Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sex in the news but not in our children’s books please

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It all started over a soya milk cappuccino

GiornaliI really need to stop reading the (Italian) newspapers… there’s a limit to how incensed a person can get in public over a lovingly-prepared and meticulously crafted organic coffee and soya milk cappuccino. That’s why blogs are quite useful: they give you a place to vent frustration and rant about all the shocking things going on in the world.  The world out there, that is, not our part of it. Because we all know that the nasty things happening in the papers, or “over there”, certainly don’t happen here.

Or could they?

Misogyny: here, there, everywhere

Today’s offending articles started with the 15-year-old girl who was gang-raped and burned alive in India. That she was more than just a body, a possession, a vessel didn’t seem to occur to her rapists, who may also have been her relatives. Then there was a piece about a female taxi driver in Italy (that’s here, not there) who was raped by a male passenger. Bizarrely, he was just some poor guy who’d split from his wife, had had a tough childhood and was in a bit of a rut.  Not a rapist. Just a nice boy having a hard time and a crazy five minutes. Not a word about the woman whose life was ruined.

Then, I turned the page and there was more.  Not just episodic violence, but widespread and systematic acts of cruelty and aggression against women and girls in the Islamic State. The story talked about how women and girls are stripped naked and categorised before being traded in “slave bazaars”. Now while I was imagining the horror,  my mind was also automatically retrieving images of a young adult novel I recently translated.

But what’s a book got to do with anything?

The real story’s often in the fictionalized one

Nemmeno un bacio prima di andare a letto / A Girl of No Importance is an Italian novel for young adults about destructive teenage love and underage prostitution. Read the rest of this entry

Fact or fiction for kids. Or both?

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Fact or fiction for kids. Or both?

 

I have a ten-year old.  We both love to read. Only she likes facts and I prefer fiction. This makes if quite hard when you’re at the biggest children’s book fair in the world (honest, BCBF really is that big) and you’re supposed to bring the little person back something “cool”. It might seem like an innocuous little word, but for a nearly fifty-something who doesn’t really do non-fiction, it could’ve been quite a headache. If I hadn’t discovered a cracker of wee book at the book fair, that is.   Suonare il Rock a Teheran [Playing rock music in Teheran].  Where fact meets fiction and a middle-aged mum has a chance of appearing cool with her kid.

 

Are facts fun?

Some brains were made to flutter freely through words, visit imaginary places, frolic in fantasy land,  hang on cliffhangers and marvel at twists and turns.  Others were made to seek out and retain information. I’ve always known which category I fall into. No times, no dates, no historical settings in my comfort zone. Until fact became fashionable, that is, and I had to pick up something cool at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

So, what does a moth-eaten mother who craves a half-hour of pure concoction give to a middle-grader who has not only read but also remembers who ran the fastest 100-metre hurdles wearing swim fins and why bottom farts are smelly.

giraffe

 

Fictionalized fact: the compromise.

suonare il rock2

I’d die without music, singing is the only thing that makes life bearable.

Well, they say go with what you know.. so I went to Bologna Children’s Book Fair and I didn’t head for the non-fiction shelves. I didn’t hang out in the discovery hall. I just did what you normally do at book fairs. I wandered. Into the Feltrinelli stand. And that’s where I found Suonare il rock a Teheran (Playing rock music in Teheran).     Read the rest of this entry

Us and Them

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Books good

Reading is good, right? It enlightens and informs and opens up new worlds to us? It takes us on journeys and makes us feel good.  I’m definitely one of those people who wholeheartedly subscribe to the maxim that, “The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries“.   I also like to run in my spare time, but I find climbing inside a good book is a little less demanding on the ageing achilles and a lot more enriching for the mind. Which gets a pretty good work out too.

 

However.409a1984298d5a85c4ba483491782f44_650x

Newspapers bad

Today I was reading an Italian local newspaper (I know, not a book, but still words on a page) and instead of feeling all nice and warm and fuzzy, it made me want to roll up the paper and bang a certain Salvini, Farage or similar foreigner-bashing politician on the head with it. Certainly not one of those “keep calm, read a book” experiences.

I won’t bore you with the details because I think just mentioning Nigel Farage and foreigners in the same sentence is too much publicity for a xenophobe in a suit.

