B.auction go into a bookstore to notice it the shelves intended for children’s publishing they are filled with books for rebellious girls and boys. Books about empowerment (especially women). Books about emotions. Books that claim to teach morals about important subjects dear to adults (such as welcoming the arrival of a little brother, sharing one’s toys, accepting it differently).
At a time when the practice of surrounding children with as many books as possible is increasingly widespread, Giorgia Grilli, Professor of Educational Sciences at the University of Bologna, he tries to send some disturbing messages to parents, grandparents and teachers who are often overwhelmed by this editorial bulimia.
Let the children read useless books
The first message, illustrated in depth in the essay What are children’s books about? Children’s literature as radical criticism (Donzelli), is this: “The books that we could fully shelve as children’s literature are not those that convey a specific message, but it is they who are uselessthose who with their shameless inactivity contain something that goes beyond the concerns, expectations and needs of adults and society’.
The teacher cites titles such as Mary Poppins, In the Land of Wild Monsters, Alice in Wonderland, The Young Holden, Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, Little Blue and Little Yellow to show how the stories “that haven’t stopped saying what they have to say” (to quote Italo Calvino) are precisely those who do not travel on the marked paths, of those who are not careful, careful.
Children are not always honest
But without rebelling to a duty and excellence to a prison, are those who tell about boys and girls rebellious in their own way, like Little Red Riding Hood, who begins to zigzag through the forest against all maternal indications, or like Grete, who in the Grimm fairy tale throws the witch into the oven and frees her brother Hansel.
The second message is even more explosive and concerns the way we understand childhood today. The children of literature, Grilli emphasizes, “they do not please us: they disturb us, they disturb us, they frighten us“. After all, as the great writers have always known, from Charles Dickens to Roald Dahl, children, even when they get lost among poppies, stars, blades of grass, they are not always honest creatures and sugary sweet as adults love to imagine them. Around them hovers an aura of gloom, melancholy, anger. “Children escape us. The rare adults who actually look at them know that.’
Children’s literature does not have to help
Showing their complexity is a difficult task for those who want to write for children. The one who does it well is Beatrice Alemagnaone of the most important authors and illustrators of children’s books to the world. In his works (published in Italy by Topipittori) he proposes a rebellious and elusive sign compared to the simplistic and puppet-like representations of mainstreaming publishers.
Some of his characters, such as Pasqualina (Manco’s dream bat) could even be considered ugly. “Cuteness has never interested me“Alemagna explains. “In my eyes, they are ugly, they are deformed, the monster is full of mystery and charm.” Often with some his designs also mix the masculine and feminine. “I believe that children’s literature, precisely because it is aimed at beings under construction, should not aim to teach. I actually think it doesn’t need to help at all. If anything a book is like a journey that stays inside, which enriches and raises some questions. It doesn’t matter if the answer isn’t there.”
By agreement with you Grilli: “The purpose of children’s literature is neither ethical nor purely aestheticto”. If anything, “it is ontologicalin the sense that it invites us to deepen, explore and remember something that is neglected in everyday life and that is essential ».
We have to tolerate the unexpected
From this point of view, the choice of themes is crucial. IN Farewell Snow White Alemagna, e.g, rewrites the tale of the Brothers Grimm chooses to do his own voice for the stepmother witch who, between clumsy expressions and disheveled hair, embodies malice, jealousy without discount. The same happens in the classics as in Pinocchio and Coraline where life, pain and sorrow together with love find a place.
As it happens in some books proposed by the LupoGuido publishing house, including Little sleep or Guinefort, which bring the little ones closer to the theme of love and death, in the practice of life. Grilli emphasizes: «If today so many books are in vogue that look like an instruction booklet, for exampleotherwise, because there is strong adult pressure aimed at illusory vacuuming the little ones with regard to the emotional nuances that we ourselves struggle to cope with ».
Children’s literature also affects non-children
In that sense, he adds Silvia Vecchini, award-winning and multi-translated authorthe most beautiful children’s literature “is not -only- that which is interested in the whole of man, which captures the disturbing side of children, but also that which raises a radical critique of our habits, to our prejudices and reveals their ambiguity ».
This is why, Grilli concludes, it can be said that children’s literature sometimes draws even us children no longerwe who as parents and educators tolerate the unexpected little and bad, the unknown, we who in the educational field punish those who do not know how to stay within the boundaries (of a sheet, a desk, of a room) .
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