Today, we celebrate an enormously important centenary. Although Bologna Children's Book Fair does not include authors for adults, we could hardly fail to acknowledge the stature of Italo Calvino, an author whose genius made his writing “also for children”. True, not all the works of authors like Calvino are children’s reading, yet the body of their work has a childlike aura that makes them accessible to all.
It was precisely this accessibility to young readers that prompted Calvino and publishers Einaudi to develop illustrated editions of his writings for children. Calvino chose artists he admired: Maria Enrica Agostinelli, Sergio Tofano, and Emanuele Luzzati, three greats in the Italian illustration world. Later - when Calvino was no longer with us - came the project to publish his rewritten versions of traditional Italian fairy tales, both as an anthology and as individual illustrated stories. And so it continued, as Calvino’s fame grew around the world and many other publishers released illustrated editions for children.
Bologna Children's Book Fair told this story in an exhibition accompanied by a bilingual catalogue. We took this a step further, proposing an international contest for illustrations by today’s artists to accompany future publications of Calvino’s works. The exhibition has been a resounding success around the world, going to 30 cities, like Paris, Melbourne, Washington, Bratislava, Ankara, Alexandria...
We’re proud of our achievement, especially since it puts into practice our guiding principle: educating through books and ensuring everyone has access to books from an early age. It is a conviction that runs through all of Calvino’s work where the reader is the protagonist alongside the books s/he reads, broadening her horizons and understanding.
Calvino’s every page carries this message, as do the many illustrations depicting his world – and which, as a connoisseur, he would certainly have loved. In his famous last American lecture included in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, he told his audience how, as a child, he deciphered images before the alphabet. In fact, he was very well acquainted with the world of illustration, and as an adolescent loved drawing caricatures.
Today, Calvino would have celebrated his hundredth birthday, not an impossible feat in this new millennium.
Energised by his irony, intelligence, and life view, we now look to our next exhibition showcasing Italian excellence.
Bologna, 15 October 2023