adorning the cover of the book to finally give way to curvaceous characters. It has become possible today because our visual environment (advertising, television, etc.) increasingly shows different bodies,” she rejoices.
This standardization process is crucial for publisher Laurence Faron who has worked for eighteen years at Talents Hauts to offer “identification readings to children and teenagers”. Her first hobby, the fight against sexism, gave birth to works such as the picture book Animales which depicts females in postures other than motherhood. Its catalog naturally expanded to include diversity of origins and the inclusion of disabilities. In 2021, Awa was one of the first junior comic series (7-11 years old) to feature a black girl without any exoticism.
Last March, the novel My 4 Star Life told the story of a teenage girl in a wheelchair, passionate about baking. This text by the American Jamie Sumner, whose son suffers from paralysis, attracted the attention of the editor because “it did not reduce the heroine to her handicap, without however passing it over in silence because it makes part of his personality and impacts his daily life.
Be wary of stereotypical narrative patterns
Clémentine Beauvais also suggests being wary of stereotypical narrative patterns, such as idiotic stuttering characters or those who have been made bitter and vengeful by a disability, in the wake of Captain Hook from Peter Pan. “It’s not a book that will pose a problem, but the accumulation of representations of this type will influence the child’s perception of disabled people in everyday life.”
To approach these subjects as delicately and accurately as possible, certain publishing houses are placing their trust in the new generation of young authors, who are more aware of these issues than their elders. At L’École des Loisirs, Clémentine du Pontavice’s books (Trick of a girl or boy?, Diary of my body) reflect her commitment to the Maison des femmes de Seine-Saint-Denis, where she runs workshops for victims of violence.
Publishers are developing partnerships with activist structures. Rageot has joined forces with the feminist media Causette for the book Ceci est mon corps in which six authors speak without taboo about the female body and encourage young people, particularly transgender people, to accept themselves; Another collective collection, Our identities, those that are imposed on us, those that we hide was designed with Diveka, an association which promotes diversity in children’s literature. A writing competition, launched for the occasion, revealed young talents whose diverse backgrounds carry new stories.
Other houses distance themselves from any militant approach, such as Bayard (publisher of La Croix) which chose to address the delicate question of gender identities with the psychiatrist Serge Hefez and the seasoned author Odile Amblard. Released last September, What is the difference between gender and sex? based on questions asked by 12-16 year olds and aims, according to editor Christelle Rohland, to “give tools and benchmarks to support them on the long journey of building their identity”. The key words: kindness and tolerance. Before its publication, the manuscript was reread by a young person engaged in a gender transition process: “To his great surprise, we were not giving lessons! »
The body in all its states in Montreuil
The show is held until December 4 at Paris Montreuil Expo, 128 rue de Paris in Montreuil. Free entry for the first three days.
On the program: signings and meetings (250 authors and illustrators present), presentation of the “Nuggets” of the year, reading advice and an exhibition, spread over four different spaces in the hall, to discover the work of four artists: Gérard DuBois , Mari Kanstad Johnsen, Roxane Lumeret and Albertine, who drew the funny pink man on the poster.