In the delightful Telephone Tales by Gianni Rodari, we’re transported to 20th century Italy, where we meet a travelling businessman named Signor Bianchi. Being away from his family throughout the week is tough for this doting father, and so to compensate, every evening at 9pm on the dot, he rings his daughter and tells her a bedtime story. As this is the era of pay phones and Signor Bianchi is a frugal gentleman, each story must be related in the time that a single coin will buy. Here we discover seventy of his deliciously peculiar (and short!) tales.
I loved the joyous nature of this book. Dazzlingly imaginative and quietly sagacious, it’s easy to see why this 1962 collection has become an Italian classic and Rodari himself a legend of Italian children’s literature.
Telephone Tales features an array of whimsical goings-on, my favourites concerning adults who need to rediscover their youthful sparkle. We meet the sorcerer salesman who invents a machine that makes real-life fiery comets, only to be thwarted by his dull, safety-conscious customers. Then there’s the story of the stoplight that suddenly ditches red, amber and green for a shade of blue more intense than the skies over Milan. If only the unimaginative drivers could guess what the stoplight is trying to tell them.
My favourite tale concerns the day the number 75 bus runs away with its commuter passengers. Torn from their morning newspapers, they’re destined for a sweet-smelling grove of trees and a magical interlude that upends their monotonous routines.
The playful surrealism of Rodari’s stories also touches poignantly upon themes of war, peacetime and bittersweet old age, all gloriously illustrated by Valerio Vidali, in this stunning gift edition with its thick pages, surprise inserts and gatefolds. I was particularly thrilled when reading a nose-related tale, to discover a vibrantly painted ‘schnozzola’ gatefold.
Telephone Tales by Gianni Rodari is published by Enchanted Lion Books, illustrated by Valerio Vidali and translated by Anthony Shugaar, 212 pages.