© Harald Rehling/Universität Bremen
© Harald Rehling / Universität Bremen
© Harald Rehling/Universität Bremen
The library belongs to Bremer Institut für Bilderbuchforschung [Bremen Institute for Storybook Research] in the Faculty of Pedagogy and Educational Sciences. Some good news to start with: All members of the University are welcome to drop in to leaf through the book collection and perhaps borrow a book or two.
The offer is mostly taken up by students on teacher training programs for primary school and early childhood education. “It’s at the heart of our institute and functions as communication center”, says Sven Nickel, Professor for Didactics of German Language and Literature in pre-primary and primary education. He coordinates activities between the library and the institute, helped by Dr. Elisabeth Hollerweger, Senior Lecturer for Literature Didactics, and Dr. Tobias Kurwinkel, leader of the area Child and Youth Media in the Faculty of Languages and Literary Studies. Before finding a place on one of the library shelves, each book has to pass through a multistage selection process. One of the main selection criteria, Kurwinkel explains, is that “Text and pictures have to tell the story in equal measure. In other words, the illustrations shouldn’t just be there to decorate the page”. Elisabeth Hollerweger, who also uses the book collection for action-oriented projects in the frame of teaching practicals, points out: “It is precisely in the interplay of text and pictures that stories can be accessed on different levels”. To exploit this aspect to its full potential in teaching practice, students must first themselves learn how to read ‘visually’, to come to grips with unusual image styles that may be far removed from mainstream commercial publications and overcome their own perceptions of childhood as a protective space.
Meanwhile, the storybook library is not only interesting for student teachers: It has caught the attention of publishing houses, too. For instance, the library receives – often unsolicited – free copies of new publications. This is done clearly with the intention to reach out to nursery and primary schools, on the one hand, and to increase chances of winning the HUCKEPACK [piggyback] Prize, on the other. Bestowed once a year in cooperation with Phantastisches Bibliothek Wetzlar, the HUCKEPACK prize is awarded for books deemed especially suitable for developing children’s emotions – literally by taking them on a piggyback ride through the story. The annual award has made a name for the institute far beyond the University.
This year’s HUCKEPACK Prize went to a book by the Swedish author Stina Wirsén with the title “Klein” [small]. Relating a story connected with domestic violence and child neglect, it shows how storybooks are capable of dealing in a sensitive way to real societal problem issues. Browsing through the bookshelves, visitors find a wide spectrum of subjects and books, some of which are also used in university classes. Last semester, for instance, Elisabeth Hollerweger was running courses on gender construction, migrants’ stories, and storybooks centered on the environment. The library pursues the aim to establish the storybook as a uniquely rich and valuable medium for linguistic and literary learning. As Sven Nickel is quick to point out, “Reading storybooks is also an extremely effective way to learn a language”.
The institute is forging grand plans for its storybook collection. For example, in cooperation with the Bremen Art Gallery and the Bremen Municipal Library it has just launched a public storybook dialogue, a series of talks to which well-known picture book artists are invited to provide insights into their work. The first guest will be the author and illustrator, Nikolaus Heidelbach – a renowned artist whose books also have considerable appeal for adults. When Sven Nickel places one of his books on the table, great appreciation is shown by those present.