Italy beckons and you have hotels and flights booked for the whole family to visit one of the most romantic nations on earth. Now to the packing – you’ve decided whether on the e-reader or in print, you want to encourage all the kids and your partner to enjoy a few inspirational books while eating gelati on the Spanish steps or dozing under the parasols on the beach at Rimini. Let me offer you a few literary temptations to tantalize the whole family about this seductive country. By the way, Italians love family!
This is Rome by Miroslav Sasek
We return to this classic Czech author – Take a trip through Rome, old and new – ruins of the Roman forum, Emperor Constantine’s foot, Piazza Navona and the “wedding cake” monument, throwing a coin in the Trevi fountain, St. Peter’s, secret passageways of Castel Sant’Angelo, and more. Playful illustrations capture the ancient history and fun in Rome today, this is a classic travel picture book, which does not date.
Gladiators – by Gail Cooke for 6-10 year olds, who want some action after visiting the Coliseum. This offers a pop-up scale model of the Coliseum and story of the gladiator games, from the gladiators who put on the show, to the spectators who watch, plus a map of ancient Rome, gladiator trading cards, and popular Roman board game called tabula. This could keep your kids happy for hours.
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
I felt I couldn’t mention Italy without citing at least one of this extraordinary Italian American author/illustrator’s works. Strega Nona is one of my favorites – a folk story of a witch-grandmother who has a magic pasta pot. Getting on in years, Strega Nona decides to hire Big Anthony to help her and he is clearly warned to stay away from the pot. Well the inevitable happens and chaos and pasta ensues after the wrong spell….
Chapter books/Middle Grade
da Wild Da Crazy Da Vinci by Jon Sciezska
Part of a Time Warp series for Middle Graders… – The mirth-filled misfortunes of Fred, Joe and Sam, as they are hurled back to Renaissance Italy to look for da Vinci. When they fall into the clutches of Lord Borgia and Nicolo Machiavelli, Leonardo and the trio da Brooklyn come up with an invention to save the day. The lads will love this one.
The Diary of Melanie Martin by Carol Weston
Hilarious adventures of 10-year-old Melanie in Italy, “Or How I Survived Matt the Brat, Michelangelo and the Leaning Tower of Pizza.” In diary format, this is a typical tween’s experience of being on vacation in a foreign country with the family – Melanie does the usual tourist travels, but the journal also narrates an internal voyage Melanie takes, a mix of typical annoyances and wonderful discoveries.
The Pirates of Pompei by Caroline Lawrence
I mentioned this wonderful historical middle grade author here last week. Any in the series will be lapped up by boys and girls of 8+, but I picked this one as it is highly likely if you get the chance on this once in a lifetime vacation, that you will visit the epic remains at Pompei. The kids will love learning more about this natural disaster through the eyes of Flavia, Jonathan, Lupus and Nubia.
Twilight in Italy by D H Lawrence. I read this first as a teen and believe it to be great YA material if you have a strong reader in the family. So many books on Italy are set in either Venice or Florence or the south (il mezziogiorno), but this short masterpiece by Lawrence is set up in the north along the borders with Germany – culturally epically distant from the south (in the Dolomites I always spoke more German than Italian!). The prose is so beautiful; let me simply quote you something. « The Italian people are called ‘Children of the Sun’. They might better be called ‘Children of the Shadow’. Their souls are dark and nocturnal. If they are to be easy, they must be able to hide, to be hidden in lairs and caves of darkness. Going through these tiny chaotic backways of the village was like venturing through the labyrinth made by furtive creatures, who watched from out of another element. And I was pale, and clear, and evanescent, like the light, and they were dark, and close, and constant, like the shadow. »
The Vanishing Point by Louise Hawes
This superb historical novel recreates the adolescence of the most famous female artist of the Renaissance period. Set in 16th century Bologna with an overbearingly misogynistic father, we discover how Lavinia Fontana has to dupe the men of her day to be able to learn and grow in her gift. The reader will fall under Hawes Renaissance spell – a book that’s hard to put down and will be read long into your sultry Italian nights, even after a four course pasta meal and bottle of Chianti ! It will be a fight between teens and parents for this one.
I am not scared « Io non ho paura » by Nicolo Amaniti.
Midsummer in the heart of rural Tuscany in the 70’s – a timid, fearful boy narrates from his adult perspective, the fear of that summer – not only the fear of getting caught having discovered a young boy imprisoned by his father after a kidnapping, but the family fear, the fear of being trapped in a backward dead end…. This is a very powerful, evocative suspenseful book that will give the reader some real insight into the time and place it describes and a little into the modern Italian psyche. I believe this was Amaniti’s debut novel – a real winner. For the keen among you, this was made into a movie and could be rented to pratice your Italian while on holiday.
Italian Neigbours by Tim Parks
If you are a north American or Brit considering a vacation or move to Italy, this is a must read. Yes, it is a very Anglo Saxon perspective, but that’s just who Tim Parks is, a British novelist who has lived 20 odd years with his Italian wife in the Verona province. Italians with all their foibles, contradictions and idiosyncrasies, just as we all have – the mama mentality and why 40 year old men still bring their washing home to mama – how despite being deeply traditionally catholic, the real mores are as modern as they come – how floor-mopping is often taken to obsessive heights… and much more… You’ll be laughing out loud and reading passages regularly to your partner.
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
I admit being a Dan Brown fan – I think he tells a ripping yarn, myself. I suspect my preference for Angels and Demons over the Da Vinci Code, is the Roman setting. Read this after you have visited a bunch of churches in Rome, as well as the Vatican, and your imagination will run wild with the heated, sordid, intriguing pursuit around the city. There is an awesome twist at the end, which totally caught me out. Harvard symbologist, Langdon, is back in action trying to discover the links between the legendary secret society the Illuminati, dating back to Galileo, and a brilliant, but murdered, physicist and his discovery of antimatter. Be prepared though, the Catholic church and papery do not come out pristine white in this novel.
Despite living in France and being a faithful Francophile, I have to confess that I have a bit of a love affair going on with my nearest neighbor. I have read so many excellent books on Italy, I found it very hard to limit my choice. Have you any books you want to add to this list?
This includes Books 68-70 in the Read to me picture Book Reading Challenge