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Children, Soldiers and Heroes: The Great War in Past and Present Italian Children’s Literature.



Along with the Great War came new forms of propaganda, in Italian children’s literature too. In fact, children’s literature was adopted as a powerful communication tool, conveying emotionally pervasive and deceitful messages to children and adults alike. Today’s Italian literature for children no longer suffers from such a strong influence of wartime censorship and political propaganda. It is much more a narrative space for recollection and reflection. But how has it really changed? What are the modern tendencies of publications for children on the topic of the First World War in Italy? Do the narrative models differ very greatly from those of the past? After sketching the historical, cultural and political picture of Italy at the time of World War I, this essay analyses and compares a significant corpus of past and present Italian children’s literature. The findings demonstrate that with the arrival of new directions in Italian historiographical research, with a new generation of Italian children’s authors, and with the centenary of the ending of the First World War Italian children’s literature has somewhat belatedly painted a more balanced picture of the historical, cultural and political events of those times.
This study analyses a unique Italian publication linked to a wider project aimed at eradicating the illiteracy of the rural masses. Il Piccolissimo (1917–1919), a magazine written for children in the agricultural area around Rome, informed them about the Great War and educated them about better values and the importance of making savings. This cultural project, conceived and edited by Giovanni Cena and other intellectuals of the time, also envisaged the establishment and management of rural schools and infirmaries to provide children with a better and healthier life. In Italy, during those years, the magazine Il Corriere dei Piccoli was published to entertain and educate children of the middle and upper classes, while Il Piccolissimo sought to develop an awareness of social responsibility in the poor and hardworking children of the countryside. By examining its contents, graphic layout, iconic language, and educational aims we intend to highlight how the type of childhood it targeted acquired unprecedented social visibility in Italy.
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