Guest Post: Susanne Gervay on “Peace Story Connecting Youth Across the World”

Australian author Susanne Gervay (visit her website and blog) has had a very busy year this year and social justice has been high on her agenda. She is one of the contributors to Fear Factor: Terror Incognito, an anthology of short stories featuring ten Australian and ten Indian writers, edited by Meenakshi Bharat and Sharon Rundle (Macmillan Australia/ Picador India, 2010). She has been writing about her travels to India and Kiribati, a “Pacific atoll nation drowning under climate change”. She has just launched Always Jack, the third book about Jack, following on from her wonderful I Am Jack and Super Jack. Most recently, Susanne was in South Korea for the Nambook-010 Fesival, the 5th Nami Island International Children’s Book Festival. She was there because she was taking part in Peace Story, a very special project. We are very grateful to Susanne for telling us all about it here. For those of us who couldn’t be there in person, Susanne’s description and photographs are definitely the next best thing!

In these troubled times with North Korea’s military attack on South Korea, the international publication of Peace Story is poignant and important. Twenty-two children’s authors and twenty-two illustrators from twenty-two countries engaged in an international cooperative to create a unique anthology, Peace Story, for young people. Respected academic author on Irish children’s literature Valerie Coghlan and Irish Laureate for children’s literature Siobhán Parkinson were the co-editors of Peace Story.

‘Peace Story’ was part of the Nami Island International Children’s Book Festival, South Korea which was first held in 2005 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Hans Christian Andersen. It is a six-week bi-annual festival of children’s books, the environment and peace, featuring outstanding exhibitions of children’s books and illustrations from all over the world. Much loved Korean illustrator Kang Woo-hyon, President of the Nambook-010 International Committee headed the ‘Peace Story’ project with the support of the Nami Island Minn family who published and translated some of the stories, and hosted the authors and illustrators on Nami Island. It was supported by National YMCA Korea, UNICEF and UNESCO Korea, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, and Nami Island the official sponsor of the IBBY Hans Christian Anderson Awards.

My Australian story ‘To East Timor with Love Australia’, illustrated by the award-winning Frané Lessac, opens the anthology Peace Story. Frané Lessac’s vibrant colours of bright pink bougainvillea and yellow-centred frangipanis create a visual representation of loss of homeland through war, but also hope for the future.

The Peace Story collection ends with a beautiful verse story, ‘A Plum for Peace’ by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Caldecott Medal winner Eric Rohmann illustrated Ryan’s work using soft water colours depicting a child seeking that elusive ‘plum’ of peace.

The South Korean story ‘Recalling a Musk Deer’ written by international award-winning poet and children’s author Kim Jin-kyung, translated by Fred Minn, is a story of the separation of North and South Korea. Illustrator Kim Jae-hong’s depiction of the soldiers in the demilitarized zone and the hurt deer that brings them together is profoundly moving, especially at this time of military conflict in Korea.

The German writer Franz Hohler’s ‘The Dove’ was translated by Siobhán Parkinson. Illustrated by the Gustav Heinemann Peace Award winner Reinhard Michl, ‘The Dove’ is deeply touching and although the shortest piece in the collection, it unites words and art in a voyage of peace:

‘A dove flew over the battlefield and was torn
To shreds by the blades of the helicopter.

One of its feathers fluttered into the
garden of a house, and was picked up by
a child.

‘We’ll only take what is absolutely necessary,
The child took the feather.’

Renowned Lithuanian children’s author Gendrutis Morkunas, who was dying as he wrote his story of peace, was honored posthumously at the Nami Island Festival in a retrospective exhibition. Morkunas was committed to his story as his last creative work written for young people and a better world.

The stories and illustrations are as varied as the countries they come from, including Sudan, Uganda, Greece, Turkey, Malaysia, China, Iran, Bolivia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Brazil.

The Nami Island Children’s Book Festival featured bill boards of each story in English and Korean with photos of their authors and illustrators. The Peace Gallery exhibited the original artworks from Peace Story. Frané Lessac and I spoke to packed audiences of Korean writers and artists with Fred Minn translating. Peace drawings from children from Iran, Korea, Sudan and all over the world were exhibited in a hall overflowing with books. The UNICEF pavilion was filled with visiting children, books and hundreds of hand made dolls. I purchased one beautiful doll with its handmade Korean dress – ‘Adopt a doll, save a child.’ I hope I have saved a child. Nami Island is about saving the environment, empowering young people with books, creativity and embracing peace.

Nami Island held so many experiences – the extraordinary illustrations and books of the ‘Hello, Dear Enemy’ Exhibition from the International Youth Library, Munich, Germany in the Hans Christian Anderson Hall; recycled sculptures throughout the island; World Children’s Picture-book Library in the Forests; freely wandering ostriches and fluffy-eared squirrels; forests of crimson, silver and yellow mestasequoia, silver birch, ginkgo, cherry and tulip. Wherever I wandered on the island, there were drawings and words from artists and writers. Frané Lessac and I selected a beautiful large rock. Frané drew scenes of trees and flowers and I wrote the words from my book The Cave – ‘War is not brave, but men can be brave in war and in life.’

Peace Story on Nami Island was an international experience of friendship and peace. One evening we painted with Kang Woo-hyon in his studio with the warm and wonderful Spanish illustrator and author Xan Lopez Dominguez. We laughed late into the night. There were afternoon teas with the Senegal Consul; Korean banquets with French film makers visiting from China; morning tea with Thai delegates; school kids giggling with me in the UNICEF pavilion; Korean dancing; books everywhere; and I bowed as a courtesy and thanked the Koreans for their hospitality and commitment to international youth literature. I thanked them for Peace Story.

Susanne Gervay

5 Responses to “Guest Post: Susanne Gervay on “Peace Story Connecting Youth Across the World””

  1. Suzanne Kiraly Says:

    This was a lovely piece, as usual, from the lovely Susanne Gervay. Just wondering, Susanne, if there were any Hungarian stories in the collection?

  2. Susanne Gervay Says:

    Hi Suzanne

    I have written a book called ‘Next Stop The Moon’ about coming from a post war Hungarian background and settling in Australia.

    My new picture book coming out in 2011, although universal, is taken from the Hungarian war experience, about refinding home. It’s called ‘Ships in the Field’ and illustrated by an award winning illustrator Anna Pignataro.

    The Hungarian experience is very much part of my consciousness.

    The story I wrote for Peace Story is about the impact of war on the Timorese people.

    Our heritage impacts on our view of the world doesn’t it?

    Wishing you wonderful and peaceful holidays.


  3. Suzanne Kiraly Says:

    Yes, the Hungarian experience is very much a part of my psyche too. Thanks, Susanne, I will seek out the book, “Next Stop The Moon”. I actually recently enjoyed your book YA about the burns victim. Very sensitively written. Great work. Missed you in Canberra when you visited recently, but would love to catch up with you again. We have much in common and I remember our meeting in Darwin at AATE conference with fondness. Cheers & A Merry Christmas To You Too! Suzanne

  4. Susanne Gervay Says:

    Hi Suzanne

    It’s out of print now, but I want to rewrite it so it’s deeper. it was my first book.

    We will conenct in Canberra again – a favourite destination.

    Wishing you a joyous Christmas and new Year


  5. Jennifer Says:

    Beautiful story Susanne and a wonderful collection!
    Where can we buy it?
    Best wishes