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by Valentina Rizzi

United in diversity: these words were written on a big poster that welcomed me to the European School, where in the same corridor you can see hair of every colour come across each other and you no longer understand what language you are listening to, or maybe you do: English, French, German, Italian... EUROPE and more! Here anti-European drifts, Brexit and adults’ choices are worth nothing in the heart of children!!! I have just come back, trying to recover after struggling to load up a suitcase filled with illustrated books to bring there, to Germany, to the Italian Section of the Frankfurt European School, where I had unexpectedly been invited to tell stories. I spent the first two weeks after the call wondering which books I should focus on, what kind of Italian character I should herald. This suitcase was one of the most difficult I had to pack in my whole life. I kept on filling and emptying it, unable to choose between great classics such as Munari, Rodari, Collodi, Calvino, Lionni and more contemporary and daring titles. I hesitated from time to time and I spent several hours per day searching, taking and leaving, replacing, changing covers and sizes, leafing through pages again and again, weaving Penelope’s shroud. One thing was immediately clear: there wasn’t enough room for the entire human knowledge. I wasn’t equipped with teleport and the physical limits of that old suitcase gradually turned into tools—no longer of constraint but of freedom and selection.
Then all of a sudden I understood. I had to scale down my mission. After all, I wasn’t going to be the first nor the last “supplier of Italian paper” in Frankfurt. A passage, that’s what it was. A passage I had to accomplish unaware of who had come before me and who would arrive afterwards. In the end the word “testimony” came to my mind and clarified the meaning of my mission. Therefore I decided to bring L’ultimo viaggio by Irène Cohen-Janca (Orecchio Acerbo). But I also wanted my passage to convey a taste of freshness and creativity. So I added some ironical titles such as I cinque malfatti by Giovanna Zoboli, published by Topipittori. And why not Bessoni’s Pinocchio? Knowing that I will most probably come back here on the occasion of the Buchmesse 2016, I decided to bring first an original version of Pinocchio, and to present this unusual dark adaptation at a later time. I took the same decision regarding the silent book Cosimo by Roger Olmos. Furthermore I had to choose the books not only according to my tastes, but also considering to what degree the bilingual readers mastered the Italian language.
A lot of questions came to my mind. Do they know the story of Pinocchio? Do they already own some books by Rodari or Munari? Should I bring something about the history of Rome? This call to Frankfurt was giving me a lot of trouble. At the beginning I couldn’t close this blessed suitcase because there were too many books inside, but then “too classical, too ordinary, too risky, too difficult, not Italian enough”... because of all these “toos” I ended up with an empty suitcase. Back to square one. After several hours spent in the Bibliobox bunker taking out and taking in, my friend illustrator Gioia Marchegiani finally took me out of that embarrassing isolation. Her books Iole, la balena mangiaparole and Fantavolieri, both published by Gribaudo, were added to my paper dowry giving it a poetic touch.
Then the countdown to Frankfurt started and so did the rush to print my own story on paper, the story of Bibliolibrò, which will be published in October with illustrations by Natascia Ugliano. The protagonist of the short story is a story-telling bookseller who is forced to give up her shop and strives to continue working on a three-wheeler on the road. Children always know how to astonish you. In Frankfurt they showed an imagination that was completely different from my Italian background. Taking advantage of the fact that most of the illustrations are still colourless drawings, I asked the children to imagine “Gaia the bookseller”, which is my pseudonym in the short story. “Blonde and green-eyed!”; “Blonde with big blue eyes!”; “Tall, slim and slender!”… It was only at the end of the reading that a blonde little voice made its way from the back of the room. “Now I understand, you are Gaia, this is your story!”. My first idea was to make them dream and I wonder if I have succeeded. Sometimes reality strongly clashes with your imagination: all I can say for sure is that a loud laugh burst in immediately afterwards. There couldn’t be a better ending. You should have seen my face looking up from my one-metre and sixty-five centimetres height, between two big Mediterranean hips and two black eyes set between two raven-black locks.