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MONTEIRO LOBATO
(Writer of children’s books: 1882 – 1948)

by Fanny Abramovich  

Translated by John D. Godinho

 

Monteiro Lobato (photograph)

The Yellow Woodpecker Farm - the haven of every child's dreams

WHEN IT ALL HAPPENED... 

José Bento Monteiro Lobato, the most important Brazilian writer of children’s books, was born on April 18, 1882, in Taubaté, state of São Paulo.  He grew up on a farm and became a lawyer with a remarkable lack of enthusiasm, since he had always wanted to be an artist!  He could draw well!  When he was a student, he belonged to a discussion group and, between laughs and constant reading, wrote irreverent chronicles and articles.  In 1907,  he moved to the town of Areias, where he acted as public prosecutor.  There, he married Maria Pureza with whom he had three children.  Bored with small town life, he wrote prefaces, did translations, moved to a farm called Buquira, tried to modernize its archaic farming methods, created the controversial character “Jeca Tatu,” and conducted extensive and ambitious research on the SACI, a popular figure of Brazilian folklore, the results of which were published in O Estado de S. Paulo. – In 1918, he successfully published his first volume of short stories, Urupês.  He founded the publishing house Editora Monteiro Lobato & Cia., introducing new standards for printing quality, bringing out new authors and, finally, going bankrupt.  In 1920, he published  A menina do nariz arrebitado (The Little Girl with the Turned Up Nose), with cover design and illustrations by Voltolino, and managed to have it adopted as a school text, with a record first printing of 50,000 copies.  -  He set up the Companhia Editora Nacional, another publishing firm, in Rio de Janeiro.  He was invited to be the commercial attaché in New York, where he served for four years (between 1927 and 1931).  He was fascinated by Henry Ford, by metallurgy and by the oil industry.  He lost all his money in the 1929 stock market crash.  -  He returned to Brazil and threw himself into the Campaign for the Protection of Brazilian Oil, delivering speeches, sending letters and making the whole country aware of the importance of oil to national development.  It was then that he realized how popular and well-known he really was. He was arrested! His feelings about Brazil wavered between enthusiasm and depression. -  He was active in Editora Brasiliense, a book publisher, lived in Buenos Aires, became a communist sympathizer, wrote books for children on a continuing basis and with great success, did a lot of translating and had his work translated into a number of languages.—He died on July 4, 1948, of a stroke. - His complete works comprise 17 books for children and 17 for adults, which include short stories, essays, sundry articles and correspondence. 

 

THE DISCOVERY OF ENJOYMENT

Illustration by Voltolino, from Lobato's "Miss Cute-Little-Nose"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustration by André Le Blanc, from Lobato's "Miss Cute-Little-Nose"  and the "Viscount of Corn-cob"

 

Dear Leninha,

Something so good happened this week that I had to tell you right away!  When I was in the school library, I picked up a book called  As reinações de Narizinho (The High Jinks of Miss Cute-Little-Nose), by Monteiro Lobato.  I started thumbing through it, but kind of looking down my nose at it because it was so thick and looked like it would never end and it would be a real pain.

But I read a teensy bit of the beginning and then a bit after that and a little more that came afterwards and before I knew it the bell had rung to go back to the classroom and I couldn’t take my eyes off that delicious delight.  With a sigh, I checked it out from the library and took it home.  I didn’t do anything alse all day.  Not even at night.  Not even the following morning, nor the one that came after, nor the one that followed.  I couldn’t even blink until I finished it.

There is so much pretty stuff that it gives you goose bumps,  like when Miss Cute-Little-Nose marries the Scale-less Prince and Mrs. Spider makes her a gown all made of colors, so beautiful that even the mirror was wide-eyed at the sight and cracked into six pieces.  When I get big, I’m going to have one just like it.  If I don’t, I’ll simply die.  When they both go for a walk in the Land of the Clear Waters, I really feel like going with them and go for a spin in all that beauty...

When Emília, the doll made of  camomile herbs, takes a speaking pill and talks like a machine gun, you die laughing.  And before you know it, she becomes real people.  She is always up to something, she invents a lot and she looks people straight in the eye.  She’s too much!

The book is all one big surprise.  You think something is going to happen and then...something else happens!  Much more fun and “marvelful” than anything I could imagine.  It’s pure deliciousness!

All of this happens in the Yellow Woodpecker Farm, a place where you only have children and grandmas, and the Marquis of  Short Tail, a little pig that eats everything is sight, and Emilia, always flippant, and a corn-cob who is a wise man wearing a top hat and knows everything about everything – he is the Viscount of Corn-cob.  When I grow up, I’m going to live in the farm and be happy.  There’s no place like it in the whole wide world... “The farm is as comfortable as an old shoe.”

It’s hard to believe that I’m over 8 years old and only now I read a book by Monteiro Lobato.  I’ve lost most of my life.  If you haven’t read anything by him yet, rush to the nearest bookshop and buy one and you’ll be hugged by feelings of joy.

