Italian Novelists – Children Stories
Some Italian authors are known all over the world – Umberto Eco and Alessandro Baricco are two modern literature superstars, while when talking about ancient literature, Dante Alighieri and Boccaccio are probably the easiest choice among Italian literature champions.
If you have children at home, or if you are learning Italian, children novels are always a nice reading choice. Some Italian authors are very well known and their stories are witty and interesting, and are very popular among adults as well.
In this article you will read about three famous novelists – Gianni Rodari, Carlo Collodi and Italo Calvino. They wrote many books, not only for children, and they are certainly in the Olympus of Italian writers. You may want to give them a try.
He wrote many filastrocche (nursery rhymes), fiabe (fairytales) and poesie (poetry). He was a journalist, a writer and a pedagogist. He still is the only Italian to have won the prestigious Andersen prize for children literature (won in 1970) and he is one of the most popular authors of Italy. His whimsical fiabe are well known, and everyone who ever read his books can cite his favorite one.
Probably one of his most popular books is “Favole al Telefono” (Fairytales at the phone), in which a businessman, who travels during the week because of his work, calls his little daughter every night, to tell her a story and say her goodnight. The stories were created starting from the encounter among words, from a grammatical mistake, from the recollection of a past moment, from the observation of an everyday item. Such modern favole are poetical and simple, yet brilliant and original, and often leave the reader with a smile on his face.
His book “La Freccia Azzurra” (The Blue Arrow – known in English as “How the Toys Saved Christmas”) became a movie in 1996. Another important book is “Filastrocche in cielo e in terra” (Nursery Rhymes in Heaven and Earth) and the short novel “C’era due volte il Barone Lamberto” (Twice upon a time there was the Baron Lambert), that tells the story of the old, rich Baron, who suffers from 24 illnesses and lives on an island with his servants. They must keep repeating his name and can never stop, in order to keep him alive.
His real name was Carlo Lorenzini, and he is the author of one of the most famous fairytales of all times, Pinocchio. He was a writer and a satirical journalist. He wrote many stories and novels for children; he also translated Perrault’s tales from French to Italian.
The adventures of Pinocchio was published in episodes on a children’s newspaper, “Il Giornale dei Bambini”. Collodi loved the idea of using a misbehaving yet amiable character to express his own ideas and convictions through allegory – he was in fact a restless person, described as moody and bizarre, who used to write fantasy stories as a means to let off steam.
Pinocchio’s world is somehow similar to that of Alice in Wonderland, as it is characterized by talking animals, human transformations and fantastic creatures; nonetheless, it is also characterized by a more logical structure. Some critics are dubious about it being a children story, as it presents many gloomy passages, and it was actually intended to end with the death of the protagonist. It is the case to remember, though, that this novel was written in the 19th Century, when Italian authors like Verga and other “realist” writers were narrating the bitter misery of the low strata of the population.
From The Adventures of Pinocchio derived many common sayings and idioms, for example “ridere a crepapelle” (to laugh until one bursts) that refers to a giant snake, that explodes because he laughed too hard seeing Pinocchio covered in mud. A couple of untrustworthy people, or of mischievous friends, can be referred to as Il Gatto e la Volpe (the Cat and the Fox), like the couple of thieves in the novel. The name Pinocchio itself has become synonym of “liar”, and a know-it-all person is likely to be called Grillo Parlante (Talking Cricket)
Even if he is not usually considered a writer for children in the strict sense of the term, as he wrote books characterized by political commitment and realistic tones, he also wrote beautiful novels filled with fantastic creatures and characters, which can stir the imagination of both adults and younger people. Calvino’s books are a popular choice among Italian schoolteachers.
Calvino was very interested in popular literature, especially in fairytales, to the point that he published a collection of as many as 200 Italian tales with the title Fiabe Italiane (Italian Folktales). He personally gathered them all. His passion is also shown in his trilogy I Nostri Antenati (Our Ancestors) that includes Il Visconte Dimezzato (The Cloven Viscount) , Il Barone Rampante (The Baron in the Trees), and Il Cavaliere Inesistente (The Nonexistent Knight).
