Roberto Innocenti (1940-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1940, in Bagno a Ripoli, Tuscany, Italy. Education: Self-educated illustrator.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Jonathan Cape, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England.
Illustrator in animation studio, Rome, Italy; worked as a film and theater poster designer and a book and newspaper designer, Florence, Italy; book illustrator, 1970—; has also done graphic design for advertisements. Worked in a steel foundry, 1953-58.
Golden Apple, Biennale of Illustrators Bratislava, 1985, Notable Book citation, American Library Association (ALA), Honor Book citation, Boston Globe-Horn Book, and Mildred L. Batchelder Award, ALA, all 1986, all for Rose Blanche; Kate Greenaway Medal Highly Commended citation, British Library Association, 1988, for The Adventures of Pinocchio; Best Illustrated citation, New York Times, Kate Greenaway Medal Commended citation, both 1990, and Golden Apple, 1991, all for A Christmas Carol; Hans Christian Andersen Award nomination, 2004.
(With Christophe Gallaz; and illustrator) Rose Blanche, translated by Martha Coventry and Richard Graglia, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1985.
Alberto Manzi, La luna Nelle Baracche, Salani (Florence, Italy), 1974.
Seymour Reit, All Kinds of Planes (also see below), Golden Press (New York, NY), 1978.
Seymour Reit, All Kinds of Ships (also see below), Golden Press (New York, NY), 1978.
Seymour Reit, All Kinds of Trains (also see below), Golden Press (New York, NY), 1978.
Seymour Reit, Sails, Rails, and Wings, (contains All Kinds of Planes, All Kinds of Ships, and All Kinds of Trains), Golden Press (New York, NY), 1978.
Charles Perrault, Cinderella, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1983.
Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988, reprinted, Creative Editions (Mankato, MN), 2004.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Creative Editions/Harcourt Brace (Mankato, MN), 1990.
E. T. A. Hoffmann, Nutcracker, Creative Editions/Harcourt Brace (Mankato, MN), 1996.
Charles Perrault, Cinderella, Creative Editions (Mankato, MN), 2000.
L'isola delle figure, Petra (Vincenza, Italy), 2001.
J. Patrick Lewis, The Last Resort, Creative Editions (Mankato, MN), 2002.
Ruth Vander Zee, Erika's Story, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2004.
Innocenti's illustrated books for children have been translated into several languages, including German, French, Norwegian, Japanese, and Chinese.
Work in Progress
Six Millions of Stars.
Italian illustrator Roberto Innocenti is known for his highly detailed, painterly style and his devotion to realistic representation in such classic works as Cinderella, The Adventures of Pinocchio, A Christmas Carol, and Nutcracker. He is also the illustrator of an original Holocaust tale, Rose Blanche, that has been highly publicized throughout Europe and the United States. Innocenti's illustrations are unmistakable, demonstrating a delicacy of palette as well as a refinement of line, both of which are surprising in light of the fact that Innocenti is completely self-trained in art.
Born in a small town near Florence, Italy, just after the outbreak of World War II, Innocenti left school at age thirteen to help support his family by working in a steel foundry. By age eighteen he had moved to Rome and found work in an animation studio, a move that would influence his future career. He began to learn the trade of illustration and soon moved back to Florence. There he illustrated posters for movies and the theater in addition to designing books. In 1970 Innocenti met American artist John Alcorn, who convinced him to try his hand at book illustration.
Innocenti's early work for a North American audience appeared in Golden Books with text by Seymour Reit. The "All Kinds" series looks at transport from three perspectives: planes, ships, and trains. Each picture book gives a short history of the vehicle in question, accompanied by pictures of a variety of types. All Kinds of Ships, for example, introduces children to the history of sailing, from the early boats hollowed out of logs to the large supertankers that sail on the water today.
One of Innocenti's early major works was illustrating the classic tale Cinderella by Charles Perrault. Instead of setting the tale of rags to riches in some remote fairy-tale kingdom, Innocenti decided to plant it firmly in the twentieth century, locating Cinderella in an English village during the Roaring Twenties. He chose this time and place so that he would not be influenced by all the illustrations of the story that had come before, and also as he has explained, in order to make Cinderella live more as a universal archetype not limited by her time. Patty Campbell noted in the New York Times Book Review that Cinderella is "a witty flapper era" rendition that "has been widely admired." Cinderella was but the first of several classic tales that Innocenti has illustrated, yet his next book would be far from the realm of fairy tales.
