Tag Archives: Diversity in books

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.