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October 23 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the main Italian writers of the second half of the 20th century. We celebrate the anniversary by looking at illustrations for editions of his works for children from the collection of the Library of Foreign Literature.

The first edition of The Adventures of Cipollino by Gianni Rodari was published in the USSR in 1953, edited by Samuil Marshak. The tale of the brave onion boy who helped his poor neighbors restore justice was translated into Russian by Zlata Potapova. Based on this book, a cartoon was shot and a ballet was staged, and in 1973 director Tamara Lisitsian filmed it. In the film, the writer himself starred in the role of himself together with his daughter Paola – the shooting took place on one of Rodari’s visits to Moscow.

We are accustomed to the images of Cipollino and other characters in Rodari’s books, created by Soviet and Russian artists. Employees of the children’s center of the Library for Foreign Literature offer to look into the Italian editions of the most famous works of the writer. At the request of, they prepared a selection of illustrations for various books by Gianni Rodari and told why they are remarkable.

Paola Rodari

One of the most beloved illustrators of Gianni Rodari was his daughter. When Paola was 14 years old, the first book with her drawings was published – “Tales with three ends” (original title – Tante storie per giocare, or “So many stories to play”). In this book, the author invites readers to play with the stories – choose the ending that they like best. The book ends with the chapter “Endings that the author likes”, in which Rodari explains why he chooses this or that ending of the story.

Paola Rodari’s parents met in the late 1940s. Her mother, Maria Teresa Feretti, was the secretary of the parliamentary group of the Popular Democratic Front in the city of Modena. In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Maria Teresa recalls that she met Rodari when he came to write about the work of their election headquarters. In 1953, Rodari was invited to Rome to work as editor of the children’s magazine Il Pioniere. He left Modena with his young wife. Paola was born in 1957.

Gianni Rodari was very popular in the USSR and often came here. Several times he took his daughter with him. History keeps a legend about one of such visits – according to her, little Paola was delighted by the toy heroes of the story about Cipollino in the windows of Soviet shops. And Gianni Rodari himself was very happy about them. Indeed, as a child, he dreamed of becoming a master of making toys, and about his poems he said that he wanted to “make toys out of words”.

Three years later, another book by Rodari was published with illustrations by his daughter – “Novelle fatte a macchina” (Novelle fatte a macchina). The drawings are more detailed here than in Fairy Tales With Three Ends, and on the cover Paola clearly portrayed her dad.

Paola Rodari has dedicated her life to creating interactive science museums. In such museums, children can play with exhibits and learn in practice the physical laws and phenomena of nature: electricity, gravity, optical illusions. She now lives in Trieste and teaches museum science to future scientific communication specialists. Turning science into a game is an idea quite in the spirit of Gianni Rodari and his book for adults, The Grammar of the Imagination.

Raul Verdini

Raul Verdini worked with Gianni Rodari for the children’s magazine Il Pioniere. He made illustrations for the first edition of the Cipollino story in 1951. It was a small black and white book. Many years later, in 1974, when Cipollino and his author became world famous, another edition of this story was published with other illustrations by Verdini, already in color.

The little man drawn on the wall comes to life, the dictator Giacomone hides that he is wearing a wig, an innocent man is imprisoned, but in the end the truth triumphs over the lie. We’ve already read all of this somewhere, haven’t we? Comic strip Le avventure di Scarabocchio (“The Adventures of Karakulka” – roughly how it can be translated) was published in 1954, and four years later Gianni Rodari developed this plot in the famous story “Gelsomino in the Land of Liars”. The illustrations for this book were also made by Raul Verdini, and it is with his drawings that this book continues to be republished to this day.

Jelsomino is a boy with an incredibly strong voice. He finds himself in an unusual country, where ink is sold in a bakery, only counterfeit coins are used, cats are forbidden to meow and are ordered to bark, and citizens learn about the news from the newspaper “The Model Liar”. Since everyone is lying, the drawings begin to come to life and act here.

As a cartoonist, Verdini was also famous in the USSR. His cartoons, created in collaboration with Abram Shterenberg, have appeared in the Krokodil magazine. Soviet readers were so fond of his dynamic drawing style that in 1976 an album of Verdini’s drawings was published in the USSR – on Italian themes, but with Russian signatures.

Bruno Munari

The universal artist Bruno Munari designed furniture, worked in advertising, illustrated and wrote children’s books, and was one of the first to start making installations. For his services in the field of children’s literature in 1974 he received the Italian Andersen Prize (Premio Andersen, not to be confused with the H.-H. Andersen International Prize). Munari created the world’s first museum laboratory for children at the Pinacoteca Brera in Milan. In such laboratories, children play and experience the world through art.

Gianni Rodari was also interested in how children see the world. In his youth, he worked at school and was a primary school teacher. Rodari admired childhood mistakes and wrote a book about them “What are mistakes” (Il libro degli errori, or “Book of mistakes”). For this book and for the collection “Tales on the Phone” (Favole al telefono) Munari made simple and expressive illustrations, similar to children’s drawings. They express the pure fantasy that both Munari and Rodari tried to instill in children.

Anatoly Kokorin

Among the famous illustrators of Rodari, there are, of course, Soviet artists. Anatoly Kokorin was born in 1908. He studied in Moscow at the Higher Artistic and Technical Institute with the poster artist Dmitry Moor, the constructivist Lev Bruni and the master of printed graphics Pyotr Pavlinov. During the war years he worked in the Studio of military artists named after Mitrofan Grekov, sketched the cities of Austria, Germany, Poland destroyed by the war. After the war, he created a series of watercolors dedicated to the cities of the USSR. But the main thing in his work is, of course, book illustration. Kokorin made drawings for Alexei Tolstoy’s Golden Key, collections of poems by Gianni Rodari, fairy tales by Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. For illustrations to the latter, the artist received the gold medal of the USSR Academy of Arts.

Kokorin’s illustrations are distinguished by an easy, sketchy manner. But this ease is deceiving, it is only given by many years of study and work. In his illustrations for collections of poems by Gianni Rodari, the sharpness and accuracy of observation of life are especially visible. After the war, Kokorin traveled extensively throughout Europe and from each trip he brought several sketchbooks. He also visited Italy. Kokorin saw with his own eyes the people about whom Rodari wrote his “filastrokke”.

Filastrokke is a form of Italian folk poetry, funny nonsense and counting rhymes built on a strong rhythmic foundation. The clear rhythm and nationality of the poetic language was appreciated in Gianni Rodari by Samuil Marshak – the main translator of his poems into Russian. Rodari’s career as a writer began with poetry when he was still a journalist. And in the famous books about Cipollino and Gelsomino there are even separate chapters from the songs that the heroes sing.

Mikhail Mayofis

Books with illustrations by Mikhail Mayofis, a graduate of the Faculty of Graphics of the Leningrad Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture named after I.E. Repin, already in the late 1960s were exhibited at world book fairs in Bologna, Bratislava, Leipzig. Then the young artist was about 30 years old. Now Mikhail Mayofis lives and works in Los Angeles.

Mayofis’s illustrations for the collection of short stories “Novels on a Typewriter” differ from the amusing drawings by Paola Rodari. There is much less childish and funny in them. Mayofis portrays Rodari’s characters in a modern setting, and adult problems come to the fore in children’s stories.

The images of the heroes of “The Adventures of Cipollino” created by him are unexpected and very accurate. These characters are not vegetables, but people, each with its own character. Here is the unkempt Cipollino in braids of green hair, the grumpy Countess Cherries in plate hats, and here is the temperamental Duke Mandarin. Fruits turn into details of theatrical costume, and readers become spectators of the performance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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