Rose Blanche, coauthored by Innocenti and Christophe Gallaz, is set in World War II, and draws on illustrator Innocenti's childhood. It tells of the horrors of that time as seen through the eyes of a young girl who is not yet old enough to fully understand the events surrounding her. Rose Blanche is a young German girl who, witnessing a strange scene in her village one day, is thrust face to face with the reality of the Holocaust. The heroine's name is also that of the youthful German resistance group which tried to sabotage the Nazi war effort, often losing their lives in the conflict. Rose Blanche, seeing the mayor of her town handing over a small boy to the soldiers, follows the tracks of the truck that has taken the boy away. Deep in the woods she discovers a barbed-wire compound. Inside are small children in striped uniforms bearing a yellow star. Rose Blanche feels sympathy for these children and brings them scraps of food she steals, only to be shot by a soldier just as the war is ending. She, like the resistance group of the same name, has given her life for principle, becoming "a symbol of goodness in a dark world," according to Quill and Quire reviewer Susan Perren.
Partly inspired by Innocenti's own experiences during the war, Rose Blanche was widely praised by reviewers for its avoidance of sentimentality and its hard-edged message. Lorraine Douglas, writing in School Library Journal, noted that the "oppression of Fascism is shown through the powerful and realistic paintings" within which Rose Blanche "is the only brightly colored individual." Perren, continuing in her review of Rose Blanche, dubbed Innocenti "a modern-day Breughel," and a reviewer in Publishers Weekly concluded that "This is a stunning book and a forceful argument for peace." In Junior Bookshelf, Marcus Crouch posed the rhetorical question of how suitable such a book was for young readers of picture-book age, and answered, "Why not? There is no hatred in the book, only sadness and love and a shred of hope."
Innocenti returns to the Holocaust in illustrating Erika's Story, a book by Ruth Vander Zee. The book is a true story about a Holocaust survivor that Vander Zee met in Germany in 1995. This woman avoided death as an infant when someone threw her from a moving train that was carrying people to a concentration camp. She was taken in and raised by a Gentile woman, who risked a great deal to save Erika's life, but the baby still lost so many things that others take for granted: she doesn't know who her parents were, when her birthday is, what country she was born a citizen of, or even what her original name was. Innocenti's illustrations for this book include several unusual techniques. He paints in a monochromatic tone for the illustrations that are set during the Nazi era, and progresses to full color for illustrations in the present day, "reflecting," a Booktrusted.com contributor wrote, "Erika's optimism for the future." In most respects, Innocenti created "amazingly detailed photo-like illustrations," noted Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman. However, not a single adult's face is depicted anywhere. "I took away the faces of fear, of impotence, of horror," Innocenti explained to Design Week's Nick Smurthwaite. "Whether out of pity or respect I don't know."
The tale of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet full of mischief and tricks who wants desperately to become a real boy, is the subject of another of Innocenti's illustration efforts. Set in nineteenth-century Italy, the book is rich in the atmosphere of Florence, the native city of both Innocenti and Carlo Collodi, the creator of The Adventures of Pinocchio. Mary M. Burns, writing in Horn Book, noted that "Innocenti must now be considered the foremost interpreter of Pinocchio. The full-color paintings are marvels of content, composition, color, and perspective." In Publishers Weekly a critic called Innocenti's work a "luminous interpretation," and Faith McNulty in the New Yorker commented that this "must surely be the most beautiful edition of 'Pinocchio' ever seen."
Innocenti has also turned his hand to famous Christmas stories, illustrating both A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Innocenti turned Scrooge's tale into a loving depiction of London and of interiors filled with activity and warmth. A contributor to School Library Journal noted that Dickens's text "is superbly served by Innocenti's paintings of London," and that the book is a "handsome example of the bookmaster's art." Writing in Publishers Weekly a reviewer felt that "few of the many interpretations of Dickens's holiday parable can match this handsome edition for atmosphere, mood and sheer elegance," while in Horn Book, Ann A. Flowers commented on Innocenti's "subdued palette of browns and grays" and his "striking perspective," concluding that Innocenti's A Christmas Carol is a "magnificent edition."
With Nutcracker, Innocenti serves Hoffmann as well as he did Dickens, meticulously detailing the story of the little girl who transforms her toy nutcracker into a handsome prince.
