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Midnight in Paris

di Valentina Rizzi

This time I put my three-wheeler on board. It’s a trolley case with a wonky wheel that doesn’t touch the ground and with Bibliolibrò’s photographs and business cards inside. Direct flight to Paris, to the Salon du Livre et de la Presse Jeunesse in Montreuil. Red hat and gloves, grey winter coat on and a thousand ideas in my mind. It’s cold here, by the Canal Saint-Martin where I’m staying thanks to Raffaella’s hospitality. She is a teacher at the “Leonardo Da Vinci” Italian school in Paris, and the first thing she asks me is: “Why don’t you come and tell an Italian story to the pupils of the fifth class?” While strolling along the canal I run across a maritime bookshop, a boat turned into a bookshop. Without foundations and floating on the water, it is moored to the little quay through two heavy, rough hawsers and it’s really travelling! Here I am, with my three-wheeler, near the big golden dome of Les Invalides, I stop at a boulangerie to have a croissant for breakfast and finally make up my mind. I climb the steep stairs of the Italian school and enter the classroom where something like twenty pairs of eyes are staring at me as if I was an alien. On the blackboard, my name and surname in Italian and Bibliolibrò’s name. I go and sit at the teacher’s desk and decide that, today, I’ll start asking questions, after the usual introductions. My name is Valentina and I’m a storyteller on a three-wheeler. What shall a storyteller do to get ready to tell a story? READ! This is a nice way to get started. Why do we read? And the answers rain down, expert and diversified. I’m struck by the maturity of these kids, they look older, they analyse problems, examine them in depth, discuss without raising their voices. I start telling a story. “Look at how she gesticulates, can you see how expressive she is, as she is Italian?” Actually, a while ago, while I was getting here by tube, I noticed how composed and reserved the French are. Imagine their expressions, should they see Bibliolibrò speeding along the Champs Elysées with its shambling books and this messy librarian-bookseller flailing around to say hello to the children in the street!! In the classroom the discussion now focuses on the rights of the child. The Italian-French children talk about the hazards in their everyday lives, the relationship with known and unknown adults, and are analytical, trained to debate, ready and free to discuss. The teachers smile, they seldom intervene, the class is capable of self-management in a coordinated and calm way. This big difference can be noticed also at the book fair, in Montreuil. The aesthetic effect is disarming: every colour has been removed, black walls, ceiling and floor enhance the colours of the books. Here, as at the Rome fair, whole classes come with their teachers in order to participate in reading promotion activities, and after the workshops you can see them autonomously buzz around the various publishers’ stands. At the fair, French kids are really noisy, not embalmed at all, they repeatedly cut across in front of you and they scream like Italian kids do. But they are accustomed to books, they flip through the pages without breaking them. They instigate one another with comics, much more diversified and complex than ours, they compare their choices, turn back to swap some titles and have a lot of fun going up and down the escalators. At the end of the day, my ears are torn to pieces, but I keep this splendid vision in my eyes: hundreds of French kids of all ages, from the kindergarten to the middle school, going out with their shopping bags full of books bought with their own pocket money! So, the little pests here are vying for snapping the books up: marvellous illustrated and pop-up books with a refined design and a few sharp words. I want the children’s shopping bags too, I also want to go up and down the escalators with my rickety three-wheeler and vie with other children to grab the best comic book! A good baguette and a piping hot crêpe, it’s already dinner time when I go out holding some copies of ILLUSTRATI, where I have placed a bookmark on this column to show it to some publishers in order to get a higher discount. What effect will they have in Italy and, above all, how long are they going to last in the hands of my beloved little fellow citizens?!