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Books for the overstimulated mind. A journey through picturebooks

Nowadays, a certain issue is observed - when external factors like sounds, artificial light, colours or motion make a human’s nervous system work without a single break to process all the information. The overstimulated mind has become increasingly common in today’s world.

With the pandemic, such an issue has become even bigger as our lives have switched to an online mode. We watch the news, study, work, and communicate with others within the digital world. Being glued to the screens strongly overstimulates our mind and, as such, has serious health and well-being consequences, including sleeping issues, headaches, stress, anxiety, and fatigue. And to relax, instead of binging another show or scrolling through Instagram, we should go old-school. Do it offline. The perfect solution for overstimulation is simple yet not so obvious. Picturebooks.

Simple remedy

While in Korea and Japan, picturebooks have been present on the market for a long time, appreciated and award-winning, they are not the most popular - or even just popular - genre in Poland. The lack of popularity might be a result of the fact that picturebooks are relatively new here. Small publishing houses started printing them not that long ago. What’s more, picturebooks have never been created with the mainstream in mind. They are kind of artistic books, not intrusively advertised and more expensive than ‘regular’ books. Nevertheless, they are definitely worth attention. Especially that, as Italian and Spanish examples show, such a genre can interestingly delve into the topics of ups and downs in life, emotions, disability, or intolerance.

Still, Poland has some prominent authors such as Iwona Chmielewska and Joanna Concejo, illustrators and winners of many prestigious awards around the world. What is so special about their books? There are not many words (sometimes it is only one sentence across the page), but each one has a deep meaning. Their nature has something of poetry. Words that invite you to look inside your heart and soul and that fondly lead you on that journey, allowing you to see the complexity of both the world and relationships within it. Picturebooks are about simple things we do not notice in the rush of the world. They allow us to stop and reflect. When we read the news, we do it quickly, just catching the most important parts. Here, every word is crucial and has its own weight.

Also, we should not forget about graphic design seen in picturebooks. Words work together with illustrations, completing each other. Books are sewn with hardcovers and high-quality paper. Illustrations are minimalist and original, yet fascinating to look at.

Themes and inspirations

Picturebooks are often presented as children's literature. However, it does not mean that the adults will not find anything for themselves. Iwona Chmielewska’s book (created with Justyna Bargielska) ‘Both’ is about various shades of motherhood. It shows both efforts and joy, extraordinary moments and thoughts on the relationship between mother and daughter. Women of strong personalities and with different often seemingly highly contrary perspectives, but at the same time strongly connected. Another picturebook by Iwona Chmielewska that had its premiere in Korea – ‘Two people’ focuses on love. What is that strange feeling? Why do people want to be together? What does one that fell in love have to deal with? Chmielewska presents us with simple sentences, through which she shows small, simple things about love that, in fact, have major importance.

Joanna Concejo, on the other hand, takes us on a journey to the seaside in her latest picturebook ‘„S” like Sea.’With great sensitivity and fantasy, the author shows the sea with both its beauty and volatility, enclosing in each illustration a part of the sea’s vastness. The main character, an adolescent boy, wants to be just like the sea – great and unstoppable. Although what he proves is the simple fact that sometimes each one of us needs alone time with our thoughts.

Picturebook and its magic

These all may seem like complex topics to undertake in such a medium. Yet it is the picturebooks that so beautifully and simply speak about all the important things in life. There is not one unnecessary word, no long descriptions. Although the reader's imagination is still required as text and illustrations create separate stories, which complete each other. According to Marta Baszewska and her article ‘Picturebook’s architecture’, picturebooks invite you to co-create meanings, leaving plenty of space for your own interpretation. Also, rereading the whole story in a completely new light reveals something new each time. It is a kind of intuitive reading, which is closely related to our personalities and perceptions of the world.

Just because there are not many words, it does not mean you will get through it quicker. Actually, it is the opposite as we have to read slower to appreciate language, which is often surprising or based on creative associations, as well as to reflect on how this story might be connected to our lives. Undoubtedly, picturebooks have educational, developmental and aesthetic values. That is why they gain more attention from readers to researchers on their impact. There are more picturebook’s, both international and Polish, in the bookstores than ever before. Let's not waste the opportunity and escape from overstimulation to a new world.

Eliza Cichocka

Polish Philology student at the University of Nicholas Copernicus in Toruń, specialising in copywriting. Mostly focuses on writing about all things culture. Interested in travelling and contemporary Polish autobiographical prose.

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