by Alessandra Cardone
BOLOGNA, Italy, March 29 (Xinhua) -- In the colorful children section of Bologna's Salaborsa central library on Wednesday, a group of some 40 Italian pupils entered timidly, while several adults smiled encouragingly. On the shelves and little desks around the space, some 34 various books awaited the kids.
This was not a usual day of school, nor the usual offer of books picked up from the library's catalogue: all of the fairy tales belonged to same-aged kids from China.
That was the idea behind the exhibition "Colorful World in Children's Eye" held during the annual fair devoted to the childhood literature's industry: an offer of fairy tales from children to children. "The authors are Chinese kids between the ages of three and 12," explained Jinbin Liu with the China Children's Press and Publication Group (CCPPG) publisher.
As co-organizer of the China Pavilion at the 55th Bologna Children's Book Fair, where China was named as guest of honor this year, CCPPG was in charge of this and other events held alongside the exposition.
The young guests got bolder in a short while: they dropped their coats, spread across the room, and started perusing the little books, their pictures, and the stories.
Actually, they were not new to ideograms, since Chinese was being taught in their private school (the Kinder College for children aged 2-14), starting from the second grade. "Our pupils have their first approach to Chinese at a preschool level, but in terms of play activities of course," headmaster Kika Marianti told Xinhua.
"Then, they start with proper classes of Chinese language and culture between 6 and 7, for which we work in cooperation with the Confucius Institute," she said.
Meanwhile, the children had chosen the books they liked most, after seeing the titles and discussing the stories. They selected one fairy tale to be read aloud, and a CCPPG interpreter obliged: first in Chinese, then in Italian.
The reading was followed by a third and creative phase: it was up to the Italian pupils now to appeal to their imagination, and write down their own stories in words and pictures. Their fairy tales would be brought to their Chinese counterparts in exchange.
Sitting on a little chair, 11-year-old Brando seemed to enjoy the task, as he started writing carefully the story of a dog and a cat. "It is a fairy tale: the dog behaves a bit like a boaster... He brags about the things he can do, and about the beauty of its house," he told Xinhua.
Yet, the cat was clever, according to Brando. "The cat did not let itself be fooled, but asked the dog: why do you think your house is better than mine? You do not know my house... because my house is China," he explained calmly.
Brando wrote his whole story in Chinese, so his peers on the other side of the earth would have "no problems to understand it." According to the school's Chinese teacher, he was one of the most talented pupils in the language class, and far beyond the level of 11-year-old kids.
"We teach Chinese as a second language, along with English," Shayue Wang said. They had an overall approach: along with the language, they would teach a bit of China's many traditions, like martial arts, music, and costumes. "It helps kids to be curious, and thus more engaged with the Chinese language," Wang said.
She explained their methods would also vary according to the pupils' cultural background, since several children in the school were born to foreign parents.
"Speaking is very important in the Italian culture, for example, and our Italian pupils in fact need to talk a lot to better apprehend the Chinese language," the teacher stressed. "On the contrary, Chinese-born pupils need much more writing activities."
"The world in the eyes of a child - An exhibition of Chinese Picture Books" was one of the many events staged by China in and outside the Children's Book Fair held in the central Italian city from March 26 to March 29.
It was a model of cultural exchange the children in the Salaborsa library seemed prepared to master. "Being exposed to the Chinese language helps them develop an open mind, which is our first and most important goal," headmaster Marianti stressed. "Then, it might provide them with a good opportunity as well, when they grow up and look for a job."