Tag Archives: Italian children’s books

Marking International Women’s Day II: Eugenia l’ingegnosa

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EUGENIALINGEGNOSA_bassa (1)

Following on from last night’s story of the princess who was too busy studying to accept a marriage proposal, I’d like to present this little gem – Eugenia l’ingegnosa (Eugenia the Ingenious) as part of my celebration of female protagonists, female authors (Anne Wilsdorf), and female-run indy presses (Sinnos Editrice). Oh, I do love a story with a positive takeaway. Not only is it a bargain (two things for the price of one) it’s also excellent for girls to see different role models in their books. You know, princesses are nice, but they don’t always have to be marrying princes.

So, this book’s about Eugenia. Eugenia lives alone with her family on Nascondoni Island. Until she discovers another island – Nonsodove – that looks far more interesting.  Eugenia wants to go there. She tries with a plank of wood first, and fails. She tries again with a sort of floating bridge, and fails. Try and try again, Eugenia finally makes it to the island.  All sorts of things happen there, the most important of which are making lots of new friends and discovering she has a skill for building things. 

Suffice it to say this this is not a book about princesses and pink ribbons. If you want your little girl reading stories about building bridges and revelling in the wonders of the world around us, then this is the book for her. It’s definitely going on my list of books to take into schools and libraries, translate into English and maybe stick under someone’s (publisher person’s) nose. But for now, I’m sticking it under yours as I mark International Women’s Day. 

The idea for this story came from a group of feisty female engineers and architects in Switzerland who have been fighting for women’s rights for years. “We want our book to encourage girls to be curious and not settle for the games and toys they’re supposed to play with just because they’re girls.” Valérie Ortlieb, spokesperson for the group, said, “We  need to give girls activities and models of women that they can identify with. So that when they grow up and start thinking about who inspired them, they’ll think of a woman.” 

Switzerland (and Italy) both have a gender problem in the professional, technical world. Girls make up 50% of students in Architecture faculties but ten years later, that figure drops to 20%.  Maybe if we start our daughters, nieces, grand-daughters or friend’s children reading empowering stories like these when they’re young, they maybe we can inspire the confidence and self-belief to make it where society in general expects/wants/forces them to fail.

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

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

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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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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Acqua Dolce – a clean&contemporary fairy-tale for young solo readers

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ACQUA DOLCE by Andrea Bouchard, published in the Italian by Adriano Salani Editore.

ACQUA DOLCE … the water baby, is a heart-warming and magically realistic tale about a girl born in the magical waters of an enchanted island in an exotic, faraway land when her father and pregnant mother jump out of a plane into the bewitching waters below. True to the tradition of tragicomic opening scenes, the mum’s parachute doesn’t open leaving her hurtling – tummy and all – towards the sea, and magically, on landing she finds that the sea is not salty, it is fresh water. Ergo Acqua Dolce, the beautiful, blue-eyed water baby, born – as if by miracle – in the fresh water.

Acqua Dolce  by Andrea Bouchard

Acqua Dolce
by Andrea Bouchard

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