Reviews 2014

La Casa delle Meraviglie, La Emme Edizioni di Rosellina Archinto. [The House of Wonders: Emme Edizoni by Rosellina Archinto]

La Casa delle Meraviglie, La Emme Edizioni di Rosellina Archinto. [The House of Wonders: Emme Edizoni by Rosellina Archinto]. Loredana Farina, ed. Milan: Topi Pittori, 2013. 197 pages. €34.00 (paperback).

La Casa delle Meraviglie [The House of Wonders] is an account of the history and influence of the publishing house Emme Edizioni which revolutionised the world of children’s literature in Italy. Emme Edizioni was founded by Rosellina Archinto in the mid-1960s, and her passion for and personal interest in children’s literature changed the way of creating and thinking about books for children in Italy. Emme Edizioni published translated works as well as up-coming Italian authors with a focus on graphic design and layout. The first publications include translations of Leo Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. La Casa delle Meraviglie deals mainly with the publication of children’s literature but it also depicts the vivid cultural environment of Milan in the 1960s in which literature, design, music and art flourished and transformed. It also offers an insight into the life and work of Rosellina Archinto as the key figure of Emme Edizioni.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part - Parlando con Rosellina Archinto [Talking to Rosellina Archinto] - comprises a number of interviews with the founder, accompanied by photographs as well as images from published books. The second part - Sguardi sulla Emme Edizioni [Views on Emme Edizioni] - is a collection of articles which all are linked to the publishing house in one way or the other. The third part is a recreation of the publisher’s complete catalogue from 1966 to 1985 containing almost one thousand titles.

In the first part of the book, readers become acquainted with a strong and resolute woman, Rosellina Archinto. One of very few women to graduate from Università Cattolica in Milan in the late 1950s, she moved to New York with her young husband soon after. Rosellina explains in one of the interviews that her time in the States greatly influenced her future work as she discovered, as she puts it, marvellous books for children and adolescents in New York compared to, the truly dreadful books for children available in Italy. Returning to Italy some years later, Rosellina founded Emme Edizioni determined to offer something new and different to the Italian audience.

The articles presented in the second part of the book provide a varied and nuanced picture of Emme Edizioni. In the first article, Paolo Canton explores the modern layout and graphic design of the published works. The graphic layout is also central in Marta Sironi’s article as she discusses American influences and the ‘pop art’ style that was evolving in the 1960s. Further, Valentina Colombo discusses Emme Edizioni’s role in an international context, and describes the important connections and collaborations between publishers in Europe and the US. This is picked up in the article by Giulia Mirandola, which specifically focuses on books translated from German and collaborations with German authors, illustrators and publishers. Ilaria Tontardini contributes with one of the more captivating articles in the compilation as she looks into the collection of about 20 wordless picture books. Tontardini explores how books of this kind challenged traditional ideas about stories for children as fixed narratives and allowed children to explore and become co-creators of the narrative. Emilio Varrà examines the selection of authors made by Emme Edizioni and makes the point that Archinto opposed divisions between culture for adults and culture for children by promoting the view that children deserve great authors as much as adults. Nicola Galli Laforest compares the books published by Emme Edizioni for adolescents between 1974-1985 with adolescent literature published today. His main point is that publishers think about this age group in a completely different way today and it is possible to detect that Gialli is not entirely satisfied with the development towards, as he puts it, less challenging books. Luigi Monti further describes and discusses an impressive book series containing 167 titles published by Emme Edizioni between 1971-1985 covering alternative teaching methods and different educational issues. Elena Massi also draws our attention to publications aimed at the adult reader as she explores the L’Asino d’Oro [The Golden Donkey] series, which aimed at creating a space for the academic discussion of children’s literature which was very limited at that time. Finally, Marta Sironi discusses an encyclopedia that was developed in a project with children for children in her article.

All parts of the book are written in a very reader friendly manner. The first part, containing interviews with Rosellina Archinto is informative and captivating. However, it is the selection of articles presented in the second part of the book, which provides the reader with a more in-depth understanding of the complexity and diversity of the publications and the impact of Emme Edizioni on the Italian literary scene. Books for children were central, but the interest in educational issues and the academic study of children’s literature also show that the publisher had somewhat different objectives from the other major commercial publishers. The collection as a whole exudes a genuine appreciation of the work of Emme Edizioni and it is also possible to detect an underlying desire to revive the hopeful, dynamic and innovative cultural environment described and discussed in the book. Topipittori, the publisher of La Casa delle Meraviglie, surely walks in the footsteps of Emme Edizioni together with several other minor publishers such as for example, Terre di Mezzo, Babalibri, Il Castoro, Fatatrac and Acco Edizioni. However, commercial interests are very strong in present day Italy, and so minor independent publishers are struggling with a cultural environment which is coloured by political and economical uncertainties, unlike the flourishing era in the 1960s when Emme Edizoni was at its peak.

This book is not of interest only to those who are specifically interested in children’s literature but to anyone who has an interest in culture in general. At present, La Casa delle Meraviglie is available only in Italian.

Eva Fjällström
Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

[Translations by the author]