From Artist Book to Free Traveling Library March 15, 2017 07:09
IDENTITY · EXPRESSION · HISTORY
In 1994 I traveled to Argentina from the USA to speak with my Great Uncle János, the last elder alive who could answer questions about our Hungarian roots. János and I spent two years working together, and from him we not only discovered that we were Jewish, but that we lost over a dozen family members in the Holocaust—most of whom were children and mothers.
In 2006 I created The János Book, and I thought then that the purpose of this limited edition artist’s book was to honor János, our time together, and all that he was courageous enough to share.
Then, in 2012 the book came to life in Argentina as a Spanish trade edition entitled Entonces el libro and I discovered that there was another “reason” for the work János and I did together. Once this purpose exposed itself, it provided an entirely new, very surprising, perspective.
Soon after Entonces el libro began circulating, teachers in Córdoba wrote to me that they were using the book in their classrooms. I had this vision of one teacher with one book, and the usual 30 or so students. That didn’t seem right. So the idea of a free traveling library occurred to me—an itinerant suitcase that traveled by bus and equipped teachers with numerous copies of the book, plus a study guide. Thanks to sponsors, I was able to put together the first “Traveling Library, the Entonces el libro Suitcase” in July 2013. As of March 2017 there are now four Traveling Libraries circulating nonstop throughout Argentina, free of charge. Since the inception of the Traveling Libraries, Entonces el libro has been a learning tool for thousands of people of all ages in Argentina, across socioeconomic strata, visiting schools, museums, and libraries in both sprawling cities and small towns. Because of its nontraditional format, and because of its content, educators see in Entonces el libro a versatile resource fit for teaching about discrimination, identity, immigration, World War II, and the visual arts. Quite regularly, it is tied into teaching about the last military dictatorship here in Argentina. As if this weren’t inspiration enough to me as an author, as a bookbinder I am enthralled to see how many schools decide to make their own books, through which people tell their stories, and explore themselves, their schools, their families or towns.
The Traveling Libraries are made possible by sponsors, individuals who “believe in and create the right to culture, education and art,” as one teacher phrased it. I feel profound gratitude because I walk with many hands as I accompany The János Book and Entonces el libro. The Traveling Libraries provide a context within which I understand much more of what happened to us as a family, and what transpired between János and me along the way. Witnessing Entonces el libro organically turn into a learning tool puts our family’s experience as immigrants and as Holocaust victims and survivors into a perspective I had never imagined. János passed away in 2003, but if he were able to see the transformation that his decision to speak has caused in others, all of his trepidations about having connected us with our heritage would melt away definitively. János had a very endearing Cheshire cat expression, one of content satisfaction, and wonder. Every time that I hear from teachers and students about their experience with the Traveling Libraries, every time I am blessed with one more anecdote of Entonces el libro being an instrument for discovery, I imagine sitting in the den telling János about it, as I would if he were alive, and that expression glows through time. We did not embark on this journey together with the idea of making an educational resource. But now that it exists here in Argentina, there is an all-encompassing point of view that explains away decades of unknowns.
You can help get the Traveling Libraries back out on the road in 2017 by sponsoring a book for just $6. Spreading the word about this project is also a wonderful way to help.
Enjoy the 2015 summary here (PUT ON ENGLISH SUB TITLES OR THE BULK OF THE CONTENT IS LOST!)
More useful links:
All of the info about The Traveling Libraries, in Spanish.
The János Book is now available as an English Trade Edition. See what all the fuss is about.
Follow the Traveling Library Experience here.
This is the Study Guide that accompanies Entonces el libro.
The Traveling Libraries, the “Entonces el libro” suitcases in numbers.
· In 2016, two of the four suitcases traveled non stop by bus throughout the Province of Cordoba (19 round trips),and were a free educational resource for over 900 students in 22 different schools.
· Last year we were able to initiate two long distance traveling libraries that made eight round trips by bus to six different provinces throughout Argentina, traveling over 18.700 kms (12000 miles). Over 900 students in 14 different schools had the suitcases available to them in their classrooms.
· The Traveling Libraries function on a budget of less than $900 a year and are made possible by over 100 sponsors from five different countries.
· What I cannot quantify: The power of this planetary network of sponsors, teachers, educational institutions and students coming together to make a free learning resource possible here in Argentina. A resource that not only works with history, art and identity, but relentlessly inspires readers to create their own collages and books.