I nostri Anni '70. Libri per ragazzi in Italia

  20 March > 20 July 2014


curated by Silvana Sola e Paola Vassalli




It's the things you don't know that will change your life

Paola Vassalli

The 1970s were formidable and unrepeatable years, and at the same time dark and tempestuous, an actual watershed between past and future, between a surge of ideals and the desire for change. They were years of technological development and important social victories, years in which a certain Italian individualism seemed to be overcome in the search for a collective dimension of everyday living. But also years that saw a foundering of the illusions of the economic boom and the ideals of 1968, crushed by a search for freedom, risky because it was without identity.
For those who approached adult life then they were years of formation and the first freedoms, the student movement, struggles for civil rights and the emancipation of women, seeking teachers which '68 had swept away all too hurriedly.
They were years of a particular creative effervescence, in which the mayor of the Capital was art historian  Giulio Carlo Argan. Years when in Rome you could be captivated - in the early months of 1974 - by Christo's wrapping of the Aurelian Walls which led passers-by to the heart of the exhibition Contemporanea in the Villa Borghese car park.
It's the things you don't know that will change your life, Vostell's phrase used for the exhibition communications campaign, "had been prophetic: descending beneath the Villa Borghese meant signing a pact of initiation, accepting the less evident side of things, looking at the city from another point of view, abandoning all previous knowledge". Today we say that the exhibition and Christo's work were an invitation to interpret art in order to "learn to see", to find the deep meaning of things, and at the same time they suggested the precious secret of concealing with view to revealing.

This work, proposed by the Palazzo delle Esposizioni Art Workshop, came into being on the occasion of the great exhibition 1970s. Art in Rome, with the intention of continuing the research curated by Daniela Lancioni, to whom we extend our thanks.

A valuable occasion to deal in depth with the fabulous seventies of children's books in Italy. Years in which, thanks to the effervescent climate and the "opening of frontiers" at the hands of "the ladies of Italian children's books", a revolution took place in the graphics and contents of books for our younger readers.

In an age of aesthetic provocations, also in Italy the picture book gained consolidation, the happiest expression of our "illustrated album", and the child learner reader lost the status of "minor" and took on the same dignity as an adult. And then the stories were the same that mum and dad read in their books and newspapers: ecological stories, stories of "war and peas", of diversity and solidarity, of friendship in search of identity, in a word, stories of life.

Thus in 1969 two titles marking the change appeared in the prestigious catalogue of Rosellina Archinto's Emme: Leo Lionni's Piccolo blu e piccolo giallo (Little Blue and Little Yellow) and Maurice Sendak's Nel paese dei mostri selvaggi (Where the Wild Things Are), two artists straddling Europe and the United States. In 1970 Sendak received the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Nobel prize for children's books, as best illustrator, and Gianni Rodari as best writer, still the only Italian to have won it. Again in the early seventies Einaudi published Gianni Rodari's La grammatica della fantasia (The Grammar of Fantasy), Antonio Faeti's Guardare le figure (Looking at Pictures) and Bruno Munari's series "Tantibambini", three milestones in the history of children's book publishing. The first kids' bookshops opened: in Milan by Roberto Denti and Gianna Vitali, and in Rome, in Via dell'Oca, by Gina Bellot. Invaluable series were published: L'arte per i bambini (Art for Children) edited by Pinin Carpi, introduced kids to the art world, and the pedagogical Biblioteca di Lavoro (Library of Work) guided them through school and life.

In Trieste Editoriale Libreria (EL) was reborn under the leadership of Orietta Fatucci and in Milan La Coccinella was set up by Loredana Farina, while Fatatrac opened in Florence, exploiting their experience of theatre play-leading applied to the promotion of reading. Certain important publishing experiments characteristic of the spirit of the times came into being - Dalla parte delle bambine and Quadragono Libri. Rome was experiencing years of great artistic and cultural ferment: a new pedagogy was developed, marked by the Movimento di Cooperazione Educativa and by outstanding teachers such as Maria Luisa Bigiaretti and Mario Lodi, intellectuals of genius and generosity such as Gianni Rodari himself. Nuove Edizioni Romane stepped into the world of children's books, headed by the young and courageous Gabriella Armando.

These years in Italy saw the advent of public reading Libraries, and in Rome in 1978 the then culture councillor Renato Nicolini - remembered by everyone for the Roman summer which brought the public into the streets and piazzas to once more live in the city after the dark years of terrorism - founded the system of libraries as cultural centres for the city.

A decade of history that we wanted to tell in this book, centred on the original work of great Italian artists along the "paths of creativity": to get to know the rules of the game as laid down by Bruno Munari in creating his precious "project books", in order to enter the world of fairytale and to step onstage guided by the figures of Emanuele Luzzati, to experience the liberating range of sign and word in the poetry of Toti Scialoja, with evergreen travelling companions such as Valentina Mela Verde, created by Grazia Nidasio, and the lovely Pimpa from the pen of the great Atlan. Introducing the story, narrated in several voices by its protagonists, two "authors' memories", two authors who made their debut in Rome with the publishing house Nuove Edizioni Romane: David Macaulay who wrote City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction and internationally famous Italian writer and poet Roberto Piumini with Il giovane che entrava nel palazzo (The Young Man Who Entered the Palace).