As I said before, books are always the answer. So maybe I was reading in the wrong place? Back home, I scanned the tomes piled up on my desk for something more soothing that would prove that not everyone is bad. That humanity is more than corrupt politicians, mafia bosses,  swindling public officials, self-appointed elite and immigrant-hating Italians, Brits, etc. etc. (“raze the Roma camps to the ground” shouted hate-filled Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s Northern League). Surely there must be someone, somewhere who recognizes who’s really to blame for our dwindling bank accounts, shrinking salaries and flourishing food banks?  Not to mention our depleted planet and rabid greed that keeps 95% of the worlds wealth in the pockets of about 1% of the global population. (Note to self: check statistics).  But that’s another story.

Us and Them

noicopThe story on my desk that caught my eye was this delightful one. Noi (us) written by Elisa Mazzoli and illustrated by Sonia Maria Luce Possentino. But don’t worry, you can read on. It has nothing to do with politics or capitalist corruption. It’s simply a compassionate, poetic story, written in Italian, about children learning to see beyond diversity and make friends with the wonderful people they find behind the barriers. Barriers that we ourselves raise because we’re scared of what’s different. Because we want to protect what’s ours.  Only by doing that, we often don’t realize what we’re missing out on, or what we’re not seeing.

 

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We call him Big Eye.
He’s got one huge eye, so big that the other eye,
the normal one, kind of disappears.
Sticky drool dribbles from his big eye.
But it’s not tears.
It’s a slimy trail just like the one snails make.
It grosses us out. 

 

 

NOI

Little by little, we started to talk,
we talked about everything,
the world, the sky, the sea.
about us, about everyone else,
about the snail that was looking at us with its feelers up.
We laughed, and we got our hands dirty.

 

Two boys who once thought of each other as “them” and “us” end up digging in the dirt for secret treasure. Together. They discover all the things they didn’t know that the “other” does. They discover the joy of sharing. They find time for “us” instead of them. They realize that it’s more fun to work together.

Now I feel all warm and fuzzy.

Thanks to Elisa Mazzoli and to Bacchilega for publishing this wonderful picture book. You can also buy it here. And no, I’m not getting any commission for this. I just loved the book a lot. It made me feel good again.

Proverbi Abruzzesi – 3 – Power struggles

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Scottish Enlightenment

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve had time to think about this blog. My head’s been full of all sorts of other stuff, like Scotland nearly becoming independent and the reawakening of a nation to claim its identity and voice within the United Kindgom. Oh and work too.  There’s been quite a lot of that too.

For anyone following me on Facebook, you might have noticed a slight surge in the number of political posts I’ve been tacking up on my timeline. Yes, I’m one of those people who were energized by the referendum campaign, one of the sleeping electorate who finally woke up to smell the (burnt) coffee of national and international politics.

Happily, my  own personal Scottish enlightenment has involved a lot of reading too, both online and in books. When I don’t understand something, I go straight to a book in search of answers, or when I’m reading for pleasure, I constantly come across things that tie into real-life experience, shedding light on it or expressing it perfectly in words.  Nothing really changes in human nature.  We just keep doing the same old things, and since many great writers of the past saw it all before us, we just have to look to their words for help in understanding what we’re still seeing today.

Books are always the answer

Like last night, flicking through Michael Rosen’s version of Aesop’s Fables, I picked the story of the wolf and the lamb to read to my little person. As we got to the moral of the story, I couldn’t help thinking how well it described the abuse slung at the Yes campaign during the Scottish referendum and the ability of the other side (the No people) to come up with all sorts of excuses to  deny their own behaviour and still bring the other side down. Fast forward to the current UK general election and press repeat.  Each side pedalling dreams and ridiculing the other side’s vision as lies.

aesopsfablesint

But since this blog is supposed to be about Italian literature, I’d better stay on topic and get back to the lingo of my adopted land: Italiano/Abruzzese.

There’s nothing better than an Italian proverb for hitting the nail on the head.

Local Abruzzo dialect: 

Non créde a suònne, ca le suònne ‘nganne

Italian: Non credete ai sogni, perché ingannano. 

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New Anthology of International Children’s Literature

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FOUND IN TRANSLATION

 il mio nonno 3I’ve covered Il Mio Nonno era un Ciliegio before, but I’m back tooting both my own and the author’s horn this time.

Working with the Italian editor, Einaudi Ragazzi, I made a submission earlier this year to Found in Translation, a competition to find the most promising international children’s fiction unpublished in the English language.

