Ethical Reading

Art & Culture

Heres a story for you: a young man in Buenos Aires makes his living each day by collecting the cardboard discarded on the streets of the city. His favourite customer for his pickings is a colourful shopfront in the La Boca neighbourhood. This is the home of Eloisa Cartonera, a co-operative of writers, artists and crafters who create unique, hand-painted book covers from the cardboard they buy from the young man and sell them alongside their fruit and veg stall. The publishing house in La Boca has many Latin American novelists and poets on its list, and its reach and range is expanding. Just recently, theyve had a slightly different project to work on. Theyve been creating covers for a series of short stories, with names like The Undertaker, The Cell, The Prophet, The Bellboy and The Watch. Clearly inspired by Latin American literature, these stories are in fact the work of a British woman called Jemma Foster, and these latest book coves are destined for London. Over here they have been filled with Jemmas words and illustrations by friends of hers, many of them professional artists. This week, on Wednesday 22nd, the finished works will be on display at a launch event at a West London gallery a far cry from Buenos Aires but creating a close link with it.

But the story doesnt quite end there. There is a tiny 6-year-old girl in an orphanage in Argentina; she has an active imagination but no-one has ever read to her. One day an old woman turns up on a motorbike with a bag of books. She gathers the children at the orphanage together and feeds their minds with fairy-tales and fables, poems and adventures. The children learn the power of stories and the desire to read and write. All over Argentina the organisation Abuelas Cuentacuentos drops off their Storytelling Grandmothers at schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other places where children might not get to enjoy the experience of being read to. Now, back in the UK, each time Jemma sells one of her sustainably and collaboratively produced books, she donates one to Abuelas Cuentacuentos to keep their library going. The next chapter of this tale will hopefully see enough money being raised to set up a library bus for children to jump on board and go on more journeys of the imagination.

Jemmas stories had been nascent for a long time, while she was working as a freelance journalist in London and a scriptwriter in Argentina. It was coming across Eloisa Cartonera that she found a form and a concept which would give birth to her writing, as Jemma says the nature of their form fits with the theme of the human senses as they feast on these elements – the books are playful in their look and feel and conjure up some of the child in everyone which the stories also lend themselves to.

As weve seen, its a genesis which has spawned many more stories along the way.

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Mads Ryle