Italian Children's Books
Unfortunately these days there are not many Italian children's books that get translated into English. The few titles I have come across in the past are those by Gianni Rodari.
Rodari was born in 1920 and is one of the first writers of contemporary fiction for children to have emerged in Italy. Telephone Tales, a collection of short stories told by a commercial traveller to his daughter, was translated into English in 1965, The Befana's Toyshop (1970), A Pie in the Sky, (1971), Mr Cat in Business (1975) and Tales Told by a Machine (1976).
The other translation I have encountered is a volume containing a collection of folk tales (Fiabe Italiane) by Italo Calvino which were originally published in Italian in 1955. Calvino is an eminent figure and highly regarded in the literature world.
Only fifty percent of Italian children's literature is of native extraction and Italian publishers seem happy to translate books from other countries. It is a positive sign to see the Italian interest in books from the English speaking world. Although it is disappointing not to see the reverse phenomena since very few Italian books get into the hands of English speaking children.
Having recently been to Italy, I could not resist visiting some local bookshops. I was thrilled to see the amount of high quality children's books translated from other languages (mainly European) and wonder why such books, together with the Italian ones, are not available in the UK. This is a phenomena will definitely require further investigation.
Italy is the host country of one of the most important events in the world of children's books: The Bologna Children's Book Fair. This annual event has made Italians aware of the importance that books play in the lives of children. The Fair has also generated lots of interest in this subject, from various sections of the community: parents, students, educators, librarians, publishers and the media.
Italians take illustration very seriously, and it is not unusual to find lots of interviews with children's book artists in their specialist magazines (Andersen, LG Argomenti, Liber). Furthermore, I was delighted to see the amount of exhibitions, talks and competitions for children's book illustrators being organised throughout the country. Italy has many talented artists.
Roberto Innocenti is one of my all time favourites. Rose Blanche and Pinocchio are two of his unforgettable titles! Ah, I nearly forgot to mention the highly original Bruno Munari, whose prolific work remains practically unknown in this country. There are many other contemporary artists not known in the UK but who need recognition: Chiara Rapaccini, Eva Montaniari, Pia Valentinis and Chiara Carrer, are just a few names that spring to mind from my long personal list. To all those who question why we need more books in this country, I would answer by saying that we need a diet rich in variety, in order to grow even healthier and broaden our horizons. Without doing this we ran the risk of becoming isolated and narrow-minded.
Among Italian children's authors, Roberto Piumini is one of the most talented and prolific writers coming out of Italy in recent years. His latest book Fiabe per Occhi e Bocca (Tales for the Eyes and Mouth) published by Einaudi is a collection of three traditional tales written in rhyme for primary school children. Pinin Carpi is another author that needs to be mentioned whose first book Susanna e il Soldato (Susan and the Soldier) was published in 1977. Carpi is a very prolific author who has published more than fifty books. He is also a well-known artist who usually illustrates his own books.
There are many Italian children's books that I would love to see translated into English. Seduto Nell' erba, al Buio:Diario di un Ragazzo Italiano (Sitting on the Grass, in the Darkness: Nino's War Diary) by Mino Milani (Fabbri Editori) is the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who records his life during the tragic year of 1944. You may wonder if we need to add another World War Two title to the already extensive British list. The answer is yes! This will offer British children the opportunity to learn about war as perceived from an Italian perspective and perhaps inform on the lesser known areas of the war.
A picture book that has recently caught my eye was: Chissa com'e il Cocodrillo… (I wonder what Crocodile Looks Like) written and illustrated by Eva Montanari (Edizioni Arka 2002 Milano). With irony and simplicity, the author uses the story as a scapegoat to introduce readers to the wonderful world of modern art: Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism and Abstract art are all tackled in this book. All the animals of a school by the river perceive the dangerous presence of a crocodile and each one decides to make a painting of him. The result is a collection of the most disparate and funny interpretations.
The other picture book I found attractive was Il Gobba dei Randagi written and illustrated by Arianna Papini (Fatatrac, 2002, Firenze). This is a short story suitable for most age groups. The Gobba is a homeless man who refuses to grow up and lives under a bridge. He welcomes all those animals that, like him, have not a home. The illustrations are delicate and convey an extraordinary feeling of warmth.
This is a small selection of a wide choice of Italian children's literature. My wish would be to see some of these books available in English, so children in this country can be enriched by a diversity of styles, genres and themes from another culture.
Outside In World, 2005
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