The Last Resort, by J. Patrick Lewis, is a highly unusual picture book. Its narrator is an artist who has lost his imagination—or, as the artist explains it, "my imagination, apparently angry at being ignored, took a holiday—and never returned." This is quite a problem for an artist, especially as he discovers that he can't paint as vividly as he wants working only from memory. "Memories are old hat, my friend; imagination is new shoes. Having lost your new shoes, what else is there to do but go and find them?" All this comes before the title page. In the story itself, the artist gets in his car and drives to an inn near a stormy sea. The inn is populated by a host of strange characters, starting with the talking parrot who mans (birds?) the check-in desk. Other guests include a wheelchair-bound young woman, accompanied by her nurse; a gray man who walks about in a trench coat; a peg-legged sailor whose remaining leg seems to switch sides at times; a freckle-faced young boy who likes to fish; and a policeman who is constantly puffing on his pipe, among others. "It's a cast worthy of an English country-house mystery," James Hynes wrote in the New York Times Book Review, but The Last Resort instead becomes "a mystery that is more complex, allusive and, finally, ineffable." The elaborate allegorical puzzle Lewis builds may be too sophisticated for young readers, Hynes continued, but "I could easily see an imaginative child becoming obsessed with Innocenti's splendidly evocative and entertaining pictures, "which "are packed with wonderful details that reward careful and repeated viewings." And, as Michael Cart noted in Booklist, "Innocenti's many hyperrealistic illustrations … are not only exquisitely rendered by also lighthearted and witty."
Through such works, Innocenti has developed a loyal following among readers and critics alike. As noted by Amy J. Meeker in Children's Books and Their Creators, "Innocenti's remarkable ability to create drama and story through visually eloquent yet unsentimental paintings" is in evidence throughout his works, and these illustrations "have gained notice in fine arts journals as well as in the field of children's literature."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Brezzo, Steven L., Roberto Innocenti: The Spirit of Illustration, with an essay by Leonard S. Marcus, Art Services International (Alexandria, VA), 1996.
Lewis, J. Patrick, The Last Resort, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, Creative Editions (Mankato, MN), 2002.
Meeker, Amy J., Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Bookbird, September, 2004, "Illustrator Finalist: Roberto Innocenti, Italy," p. 22.
Booklist, November 1, 1985, p. 408; September 15, 1986, p. 138; March 1, 1987, p. 1396; November 1, 1991, p. 510; February 1, 2003, Michael Cart, review of The Last Resort, p. 981; November 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Erika's Story, p. 495.
Design Week, November 27, 2003, Nick Smurthwaite, "Drawn In: Illustrator Roberto Innocenti Puts Nick Smurthwaite in the Picture," p. 19.
Emergency Librarian, January, 1992, p. 52.
Five Owls, March, 1988, p. 62; May, 1988, p. 68; November, 1992, p. 29.
Horn Book, March-April, 1989, Mary M. Burns, review of The Adventures of Pinocchio, p. 209; March-April, 1991, Ann A. Flowers, review of A Christmas Carol, p. 198.
Junior Bookshelf, April, 1986, Marcus Crouch, review of Rose Blanche, pp. 62-63.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 31, 1991, p. 1.
New Yorker, December 12, 1988, Faith McNulty, review of The Adventures of Pinocchio, p. 156.
New York Times Book Review, July 21, 1985, Patty Campbell, review of Rose Blanche, p. 14; November 17, 2002, James Hynes, "Who Are These People?" (review of The Last Resort).
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1985, review of Rose Blanche; September 30, 1988, review of The Adventures of Pinocchio, p. 69; October 12, 1990, review of A Christmas Carol, p. 63; August 19, 1996, p. 69.
Quill and Quire, May, 1991, Susan Perren, review of Rose Blanche, p. 24.
School Library Journal, October, 1983, Lorraine Douglas, review of Rose Blanche, p. 172; January, 1988, p. 37; February, 1989, p. 66; October, 1990, review of A Christmas Carol, p. 36.
Booktrusted.com, http://www.booktrusted.co.uk/ (April 9, 2005), review of Erika's Story.
Comune di Santa Croce sull'Arno Web site, http://www.comune.santacroce.pi.it/ (April 9, 2005), "Roberto Innocenti, L'isola delle Figure. "*
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