Liberating Young Children, Tours, Loire Valley, France

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My installation We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live is on exhibition at the bibliotheque in Tours (Loire Valley, France) this month as part of an international research network on the impact of the 1968 movement on the cultures of childhood.

Between early September and mid-October 2017, visitors to the central library in Tours (Loire Valley, France) will be greeted in the entrance hall by sets of wooden shelving containing a selection of militant, non-sexist and multiracial children’s books from the 1970s. They will be invited to make themselves comfortable on some cushions and plastic stools, and browse through the books. The idea is to recreate a children’s library from the ‘70s, in order to take the reader on a journey back in time to an era of protest and consciousness raising, when feminist publishing collectives held the firm belief that children’s books needed to change, in order to help change the world.

This project has developed out of We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live (2017), a mixed-media installation commissioned in 2017 by the Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow. Dhillon’s work explores the legacy of DIY, feminist collectives in the US publishing children’s literature in the 1970s, focusing on the work of two of the leading presses in this movement: the Lollipop Power collective and the Feminist Press. The installation in France is a collaboration with Andrea Francke of ‘Invisible Spaces of Parenthood’, the Children’s section of the municipal library in Tours and the research project ‘The Children’s ‘68/ Le ’68 des enfants’.

The aim of the installation in France is to bring this selection of American children’s books into dialogue with books produced by similar French groups. The French militant publishing scene that mushroomed in the 1970s is represented in the main by: the avant-garde Franco-American partnership Harlin Quist Books; the Paris-based radical publishing collective ‘Le Sourire qui mord’; and the ‘du côté des petites filles’ imprint, published by éditions des femmes, which was part of the French Women’s Liberation Movement. By juxtaposing these two movements, and exploring their similarities and differences, we can interrogate the ways in which books are defined as ‘radical’ shifts in time, place, and context, and think about what we understand to be radical children’s literature today, and what we might want it to be.

Included in the installation are:

A selection of books published by the Lollipop Power collective. To challenge gender stereotyping in children’s books, they wrote about themes such as women carrying out work not typical to gender stereotypes and alternative family structures. They produced the first children’s picturebooks to represent lesbian parents (Lots of Mommies(1983); When Megan Went Away (1979), both by Jane Severance).

The works of the French collective Sourire qui Mord, including one of the best-known anti-sexist picturebooks produced in France: Histoire de Julie qui avait une ombre de garçon, written by Christian Bruel and Anne Galland, with illustrations by Anne Bozellec (1976). You can find out more about the book in our blog post here.

A selection of the titles produced by éditions des femmes ‘du côté des petites filles’ imprint, including the famous Rose Bombonne by Adela Turin and Nella Bosnia from 1975, the first overtly feminist children’s picturebook to be published in France, and Les Filles (1976), Agnès Rosenstiehl’s wry take on gender difference.

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