Having just returned from a round trip that took in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair
and the London Book Fair
, I thought it was about time I posted details of the books and themes that caught my eye. At both fairs, I was lucky enough to attend a series of panels about diversity in children’s books and the importance of publishing books that mirror a child’s own experience while also providing windows into lives that they would have no other access to. I wrote a report about it here
for Words Without Borders.
I’m happy to say I came away from Bologna with a bit of a spring in my step, partly because of the musical note to many of the panels featuring Bruno Tognolini, Italian poet, children’s writer, television star, not to mention finalist in this year’s Strega Ragazzi Award, and partly because of the line he bewitchingly recited, “Tu sei tutti e tu sei tu,” – “you are everyone and you are you” – which echoed the general vibe at the fair:
The vibe in Bologna slotted in perfectly with the “Mind the Gap. Celebrating Authentic Inclusion” panel staged by Inclusive Minds and IbbyUK at the London Book Fair. Again we heard that children’s books can be both windows and mirrors and it was this thought that spurred me to get back to my blog.
The first book I want to share is Il Sole tra le Dita by Gabriele Clima, which won the 2017 Italian Andersen award as the best book in the 15+ category.
I like to think of this book as a game-changer (you’ll find out why later.) The title, which translates as “The sun between your fingers
“, has been a huge success for the Italian publisher (San Paolo Edizioni), has been reprinted three times, translated into six languages, and designated an IBBY-listed outstanding book about disability.
It is represented by Cinzia Seccamani from the FindOut Team literacy agency
We all need a little sunshine
Il Sole fra le Dita is a story about bringing sunshine into people’s lives and how we can often find it in places, and with the people, that we least expect.
Troubled teenager Dario is assigned to a volunteer programme at school (either that or face expulsion) and is told to look after Andy – who in Dario’s eyes is merely a figure in a wheelchair who dribbles and looks a bit limp. Things get on top of Dario but as his own sense of alienation increases, he also realizes that Andy has a pretty rubbish time of it, too.
Andy seems to be drawn to the sunshine but never gets to see or feel it, forced to stay inside all day, in his chair, covered up and looked after by people who see only the wheelchair and not the person. On a mad impulse, Dario makes a break for it one day and runs away with Andy. The break for freedom was only meant to go as far as the local park but turns into a road trip to reach the sea and find Dario’s estranged father. During the Thelma & Louise type journey, there is a transformation in both boys.
As Dario gets to know Andy, his own tension begins to dissolve and Andy’s voice begins to emerge. This is marked by the more poetic, insightful nature of the language. The truly beautiful feature of the story, though, is how strong and likable and quirky and clever and real this emergent voice is, and how cleverly and lyrically the transformation of the two boys is conveyed.
The game-changing feature, for me, is how disability is dealt with. It is a no-frills, brutally honest mirror of what actually happens in the real world. Dario smokes weed to deal with his anger and discontent, and he is more than a little insulting to Andy when he first meets him. Definitely not PC. But unfortunately true. But the beauty and power of fiction, and of authentic inclusion, is that the reader can go on the same journey as Dario and see past the cliched reactions, the stereotypes, the labels. By simply spending time together, we see how most of these simply cease to exist.