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Home Culture Attilio Cassinelli, master of children’s literature and simplicity, dies at 100 | Culture

Attilio Cassinelli, master of children’s literature and simplicity, dies at 100 | Culture

by News Room
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The little ones don’t stop making friends. And yet, they just lost the oldest of the gang. Many did not even know him personally. He didn’t go on a slide with them or run around the park. Even so, he was always one of the group. Because from his house, thousands of kilometers away, Attilio Cassinelli never stopped taking care of all his tiny companions around the world. He gave them love and respect. He taught them simplicity. They always understood each other perfectly, although he was very old and they, sometimes, were not even older. He dedicated the century of his life to telling and drawing stories for tiny readers. And there is no doubt that he would have continued even with the 101 years that he turned on June 18. Unfortunately, he had to leave earlier, as his daughter Alessandra confirmed to this newspaper. Even the best fables end. Although Attilio will continue to make friends, each time another child discovers his books.

There are more than 200 to choose from. And in fifteen languages, including Spanish, Basque and Catalan (by the Edebé label). Little bear helps the bees find new flowers. A gluttonous goat eats the leaves that the little mice Titta and Meo had collected with so much care. Everyone wants to play with Bob the dog, but first each one must solve a task. There are also little pigs that build fragile houses, grandmothers with oversized ears or a puppet that cannot lie without its nose getting longer. Because Attilio (Genoa, 1923-Novi Ligure, June 7, 2024), as he was known, illustrated classic stories, in addition to inventing his own plots. Or board games, dominoes and even a paper zoo. Always, yes, in his unmistakable way.

Double page of ‘Little Bear and the Bees’, by Attilio, published in Spain by Edebé.

“I really don’t know what a good children’s book should be like. I can only say that I have always sought lightness and synthesis. “I think simple things are easier to carry,” he himself said two years ago. Marked and clean lines. Lively colors. Simple stories, at least on the surface. A touch of humor. Few letters, and capital letters. Sometimes even none. Attilio shied away from great pretensions. Perhaps because the greatest of all was enough for him: to please those who read for the first time.

“I don’t write for them, but for me, for the child I was a long time ago. If things continue to work, perhaps it is because the children have not changed much or because, at least when we are young, we have something that makes us all the same,” Attilio said. He did it for a few decades. In 2020, he celebrated five, with the first exhibition that the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome dedicated to an illustrator. His mother disappeared too soon. Her father wanted her to work in a bank. But Attilio wanted to draw. Painting, advertising graphic design. And, finally, children’s literature. In 1966, at its premiere at the Bologna Fair, the most important in the sector, he hung in a small stand his debut film, The tree house. When he returned half a century later, the event dedicated a great tribute to him.

Although the recognitions accumulate. He has been called a “poet in images.” Who knows how many illustrators start out inspired by the master’s creations. After he underwent complicated surgery in the 1980s, a class of children in Sicily sent him drawings, letters and a gift. “It made me feel important,” he appreciated. As good friends do, especially in difficult times.

In his life, he witnessed many: the Second World War, the protests of ’68, the (pen)last crisis. But, no matter what happened, his pages continued to offer a refuge made of humanity and tenderness. And, in the process, they renewed the hope that one day the world would look more like his books.

Vignette from 'Non sono connesso' (I'm not connected), one of Attilio Cassinelli's most recent books.
Vignette from ‘Non sono connesso’ (I’m not connected), one of Attilio Cassinelli’s most recent books.

Although Attilio did not write with his back to his surroundings either. One of his last works, They are not connectedso (I’m not connected), shows the fun that awaits if you look beyond the screen. His books have been environmentalist for so long that one can fantasize that they were in the bookstore of the newborn Greta Thunberg. “Tangible primary plots always enter the plots, such as nature, animals, trees, friendship or having a snack together. Country life, which I prefer,” he explained.

Other things, however, he did not clarify. He always claimed the intelligence of his readers and often placed a double page without text in his books. A wink, an invitation to play with thoughts: “I think that every story should include a pause, a breath made only of an atmosphere, or a silence. And I like to think that a void allows the child to imagine a part of the story.” Attilio trusted his little readers, he knew that sometimes it was not necessary to elaborate. That’s what friends have: they understand everything without saying anything. Even when they have to say goodbye.

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