Empower not censor

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Girls in the news

This has been a good week for girls in the news. We’ve had new leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Kezia Dugdale, launch a gender-balanced cabinet, Yvette Cooper rebut sexist claims and invitations to withdraw from the fight to become leader of the UK Labour Party, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon make headlines with her pledge to make sure there is no better place than Scotland to be educated.

Girl-POWer-T!

Promoting diversity…..

As a translator who likes to promote women’s issues and diversity, preferably in books by women writers, I’m quite happy to see women making their rightful way in what are quite often male-dominated environments.

As a reader taking books into primary schools and libraries, I share the Scottish Government’s belief  that, to make progress and find your place in life, early learning is fundamental. What children are reading and the models they are exposed to is a big part of that. The Scottish system seems to be a progressive one, and, luckily, not tarred by people like Luigi Brugnaro.

…or not.

Luigi Brugnaro is the mayor of Venice who single-handedly set civil rights and attempts to tackle homophobia back several decades by banning a list of 50 children’s books. Why? Because the list was originally drawn up to help preschool educators fight prejudices and stereotypes and featured, amongst other things (even M. Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt!!), a male dog who aspired to be a ballerina, a little boy who wanted to be a princess, a princess who wanted to be a soccer player, a penguin adopted by two male penguins, and a little boy who drags a little red saucepan around with him as a metaphor for living with a physical disability. Hardly subversive stuff.

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So why did Brugnaro and his ilk try to stop teachers from using them in the classroom? Because Italy is still a relatively conservative, patriarchal society that is “struggling to transform itself into an increasingly multicultural and multifaceted society” [New York Times, New York Times online edition, Aug 18, 2015].

Good girl role models

If reading any of these books can help to foster inclusiveness and respect, not to mention encouraging girls to achieve their full potential in whichever pursuit they choose, shouldn’t we make sure our children are reading them?

My answer is obviously a big “Yes!!”

This month I’ve decided to share one such book (not on Brugnari’s list though) that I had great fun reading with my daughter. It’s an excellent, action-packed fairy tale quest with a female protagonist who miraculously saves the day.

I-ladri-di-Favole

In Rosa Tiziana Bruno’s I Ladri di Favole [The fairytale thieves] someone has stolen imagination in sunny Solealto. Oh no!  And nothingness has descended. Yikes! Worse still, nobody seems to care! Grrrr! Well, except for Angelina that is. Phew!  Angelina is the toughest little cookie in town and she takes to her flying fork on an intercontinental mission to bring back creativity and enchantment.

An array of characters from classic tales are rolled out in her crusade to bring colour back to the world.  As she crosses continents, pulls into corners of the earth steeped in mystery and intrigue and meets peoples of many cultures, she learns that only by giving and sharing does she stand a chance of saving the world from nothingness.

Wow!

Lessons between the lines

A female hero on a flying fork who saves the world. What is there not to like? We thoroughly enjoyed travelling the world with her, perched on the end of her flying fork, trying to work out what clever ruse she’d come up with to use the many wild and wacky gifts she’d collected to outsmart the fairytale thieves. This page-turning read in bouncy prose has little readers racing to the end, when the cheery, cheeky protagonist’s ingenious solution is finally revealed.

ladri di favole

As a mother and sometimes educator, I enjoyed the social commentary  and saw the potential to use the story as a didactic tool for anything from geography to cross-cultural understanding. You could even say it has echoes of the much-loved children’s classic, The Little Prince, to it. Especially when Angelina comes to the conclusion that,  “Imagination is the kingdom of children. Adults have other kingdoms, like work and money.

On numerous occasions, Angelina ponders the behaviour of adults, how they often make mistakes but don’t like to admit them, are indifferent to injustice as long as it doesn’t affect them, or place too much importance on money without worrying about the consequences.  Sound familiar?

ladri di favole 3Having read this book during the campaign for Scottish Independence last year, I had to laugh at the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Angelina’s mum. She had so much tidying, cleaning, cooking and ironing to do that there was no way she’d have time to have a serious discussion with her daughter about saving the world.  UK readers among you might remember the patronising Better Together lady complaining that she had tea to drink, dishes to wash, and no time to be making historic decisions.

