Case Study 7: Zitti’s Cake Shop
OIW was delighted to find this book featuring a positive but unusual depiction of a deaf character. Involving this title in our project led to particularly interesting learning points about the challenges of the translation process. Where commercial viability in the UK was concerned, this case study also illustrates the contrast between the views between different parties involved in the consultation, and even of individual publishers.
Zitti’s Cake Shop (La pasticceria Zitti)
Rosa Tiziana Bruno (text) Ambra Garlaschelli (Ills.) La Margherita Edizioni, Italy, 2011
In a city where people are always busy and in a hurry, there is a place where you can find shelter from bad weather or from a bad mood – Zitti’s Cake Shop. Mr Zitti is an outstanding pastry chef and every day he mixes something magical into his cakes. It wasn’t ‘a fancy type of sugar or even a mysterious kind of chocolate or spice from a faraway land’, but a secret ingredient that has the power to leave people lost for words... Zitti’s Cake Shop explores the extraordinary properties of food as a form of communication because understanding does not always need words.
"It was just like any other town really. The kind where people talk and talk and talk, all the time, at home, at work, at the shops, always talking their heads off. Sometimes even shouting".
"But no matter how much they talked, they rarely understood each other".
"Because all their words seemed to be hiding other words. And it was really difficult to work out what they were".
OIW were contacted about Zitti's Cake Shop by the publisher La Margherita Edizioni after hearing about the project. The title was also recommended by the Italian Children's Writers Association (ICWA). Italian author Rosa Tiziana Bruno is a writer and sociologist. As well as writing children’s books she writes for educational journals about the use of fairy tales in schools. Zitti’s Cake Shop has also been made into a short animated film available on YouTube and has been used in Italy in projects on nutrition education and diversity.
Italian translator Denise Muir provided us with a full English translation.
The feedback on Zitti’s Cake Shop from the VFG, consultation meetings and focus groups in schools was very positive.
Depiction of disability
Karen Argent believed the book presented the person with a disability as having "agency and power".
She observed that the depiction was a very positive one, which:
"makes Mr Zitti the solver of problems and positive contributor to the community that doesn’t know how to communicate effectively".
"I think that the way in which this is depicted is very imaginative and effective. His shop with the magical cakes is filling a gap – a metaphor for an inclusive institution led by someone who has a disability but, perhaps because of this understands the world? I suppose you could argue that this aspect plays into the magical/savant trope of disability but I think it is more akin to the fairy tale role of the 'Selfish Giant', BFG etc. He is large, gentle and awkward (although all the people are extremely strange in appearance which I really like)".
Patricia Billings also liked the message of the book:
"The message about the beauty and power of the silence, and the particular need for silence in the way it causes us to pause - not just individual pause, but a collective pause, as suggested by the family scene (as subtle an endorsement for families eating together as I have ever seen: it's perfect, really) - and as a chance to communicate in nonverbal ways, is a very valuable one that is beautifully conveyed".
Professor Lathey also shared the enthusiasm for Zitti's Cake Shop, stating that she liked it:
"especially because it has an important message for everyone, a lesson that can be learned from someone who cannot hear. Spirits and mood lift as the book progresses and the illustrations are eye-catching and unusual, while including the level of detail that children like. It's also good that deafness isn't mentioned until over half way through the book, and then in a very matter-of-fact manner. And baking a little silence into cupcakes is such an original and thought-provoking idea too. It's a nice change from the disabled child in the family/class scenario, and I can well imagine that children will like it".
Questions and concerns
The only concern that Karen Argent raised was that the writing might be too complicated:
"the written translation feels a bit complicated as it stands – perhaps the pictures speak for themselves to a large extent."
Patricia Billings also felt that:
"the beginning spreads are quite heavy with glum adult faces and a glum mood-set; having some fresher and happier young faces appear earlier in the text might have leavened this a bit. Yes, I have a slight concern that the leavening arrives a little too late in the text. Nonetheless, when we get to it, it is sweet."
Another of Patricia’s concerns was that:
"the message comes too much at the expense of words - the suggestion that words, or too many words or noisy words, are necessarily not genuine or are always undermined by suppressed subtexts. There are genuine words and gentle words, signed as well as spoken; it's not a zero-sum situation whereby there is either frenetic, meaningless word-noise or silence. Of course, the positing of silence in this way is meant to validate and celebrate Mr Zitti's world of silence; I understand this. It's just that binary either/ors tend to be a little stark, though, if anywhere, they tend to work best in children's books - and I do think children will understand this book's message".
Quality and effectiveness
The quality of the illustrations came in for some particular praise, with Karen Argent expressing the view that:
"the illustrations are beautifully composed, quirky but stunning and I think work very well despite being mostly monochrome. I believe that children need to see a wide variety of illustrative styles in order to stimulate their own artistic skills – these make me want to pick up some charcoal! It also has a cinematic quality“.
Patricia Billings also thought that:
"the illustrations are outstanding and wonderful; the mix of realism and surrealism is perfectly balanced, I think, so that children will be pulled in and not be put off by too much strangeness. The adult faces evoke, for me, the sort of larger-than-life seriousness and even ominousness of real adult faces when seen from the perspective of the very young".
Appeal and viability
Karen Argent believed Zitti’s Cake Shop could be used with older readers:
"I think that this is a book that would sell very well internationally because of its aesthetic quality".
Patricia Billings believed the book would have appeal and viability to UK audiences:
"overall, despite my slight concerns, I think this is a beautiful and, in fact, quite special book that is well worth presenting to publishers in Britain".
The reactions of the publishers with whom we shared the book were extremely interesting, with a clear divide between those who liked the book and those who were put off by the style of illustration:
Publisher Focus Group 1
Publisher Focus Group 2
The students of River Beach SSC liked the story of Mr Zitti: one girl described the people "talking their heads off" as chatterboxes and liked the way the story described the words as being hidden. When asked by the teacher why Mr Zitti stays hidden from his customers two children replied independently of each other "because he doesn’t have hearing aids".
Johnan Bannier liked the story and felt that it presented a positive image of hearing impairment.
The translation challenges relevant to this title are discussed in 4.7, page 26 of the report.
Zitti’s Cake Shop was felt to be an unusual picture book that has a powerful message wrapped up in references to food and silence. The illustrations by Ambra Garlaschelli have a haunting quality, delivered in monochrome tones.
The book soon emerged as a powerful contender for UK publication, based on the feedback from the VFG and OIW’s own views. The consultation with UK publishers suggested that for some, the book might be considered to be too much of a risk in terms of its curious and rather sombre style of artwork. However, OIW would recommend wide circulation of this unusual and powerful Italian book in order to try to seek out the 'right' publisher.