The cleverly designed ‘Fables and Legends of Abruzzo’ by The Bongiovanni Family allows curious children, ages 5-16 who love a good story to dive in and imaginatively explore the traditions of Abruzzo helped along with some wonderful illustrations.
The more advanced readers can discover the history behind all those legends which I am sure is particularly rewarding for those of Abruzzese ancestry, learning more about the rich and diverse culture that made up Abruzzo long ago. For those children lucky enough to visit the region, they can use the book as their entertaining personal guidebook, enabling them to provide suggestions to their parents of where they would like to go today based on the location for each story with a full route to help guide the ‘family outing’. It’s engaging enough for parents to read themselves or tell as a bedtime story!
It’s been a privilege to work with family proofing this into natural English, I can’t wait for the next one! It really feels like this is a start to recognising all members of the family who may visit Abruzzo and letting them learn about the region imaginatively using old legends. Younger members of the family do not always have Italian as a second language or Italian at all and can be a little neglected on this front in the region where there is not much information in English. Personally, I think anyone who has a b&b or an ‘Abruzzese’ restaurant locally or overseas should have a copy on hand to allow their kid guests to learn about the region, through stories and travel!
Do have a read of our interview with the sibling authors and the book review.
Who came up with the idea for the book, was it immediately thought of to be translated or did that come at a later date?
Anna: The idea came from Laura who is a vet and the youngest sibling of the family after she moved back to Abruzzo after living in the Netherlands for almost four years with her family. This period away allowed her to appreciate her ‘Land’ with new eyes. She started reading about Abruzzo’s legends and the lifestyle of the region throughout the Middle Ages. She discovered ancient stories and tales that she wanted to share with her two children. Her husband Luca suggested the idea of connecting the stories with the places, so she took a map of Abruzzo and together they created drawings of the legends in their various locations as she told them the stories.
Then came Covid19 and during lockdown when stuck at home, Laura had the idea of writing these stories. It was also the perfect excuse to involve other members of the family: Laura talked about the project with our father Florent, who was enthusiastic, especially the research part (as he was passionate about local history and Roman architecture). I the elder sister would write the tours for the visitors to the region as I had experience in welcoming foreign colleagues in Abruzzo from my work as a (Eures Adviser); and our uncle Alexandre, an artist and painter from Nice, would create illustrations.
Laura: I said, “Oh please, Uncle Alex do the illustrations, maybe we will publish the book one day, you never know!”. He laughed saying “Don’t worry, published or not I will do the drawings!” So we all decided to have regular weekly online meetings, discussing the ideas, drawings, stories, and the layout of the book, each and every single detail. It was the perfect excuse to meet and be united as a family in a such difficult period.
The idea of translating the book into English and French (maybe also to Dutch!) was there right from the beginning. I could use it as a way of welcoming my Dutch friends when they visited Abruzzo, and Florent and Alexandre were born in Casablanca Morroco to Italian parents. Their mother tongue was French, they went to university in France, culturally both are more French than Italian. “Our father did the French translation since he was bilingual French and Italian, and we know he would have been very pleased to see the printed version of the two translations of this in summer 2023!”
Each member of your family was involved in its creation can you explain their role?
Officially, four members of the family are named as authors, the “four Bongiovanni”:
However, this was really family teamwork, and all the members of the family were involved: the wife of Florent (Rosi) and Alexandre (Lely), the husbands of Laura (Luca) and Anna (Corinto). They re-read and discussed the ideas, as did the main protagonists of this project: Laura’s children Stefano and Riccardo, to whom the book is dedicated.
Had any of you had experience in writing and designing books, if not what was your background? If not, what advice would you give to a first-time author?
Anna: Florent wrote two French grammar books as his profession was a French teacher at the “G. D’Annunzio” University in Pescara for more than 40 years. Alexandre was always passionate about drawing and had previous experience in comics, but his expertise is the “trompe l’oeil”. Laura loves illustrated children’s books, she loves nature and she is fascinated by history; she dreamt of writing a children’s book one day, but she works in a different area: she is a veterinary pathologist, and teacher at the University of Teramo and researcher at Utrecht University (NL).
Laura: Anna has always been passionate about travel, tourism and hospitality. She works for the ‘Regione’ in Abruzzo and deals with the European labour market and professional mobility.
My advice on writing a book is to believe in your idea, read a lot (especially similar books), organise your work. Even as a hobby, writing a book requires a lot of time and effort.
How long did you spend researching the project?
Laura: For the part of the tales and legends, I read a lot of legends, and stories on several websites, and the books “Leggende Medievali Abruzzesi”, by Giovanni Pansa, and “La vita in Abruzzo nel Medioevo” by Luigi Mammarella, both by Polla Editore; and a very nice book “Capetiempe. Capodanni in Abruzzo” by Vittorio Monaco, Textus Edizioni. The more I read the more I was enraptured and fascinated by our past.
Anna: For the part of the tourist tours, I read numerous tourist guides of Abruzzo in Italian and the few ones existing in English and consulted many tourist websites, mainly with places of interest aimed at children.
What is your favourite children’s book and guidebook? What influence did both have on your book?
Laura: I am keen on children picture books, such as “And Then It’s Spring” (Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead), 2012; “Lepron’s Soup” (Giovanna Zoboli; Mariachiara Di Giorgio), 2022; “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” (Michael Rosen; Helen Oxenbury),1995; and lot more, especially about nature, science and children feelings. I love travelling, especially with children (and our dog) but I found there are only a few children’s guidebooks available that really catch children’s attention, and keep them interested.
