2023 Children Plus: Beauty and the World: The New Nonfiction Picturebook

The Exhibition is the result of a research project of the University of Bologna with Bologna Children’s Book Fair as a partner. Aim of the project was to start mapping and analyzing the most interesting non-fiction picturebooks published all over the world in the last decade.

Non-fiction, especially in picturebook form, has been possibly the most remarkable children’s publishing phenomenon at a global level over the last years, with almost no critical inquiry of it having developed, until very recently.

The Exhibition, displaying over 200 original titles from many different countries, is an attempt to show how rich and surprising the international offer of non-fiction picturebooks is today, and an invitation to explore its countless styles and forms.

It also suggests possible ways to group or combine the titles according to fanciful and revisable sections, conceived in ways that deliberately go beyond the traditional categories with which we use to classify the real world.

The most evident characteristic of the new non-fiction picturebook, besides its impressive aesthetic aspect, is the creativity with which it is conceived: compared to previous leaning books, it does not rest on long-established classifications, but is rather based on a broadly poetic stance: a metonymy, a daring thought, a comparison…

This creativity suggested freedom in understanding and arranging the volumes of the Exhibition, and the possibility to overlook standard systematizations and labels. New and far-reaching groupings have been envisaged, which are by no means rigorous frames: many books belong to more than one section, just as it happens in the natural world, where apparently distant beings are, in fact, deeply connected.

Interdisciplinarity, intersections, border crossing, fusion of different fields of knowledge and of different means of expression are key concepts in the production of the new non-fiction picturebook, which blends and integrates the visual code and the written text in unexpected ways, to start with.

Given the countless publications in this field, the project’s focus narrowed to books that can be considered particularly innovative and daring in terms of aesthetic experimentation and approach to knowledge.

The Exhibition mostly displays books that try to unite information about the world with the search for beauty, combine objective messages with poetic renderings, satisfy the desire for knowledge but also appeal to the senses.

Books with a clearly subjective, ‘authorial’ perspective and personal illustrative style were deliberately privileged over books that present their material in a supposedly objective, neutral, dispassionate manner.

We included books that are clearly the result of original visual ideas, more than books that represent and explain the world according to well-known methods and frameworks.

In conclusion, the Exhibition showcases books that, while informative about the world, are conceived and designed to arouse a sense of wonder, and would most likely favor a creative, open, innovative, interdisciplinary, synesthetic teaching, if used in the classroom.

Aim of the Exhibition is to reveal, beyond specific contents or ‘themes’, the aesthetic – and even more: the epistemological – novelty at the heart of the new nonfiction picturebook. How can knowledge be communicated to children? Here we can find hundreds of creative and engaging ways to do it.

Chinese Original Titles:

Chinese non-fiction picturebooks, like their global counterparts, primarily focus on the progress of human civilization and the accomplishments in both the humanities and natural sciences. These books hold profound value and significance. China's extensive history, vibrant culture, and rapid socio-economic development have created a strong foundation and vast opportunities for the creation and publication of non-fiction picturebooks in this new era.

The works showcased here serve as a testament to the philosophy and achievements of original non-fiction picturebooks. They are carefully crafted for young readers, skillfully blending educational content with a child's perspective, literary finesse, and artistic creativity. These books seamlessly merge cognitive development with the pure joy of reading, all while providing a vivid portrayal of Chinese culture.

Within this space, non-fiction picturebooks from China and around the world stand together, each radiating its unique charm and enriching the other. This exhibition not only offers readers and creators enriching experiences and insights but also underscores the vital role of children's literature in promoting cultural exchange and mutual learning.


Mrs. Chen Hui (China), Professor and Doctorial Tutor, School of Chinese Language and Literature of Beijing Normal University; Director of Research Centre on PictureBooks of Beijing Normal University