The first novel is about the Medardo, Viscount of Terralba, who is hit by a cannonball and is split into two people – Gramo (the bad one) and Buono (the good one). Once returned home, Buono lives in the woods, while Gramo lives in the castle. While Gramo provokes damage to the population, Buono tries to do his best helping everyone. This is indeed a double trouble, and the villagers dislike both Viscounts, who fall in love with the same girl, Pamela. She likes Buono better, but her parents want her to marry Gramo. He will finally challenge Buono to a duel to decide who will be Pamela’s husband. They are mortally wound, but Dr. Trelawney, a funny doctor, manages to sew the two sides together. Pamela and the Viscount, now whole again, will then live together for the rest of their lives.
The second book describes the life and adventures of the young baron of Ombrosa, an imaginary land located in Liguria, near the French Riviera. His name is Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò.
Fed up with his family’s etiquette and absurd orders, he decides to climb up a tree and spend his whole life living there, never to go down again. His story is narrated by his younger brother Biagio, who secretly admires his brother’s resolution and boldness, but never follows his steps.
Cosimo grows up and travels around the world hopping from tree to tree. He becomes a strong, respected and fascinating man, refined yet somehow savage, a charming “inbetweener” who makes girls dream about him. But he falls in love with capricious Violante, and their stormy relationship will last for years, until they part because of misunderstandings and unsaid truths.
Stubborn Cosimo will never get down from his trees, and nobody will see his death: old and sick, he will jump on the rope of a hot-air balloon and leave forever.
The last book of the Trilogy draws material from the literary tradition of the Matter of France and the Chansons de Geste. The protagonist is a virtuous knight called Agilulfo Emo Bertrandino dei Guildiverni, who has only a single flaw: he doesn’t exist! He keeps himself “alive” out of sheer willpower. He is just an empty armor, white and shining, and his voice is metallic and emotionless. He is loved by Bradamante, a beautiful woman and an able warrior, who is in turn loved by the young knight Rambaldo di Rossiglione, who wants to become one of Charlemagne’s soldiers in order to avenge his father, killed by the Moors.
During a banquet, a knight called Torrismondo di Cornovaglia questions Agilulfo’s right to knighthood, and asks him to prove that Sofronia, the woman who he saved from rape years before, was actually virgin at the time. So Agilulfo leaves with his grotesque squire to look for the woman, who he will find in Morocco, and still a virgin.
Torrismondo as well is in trouble, because as he claimed to be, in fact, son of the woman saved by Agilulfo, he confessed his humble origins. If he wants to be a paladin, he must find the Order of the Knights of the Sacred Grail, which he indicated as a sort of “collective father”, and be admitted. He finds the Order, but he finally refuses to enter it as he discovers that the knights are in fact greedy and heartless, as they attack the villagers who refuse to give them food because of the famine.
He flees in the woods and finds a cave, in which Sofronia is sleeping, waiting for Agilulfo to come back. They fall in love, and Sofronia loses her virginity; they are found, still embraced, by Charlemagne. Agilulfo then loses his title and disappears, because it cannot be proven that Sofronia was a virgin when he rescued her.
But Torrismondo deduces that, as she was a virgin prior to their love encounter, she could not be his mother. They are actually stepbrothers from different parents, so they can get married. Rimbaldo finds Agilulfo’s white suit of armor and a short will who indicates him as the new owner of the armor. He will wear it in memory of his lost friend.
Seeing him in the white armor, Bradamante believes him to be her beloved Agilulfo and they have a love encounter. Once she notices her error, she decides to become a nun – she is the narrator of the story. Rimbaldo then finds her and again confesses his love. She finally accepts him, and they run away together.
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