Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, illus. by Sara Fanelli, trans. by Emma Rose (Candlewick Illustrated Classics). Candlewick Press, 2003.
This post marks the beginning of a series introducing some beautifully illustrated children’s books and fairy tale collections I’ve encountered over the past year. My first selection, Pinocchio, illustrated by Sara Fanelli (with a sprightly translation by Emma Rose) is so full of life and originality that it almost jumps up and runs away, as Pinocchio did when Geppetto carved his legs and feet! It is a remarkably fresh realization of this modern classic tale, which is indefinable as either a children’s or an adult’s book–it is both. She writes:
“Pinocchio was a part of my childhood: I was born and grew up in Florence, the birthplace of Carlo Collodi, and the puppet was present not just in the words of the book, but also quite literally in the everyday landscape, in the shop windows and markets. Children often sang songs and rhymes about him and sometimes I even used to put on a pointy hat and pretend I was a little puppet to my family.
When I first read Pinocchio as a child, I reacted against its moralistic undertones; when I read it as a grown-up illustrator I fell for the energy and surrealism of the puppet’s escapades.” [from the foreword]
Fanelli’s inventive collage art seems perfectly equipped to express the free-wheeling mischief of this iconic child and also his heart-tugging growing pains, when his explorations turn into mishaps or outright disasters. She uses bits of wallpaper, snatches of newsprint, cutouts from photos, graph-paper backgrounds, her own brush-stroke ink drawings, and “scribbles,” which she says “generate a sense of energy on the page.”¹ With this welter of materials, she controls her color palette (on the warm side) and achieves a convincing unity of effect, which is showcased in this beautifully produced treasure of a book. I can’t describe all its visual wonders–I hope you can see them for yourself–but here are some of my favorites.
I love her image of Pinocchio, with his green wallpaper pants and his pointy red hat (bearing part of a math diagram). He is bending over to peer into a blue bowl that’s printed like closely woven fabric. We know the bowl is filled with water because Pinocchio’s reflection fills its interior, and he is getting the first glimpse of his very improbable self. The cast of characters he meets are also created with delightful flair. We first see the blue-haired fairy girl as she converses with a fancy-dress poodle, who stands on his hind legs and looks out at the reader with a very human eye. The Blue Fairy appears to Pinocchio in many guises (once as a talking snail!) but above all she is a mother figure.² A charming page shows the little puppet embracing her in joy; behind him waits a photo-real plate of pasta and greens that the fairy has made for him. The scenes of some of Pinocchio’s most famous adventures are laid out in dramatic double-page spreads, such as the carnival-like puppet theater, with its colorful tent and gorgeous commedia dell’arte figures; the daydreamy schoolroom, where he tries hard to be a “good boy”; and the belly of the big shark, whose rows of white teeth border the top and bottom of watery, dark blue pages, as the story carries on in white type.
Fanelli’s enchanted Collage-land (a sort of Funland for the reader) is so enthralling that you may be surprised to wake up at the end and find that the wooden puppet has become a real boy–no, I mean it, a real Italian schoolboy shown top to toe in an old sepia photograph. Still, she puts a few marks of lingering enchantment on him–a blush spot on his cheek, drawn triangles for his hat and trademark nose, and a bit of white handkerchief in his pocket, embroidered with a big letter P.
Pinocchio is 59th on The Fictional 100.
- This quote is from Joanna Carey’s detailed profile of Sara Fanelli’s work: “Dynamic Doodles,” The Guardian, April 16, 2004.
- I am not the first to wonder if the Blue Fairy could be a symbol for the Virgin Mary, who is usually dressed in blue. Especially for an Italian writer like Collodi, she would surely be a type, ready to hand, for depicting the pinnacle of compassionate motherhood. In fact, the story as a whole has other elements of Christian allegory, such as the carpenter Geppetto (Giuseppe, or Joseph) as the boy’s father, and Pinocchio himself dying into new life. (See Rebecca West, “The Real Life Adventures of Pinocchio,” University of Chicago Magazine, December 2002.)