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Breaking Down Barriers with Wordless Picturebooks: “The Silent Books Exhibition, from the World to Lampedusa and Back”

  • Áine McGillicuddy


In 2012 the Italian branch of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) established a library on Lampedusa Island, Italy for the use of local children but also for the many refugee children arriving there from Africa and the Middle East. The challenge was to find books to appeal to children of different ages and from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds – books that could provide some respite for children traumatised by displacement and conflict. Wordless picturebooks were identified as an ideal genre, given they can be enjoyed by children of all ages without the restriction of language barriers. The Lampedusa Library initiative led to the creation of a collection of wordless picturebooks, comprising more than a hundred titles, donated from over twenty countries. One set of this collection remains in Lampedusa while another has evolved into a travelling exhibition, the “Silent Books Project”. Since 2013 this exhibition has toured many countries with the aim of inviting readers from different cultural backgrounds both to engage with these picturebooks and reflect upon the reasons for the Silent Books Project’s existence in the first place. In this article I will first discuss the origins of the Silent Book project on Lampedusa Island and provide a brief overview of the IBBY organisation and its aims. Wordless picturebooks will then be situated within current academic research on picturebooks. Finally, a selection of titles chosen for the Silent Books project will be examined in more detail and some of the experiences involving the Silent Books Project’s visit to Ireland in spring 2017 will also be outlined. Highlighted in this article will be the silent power of pictures in such wordless narratives to aid child refugees in regaining some agency and to foster empathy in readers who have never been forced to leave their home.

Keywords: Wordless picture books, Child refugees, Silent Books project, IBBY

How to Cite:

McGillicuddy, Á., (2019) “Breaking Down Barriers with Wordless Picturebooks: “The Silent Books Exhibition, from the World to Lampedusa and Back””, Studies in Arts and Humanities 4(2), 108-122. doi:

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Published on
30 Jan 2019
Peer Reviewed