I tried to think about a book that children would like, about adventures and feelings, with nice, colourful illustrations, but which was also unique and strictly linked to our land and traditions. Above all that would teach something: respect, collective living, caring about others. Children have to obey but adults should listen to them more often. Finally that although death is part of life, we continue to live through our family by passing on and sharing advice and popular traditions that live in this new generation that creates our children’s culture.
Which was the hardest part of the book to deliver? What changed from the first Italian version to the English version?
Controlling and re-reading the text, and discussing the layout of the text with the drawings were for sure the hardest parts.
For the translation, we tried to remain as faithful as possible to the first Italian version, the book’s layout is exactly the same.
Do you perceive this as a cultural or tourism project or a bit of both?
We think it’s really both!
Laura: Our first aim was to allow the newest generation of Abruzzesi (as in my children) to know all about their own old traditions and stories in a simple way, but making that a starting point to be curious about them, and to learn how to “see” history in anything around us!
Anna: We hope this finally allows families of tourists with children to visit Abruzzo and its “open air” museums in a relaxing way, creating interest in the very same children by reading the tales in the evening before, and the day after going to visit these magical places of the tales, interacting physically with the legends.
English teachers in the region are very excited about the book, will you be doing events to help promote the English version to local kids, if so where?
We would love to promote the English version of the book to be used at schools. We don’t have a specific plan yet, but we will do promotion of the book with presentations and participate in events dedicated to the book in the schools, as we have already been doing for the Italian version.
Abruzzo has had one of the highest rates of migration within Italy consistently over the last 150 years, why do you think it has taken so long for a book like yours to come about in Abruzzo?
That’s a very interesting question. We don’t know, but thinking about this, we would say that a book like this could be written by someone from Abruzzo with an interest in the provinces, traditions, and a love and respect for children. Tradition and children’s literature have both grown in interest over the past few years with Abruzzesi awareness of how rich their culture is and a land full of nature and beautiful places.
How can those families with Abruzzese ancestry but without Italian get to know more about Abruzzo’s cultural history beyond the book?
We think that most of the websites and books about Abruzzesi traditions are in Italian, but there is more now more and translated information on tourist websites, and especially on social media, with only a few specific touristic guides in English.
When is the next edition of Fables and Legends of Abruzzo planned for? Are you going to do an audible version?
The second volume of Fables and Legends of Abruzzo is something several people are asking for! We frequently meet people who know a lot of other legends and traditions, with which we could do another book, even another two! And this would be very nice, just like an audible version that could be used for teaching purposes in the future.
What are the Traditional Folk Tales of Abruzzo?
Fairy tales, fables and legends remain as popular today as in days of yore, in no small part thanks to the transition from oral tradition to the printed anthologies of the 19th century and the technicolour splendour of the famous cinematic versions animated by Disney Studios and others.
Anthologists such as Mr & Mrs Andrew Lang helped bring some of the best tales from every corner of the globe to a wider audience at the turn of the 20th century. However, it is another family we have to thank today for finally bringing to our attention some of the most amazing and significant fables and legends from Italy’s rocky heart, Abruzzo. ‘Fables and Legends of Abruzzo’ by Laura, Florent, Alexandre & Anna Bongiovanni is a cracking and informative children’s and family story and guidebook to Abruzzo rolled into one!
The Bongiovanni family published the Italian-language edition of this unique collection in 2021 after working together on the project online during the pandemic lockdown. A true labour of love, the book draws upon the much-overlooked tales rooted in the history and traditions of the Abruzzo region. From the start, this was to be a multi-lingual edition book, reflecting the family that created it, However, realising the appetite internationally, especially amongst the multi-generational Abruzzese diaspora in the Americas and beyond, the Bongiovanni family has also now published an English and French language edition, Life In Abruzzo did the English translation!
The work comprises six tales, offering up a treat for fairytale fans and Abruzzophiles alike. The stories selected provide a singular insight into the topography, history and folk traditions of the region, further enhanced by Uncle Alexandre Bongiovanni’s splendidly apposite colour illustrations throughout.
The fables and legends of Abruzzo themselves are simply and elegantly told, combining the cautionary note that often defines many such tales with fascinating historical and local insight. The stories incorporate all the classic elements of fairy tales and folk tales: magical castles, enchanted forests, dragons, pirates, royalty, witches, wizards and goblins populate the pages, all brought to life skilfully by Alexandre, whose training as an architect is evident in his drawings of, for example, Rocca Calascio. There is even a tale very much in the ‘Day of the Dead’ mode, where the past literally informs the present.
Each is accompanied by usefully informative text about the historical background to the tale, as well as rather excellent itineraries that encourage and entice visitors to Abruzzo to explore the actual areas the tales are sourced from, providing a series of excellent potential days out for the whole family.
The format of the physical book is great for children, presented in a user-friendly quarto format in soft covers. The book is light and flexible so easily transportable and without weighing down small fingers and hands on the car journey to arrive at the destinations if using the carefully planned itineraries. Each chapter/tale is divided by a flash of colour through full-bleed colour separators, giving even children who find reading hard, an aid to see how long each is. The serif font is printed in clear and in large letters, striking a perfect balance between readability and aesthetic appeal, designed to be legible for younger readers whilst sophisticated enough to maintain the interest of adults, ideal for reading to oneself or for reading aloud.
The book is perfect if you are looking to connect young readers of Abruzzo heritage with their homeland, spiritual or physical. Also perfect for all those keen folklorists and cultural anthropologists out there – and frankly anyone who just loves fairy tales and local legends and of course Abruzzo!
Review by Roddy Newlands