“When one makes children’s books, one actually makes them first and foremost for oneself, for the child that one was and, wishfully, still is.” Grégoire Solotareff is a child of various cultures. He was born in 1953 in Alexandria, Egypt, the son of the Lebanese doctor Henri El-Kayem, and the Russian emigrant and artist Olga Solotareff-Lecaye. Political disturbances, revolutions and civil war forced the family from Egypt to Lebanon at the end of the 1950’s, and finally to France. Children in Solotareff’s family did not attend school. Instead, learning, storytelling and drawing took place at home. His immense familiarity with sketch books and books stems from this time. Like his father, who was once the medical attendant to the Egyptian crowned prince, Solotareff studied medicine and worked as a doctor for five years. As time went by he began drawing again and he formed impression he was regaining contact with something long forgotten, something which goes by the name of ‘childhood’. Today Solotareff is one of the most important European illustrators and authors. More than 120 books have been created since the middle of the 1980’s, which have been translated, exhibited and staged around the world. The spectrum of his work is huge: fit-for-the-bathtub plastic fold-out books for the littlest ones, innumerable picture books and stories, a novel for children and a few books that Olga Lecaye and his sister Nadja have illustrated. In 2003, ‘Loulou et autres loups’ hit the French cinemas, a series of five animated short films based on Solotareff’s picture book ‘Loulou’ (1989) about a young wolf who chooses to become friends with, of all animals, a hare. Solotareff’s first animated feature film „U“ played at the Berlinale 2007 in the Children’s and Youth Film Section. It is a fairytale about a princess who grows up with a talking unicorn for a friend.
Solotareff has brought a new hue to children’s literature. Insubordinate, fresh and with black humour, in a fairytale and secretive manner, but never harmless, he tells the story of friendship and love – always in his clear, reduced handwriting and in the primary colours red, yellow and blue. Solotareff depicts animals that for him are “caricatures of humans” . His pictures give human attributes to dreamy hares, lonely wolves, Italian mice, career-tired gnomes, freezing crocodiles and frogs in love. In his much applauded picture book ‘Toi grand et moi petit’ (1996; Engl: You Big and Me Small), which was awarded the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in 1997, an elephant in need of protection forms a friendship with the powerful lion king; the friendship becomes unhinged with time as the little elephant grows bigger than his royal friend. Solotareff illuminates the ancient story of father and son, of power and powerlessness, with exciting and intense pictures. The flatly applied, pure and bright colours with their black contours join the simplified, but never simple forms into a harmonious unit. “In my pictures, as in my soul, I attempt to reconcile both sides – the striving for softness, for happiness, for intense and strong things on the one hand, and simultaneously the quest for things that awaken the sense for humour and wickedness.”
Grégoire Solotareff has been honoured with the most important awards in France and a number of international prizes, including the Prix de Montreuil (1992) and the Bologna Ragazzi Award (1993). In 2004 he was a finalist in the Hans Christian Andersen Awards. He lives and draws in Paris.
© international literature festival berlin