Reader’s reports and the material I submitted,   Read the rest of this entry

Books about women. Books by women.

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Books about women. Books by women.

For reasons that will become all too clear later in the year (yes, it’s got something to do with books in translation) I’ve been thinking a lot about women. About how they’re treated. About who’s fault it is.  It all started with rubbish Italian television, Berlusconi, lady senators and a book called Meat Market. Female Flesh Under Capitalism by Laurie Penny.  What can the four possibly have in common you might be asking yourself? Well, sadly in Italy they are all related.

But I had that conversation somewhere else and I want to talk about books here. Italian books about women. Books by Italian women. From Silvia Avallone’s Marina Bellezza,  to Manuela Salvi’s Aleksandra, Bianca and Alessia,  and Catena Fiorello’s Picciridda. Different writers, different stories, different audiences,  but all women and all with something important to say. About women.

nemmeno un bacio

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La Cosa Piu’ Importante – The Most Important Thing

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Where have I been?

It’s been a bit too long since my last post and while I’d like to say I’ve been away setting the world  to rights, I haven’t.

But I did read a book about it.   It’s called La cosa piu’ importante – The Most Important Thing.  And it’s all about putting the world back together.

Laura Novello  and Matteo Gaule

Laura Novello
and Matteo Gaule

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Le Parole Scappate – Runaway Words – by Arianna Papini

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Runaway Words – Le Parole Scappate

Another city, another book fair, another bag full of books.

Italian books, by Italian authors, published by independent Italian publishers. And all on show at Rome’s Piu’ Libri Piu’ Liberi (“the more books we read, the more free we become”) which turned out to be an excellent event, full of interesting people, interesting workshops, and most of all, amazing books. So what to read first?

Having a long  journey to face afterwards, I opted for all the children’s ones…  hours of Italian children’s books …the perfect way to while away the journey home from a busy weekend in Italy’s eternal city with the little lady.

By coincidence,  the first one we picked was by the same author – Arianna Papini – whose book “E’ una parola”  I was enthusing about last month.

Le Parole Scappate – which would translate literally as “Runaway Words” – is a story narrated  in two voices: a young dyslexic boy and his Alzheimer-suffering grandmother.

Runaway Words
(a possible Italian to English translation)

Having picked up so many books at the fair, I had completely forgotten what this one was about, so when I read the first few sentences, it took me a few seconds to get my bearings. For me that’s a good sign it’s going to be a great read. When the first page throws you, shakes you about and forces you to sit up and pay attention you know it’s going to be a gripping journey.

If you like the sound of it, read on.

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Luis Sepúlveda The Story of a cat and the mouse that became his friend

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Spanish, Italian..and the English??

Browsing the bookshelf in the newsagents the other day, a slim, orange book with a catching cover jumped out at me. That may have been because it was the only yellowy one in the lineup (fave colour) or because I’m feeling a bit more amenable towards cats at the moment, having just acquired a particularly fluffy feline friend of my own. Something drew me to it anyway, so I picked it up. And brought it home. Kind of the same thing that happened with the kitten.

Luis Sepúlveda The story of a cat and the mouse that became his friend

Luis Sepúlveda
The story of a cat and the mouse that became his friend

I know this is supposed to be a blog about Italian books, and the Chilean writer, film director, journalist and political activist “from the end of the world” writes in Spanish, but have a look at the title of today’s book: Storia di un gatto e del topo che divento’ suo amico.  It’s in Italian. Translated from the original Spanish.  The English version may be coming. Or it may not. Read on in if you’d like a sneak preview.  It really is a lovely story.

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Friendship: more than a word

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Following in the spirit of last week’s Secret Language series… today’s post has something to do with secrets as well, and since it’s Sunday, I thought I’d also relax with an lovely children’s picture book that I found in a bookshop in Pescara.

What is it? I wish I knew.

E' Una Parola Arianna Papini

E’ Una Parola
Arianna Papini

Ask an Italian a difficult question,  one of those one million dollar ones that are so tricky to find the right answer to, maybe a definition for something  that you just can’t put your finger on, and they will reply:

E’ una parola! 

Literally, this translates as “It’s a word” but what it actually means is:  I wish I knew!

It’s also the name of a beautiful book by Arianna Papini, published in Italian by Kalandraka.

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