“The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily” by Dino Buzzati

“The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily” by Dino Buzzati (1947) – 143 pages


“Sit still as mice on this occasion

And listen to the Bears’ Invasion

Of Sicily, a long, long while

Ago when beasts were good, men vile.”

Having read and enjoyed Dino Buzzati’s “Poem Strip” a while ago, this time I went to the New York Review Children’s Collection rather than their Classics Collection.  With the Buzzati drawings and a fun story, “The Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily” holds pleasures for adults as well as children.

One terrible winter, all the small plants in the mountains were frozen over with snow, and there was nothing left for the bears to eat.  King Leander decides to lead the bears down from the mountains to the plains where the humans live.

Buzzati is not above winking to the adults who are reading this book to children.  Consider the following.

 “King Leander.  He is the King of the Bears, the son of a King who in turn had a King as father.  He is therefore a bear of most ancient lineage.  He is tall, strong, valiant, virtuous, and intelligent too, though not as intelligent as all that.  We hope you will like him.”

 This story might not be right for real small children, since there is a fair amount of violence in the war between the bears and men; also later the bears and the men drink wine and gamble, all tastefully handled. Finally little children might not appreciate Buzzati’s sly humor as above.  I suppose the ideal audience would be children of the age of six or seven, maybe just before they are of an age for action movies.   On the other hand, if you are the type of parent who doesn’t want stories watered down for their kids, little kids might really love this story too.  The story makes clear that the bears aren’t perfect either, but King Leander is a good wise leader, a role model.

bear6Dino Buzzati also wrote novels for adults.  My next book of his I read will probably be the adult novel, “The Tartar Steppe” which was supposed to have been a major influence for J. M. Coetzee in writing “Waiting for the Barbarians”.  Dino Buzzati was one of those multi-talented people like Tove Jansson and Ruth Park who could draw and write children’s books as well as write adult novels.

Most of the story in “The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily” is told in prose, but it occasionally breaks out in rhyme as the first lines above are an example.  Buzzati put everything he had into this book.

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