Demand for books about current events in Italy has yielded scores of children’s books in the past three decades that treat the topic of immigration. The goals of eliciting empathy in children and explaining to them complex historical and contemporary events can be challenged by the perceived need to shield children from traumatizing scenes. This essay examines four recent children’s books published in Italy that dramatize immigration from Africa. Authors Maria Attanasio, Erminia Dell’Oro, Dino Ticli, and Francesco D’Adamo allude to canonical Western literature (such as Pinocchio and Cuore) as a way to sweeten these often bitterly disquieting narratives for their young readers. This essay probes the potentials and limits of intertextuality and ultimately argues that several texts go beyond leveraging the image of capsized ships in the Mediterranean, an image that has become a media fetish, to engage readers in ways that facilitate both empathy and critical self-reflection.

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