Children's Literature from Italy
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

One of the oldest and most influential Italian folk tales is the legend of Cupid and Psyche, as told by the Roman philosopher, Lucius Apuleius who jotted the tale down, in Latin, in the 2nd century ad. The legend of Cupid and Psyche went on to inspire countless variations, throughout the Middle Ages, and well into the 20th Century. But the tale had its greatest influence, perhaps, as the inspiration for another classic legend, Beauty and the Beast.

Italy, in fact, is a land rich with fairy tales. In 1550 Gianfresco Straparola published Piacevoli Notti or The Delightful Nights in which is found another Italian original, Puss in Boots. And in 1634 Giambattista Basile published the Pentameron a collection of tales that included updated renditions of Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots and traditional Italian versions of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.

While Italian fairy tales have been reprinted and reinvented time and again, original stories for children have not occured with as much frequency-excepting, of course, the momentous 1881 release of Carlo Collodi's Pinnoccio, which in its original, pre-Disney version was not quite so sentimental or cheerful. As one critic notes, "Almost nothing else in children's literature equals [Collodi's] Pinnoccio in wildness of invention."

In the last fifty years Italian historians have shown an increasing interest in the vast untapped reserves of the Italian fairy tale tradition. Today in Italy, folklorists are, in fact, racing to recover what remains of the numerous local legends and fairy tales that have yet to be documented there. Globalization, the weakening of local traditions, and the weathering away of colloquial dialects, spurs these researchers on.

Meanwhile, Italian children's book authors such as Beatrice Donghi, Bianca Pitzorno, and Roberto Piumini have also turned their attention to fairy tales, rewriting or contemporizing them by adding a bit of modern politics or gender twists to old classics. And in 1977, Luigi Malerba published his highly imaginative reinventing of Pinnochio in "Boots" which, in some ways, is the ultimate modern Italian children's book. Here Italy's most famous children's book character, Pinnoccio, encounter's one of the lands oldest fairy tale legends, Puss in Boots, and meets other well-known folk-tale personages along the way, such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, bringing the entire history of Italian children's stories into one giant Italian pot-luck-dinner-block-party of a book. Bellisimo.

Copyright 2003 Kevin Shortsleeve

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