Italian red tape, corruption and media misinformation don’t escape the author’s biting wit either, as she describes pompous police chiefs using red tape to warrant inaction, men in suits who’re on TV more for their crimes than for their politics, and the many things that, oddly, don’t make the news.

The takeaways are multiple – but perhaps the most pertinent one for publishers, educators, parents, anyone interested in using books as a springboard for learning and to encourage critical thought in children is: “Sometimes the most serious things happen without anyone realizing. When good and bad become indistinguishable. When we can’t see what’s happening, even though it’s right under our noses.” 

I can certainly identify with that… and I’d be very happy for my small daughter to start thinking about it too, while lost in a fairy-tale quest to save the world in the swash-buckling hands of girl hero on a flying fork.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

Proverbi Abruzzesi – 2 – Weather

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In keeping with the kind of day I’ve had in lovely, wintery-for-once Abruzzo, this week’s proverb is going to be about the weather. But not the one pictured.

Passo Lanciano - Mammarosa

Passo Lanciano – Mammarosa

Our Maiella mountain does look like that sometimes, and I can highly recommend taking a trip up there for some downhill skiing, snowshoeing, sledging, snowmobiling, ski-mountaineering, or wait for it, even ice-running (which I discovered in Abruzzo).  Oh, and you don’t have to be sporty to enjoy it, you can even just spend a few hours in front of the log fire in the ski chalet, with a hot chocolate – rum punch – red wine – coffee (delete as appropriate) in hand, chatting to the wee old man from the soccorso alpino  who I don’t think actually does much Alpine life-saving, more like chin-wagging and grappa-supping. But he’s happy to fill the wait for your polenta, sausages, pasta or arrosticini lamb skewers with action-packed stories of life on the wrong side of snowdrifts, avalanches, blizzards, blackouts… you name it, he’s been through it.

Well, back to my stories about the weather. Read the rest of this entry

Abruzzo Proverbs – 1

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This is the first in my new series of off-the-cuff, having-a-break, flash translations.

Since I’m pretty busy at the moment and can’t really take too much time away from what I should be doing, I was looking for something short, sharp and snippety… something that’ll take me 10 minutes to write and you no more than 10 seconds to read. But still something literary about life in Italy…

Peppino Di Battista

Peppino Di Battista

Rooting around on my bookshelves, I found this.  PROVERBI ABRUZZESI. I IERI E OGGI. 2000. by Peppe Di Battista, published by Rocco Carabba.

Proverbs, well you can’t get shorter or pithier than that, I thought.

Peppe Di Battista gathered them from the Abruzzo towns of Castelfrentano, Lanciano, Fossacesia, Orsogna, Roia Del Sangro, Archi (where we are!), Pizzoferrato, Buonanotte, Casoli, Mozzagrogna, Rocca San Giovanni and presented them in groups:

behaviour – morals – popular sayings, -weather and the seasons – mottoes – luck – villages – vices and virtues – superstitions and customs – animals – life lessons – curses 

So here goes.  Since I like literature with a lesson, today’s proverb comes from the morals section:

Local dialect: Cent’anne de malencunije, nen cacce ‘na lire de debbéte

Italian: Cent’anni di malinconia non toglie una lira del debito 

EN translation: 100 years of sadness won’t reduce the debt by a lira

Meaning: there’s nothing to be gained by living a life of poverty

I like it this a lot, and might even think about learning the Abruzzo dialect to use it as my excuse-du-jour when OT asks how the savings fund is coming (or not) along. 

homework

Well, better go and help the LL with her homework… although hopefully not coming to “blows” like they would have you do in Lanciano:

Bòtte e panèlle, fa le fije bbèlle.

Percosse e pane, fanno i figli belli.

Blows and bread make for beautiful children.

(A strict upbringing with the necessary support from the family will bring good results)

Which is quite similar to:

Pane e mazzate, fije aducate.

Pane e bastonate fanno i figli educati.

Bread and blows make for well-behaved children. 

Back soon with some more.

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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