Love and kisses,

                          Alice

 

THE FLAVOR OF ENCHANTMENT

Illustration by Rodolpho, from Lobato's "Aunt Anastácia"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustration by Kurt Wiesel, from Lobato's "Nana Benta and Her Grandchildren, Miss Cute-Little-Nose and Little Pete"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Leninha,

Today was a glorious day for me!  I graduated from elementary school and I received the present I most wanted in all my life – a complete set of all the children’s books by Monteiro lobato.  Seventeen books that make me want to lick them and caress them gently.  I’ve read them all!  I swear I have!  Now I’ll be able to read them again and read them over as many times as I want. They are mine!!!  I can pick them up whenever I feel like it. And I always do.

I’ll start with the ones I like best.  It was so wonderful to go with all the folks from the farm and visit the Milky Way and see St. George fighting the dragon and  meet the little angel with the broken wing, he’s such a sweetheart, and then come back and eat Aunt Nastácia’s cupcakes.  I went along with them on Viagem ao Céu (A Trip to the Sky)!  I really wish I had my own fairy dust so I could travel to wherever I wished whenever I had a strong urge to get away...

I really envy Emília because, all by herself, she carried out A reforma da natureza (The Reformation of Nature). Boy, she’s really a bold one.  She invented and rearranged and experimented.  She’s afraid of nothing and faces everything and everyone.  She makes and remakes things as she sees fit and goes on, happy as a lark, waiting to see what happens.  She gets scolded but she pretends she doesn’t hear, opens her thready eyes as wide as can be and says something foolish that leaves people speechless.  I’d give anything just to have a tiny bit of her courage.  I wonder if I ever will, someday???

Another book that I’m going to read real soon is A chave do tamanho (The Size Key) and see everybody become teensy-weensy and have to shift for themselves in an oversized world because of their new size and lack of energy.  They are forced to come up with new ideas all the time.  Lobato is so clever.  He keeps prodding us constantly so that we keep thinking and thinking...

O sítio do picapau amarelo (The Yellow Woodpecker Farm) is one of my loves.  That letter from Little Thumb asking permission to live in the farm, the arrival of all the heroes from all those wonderful stories, Cinderella, Snow White, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Alice in Wonderland, Alladin, those Greek monsters, and Nana Benta calmly welcoming them all - the adventures, the scares, the fights, the great surprises, the intrigues and gossip, everything dazzles you and makes you shiver at the same time!!!  I love it, I love it, I love it!

It’s been a long time since I read my first book by Monteiro Lobato.  I’ve grown older, I’ve changed schools, I’ve move to a new house and I’ve replaced my toys, but one thing remains as firm as ever – I want to go and live in the Yellow Woodpecker Farm!

Lots of kisses which you made so happy with your great present that I deserved so much.

Love,

          Alice

 

MAGNITUDE AND BEAUTY

Illustration by Belmonte, from Lobato's "Nana Benta and Aunt Anastácia"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monteiro Lobato

 

 

 

 

My dear Leninha,

It’s incredible how we’ve been writing to each other for so many years...exchanging important happenings and itching discoveries.  Today I graduated from the School of Education.  I am now an accredited teacher.  I just want to see how well I do in a classroom chock-full of children without the presence of Miss Cute-Little-Nose and Little Pete.  I only hope that I have the patience and the wisdom of Nana Benta and the creativity of Aunt Nastácia.  I hope they show me the way!

My final assignment in school was to write about Monteiro Lobato.  It was like hitting the jackpot!  I re-read all the beloved and dusty books from my childhood and, once again, they left me open-mouthed.  I laughed, I smiled, I was bowled over...

What impresses me most now is how he does not separate reality from fantasy.  There are no frontiers.  He leaves one, jumps into the other in one fell swoop.  It’s delicious!  I had to study thousands of articles about the games children play, but I’ll bet he didn’t have to read even one.  He just went right into it and started playing.  Children and animals enjoy the type of fun that makes them discover things and they feel the joy of going out exploring...and then return peacefully to the farm when they hear Nana Benta’s loud call to come in and have some cupcakes.

And what about the talking and acting animals:  the quiet Polled Cow, Quindim, the brawny rhinoceros, the competent Dr. Seashell, the gluttonous Marquis of Short Tail, the insights of the Talking Donkey, the philosopher counsellor, all of them behaving just like people, living together as if they were members of the family, butting in and joshing like everybody else.  Cool!  Deserving of applause and an encore!!!

And how delicious is the way he writes.  Now it’s a hug, now it’s a smile – his words captivate you right away. He doesn’t go for nonsense or retarded conversations with children, in tacky, sentimental ways straight out of a Maxican soap opera.  Far from it.  I noticed that he uses difficult words, knowing that his child-reader will look up the meaning and understand everything just right.  And how he invents beautiful words!  Let me quote just a bit from Reinações (High Jinks):  “And the canaries singing, the humming birds humming and kissing flowers, and the shrimps shrimping, and the crustaceans crustaceaning and everything that’s small and does not bite smalling and not biting.”  Nobody ever wrote for children the way he did...Never, never.

I read many of his books for adults.  I was familiar with a couple of them, but the others I had never even seen.  They don’t carry you away, they are not breathtaking...I liked one or two of his short stories, I was nudged by some letters, some things in his articles made me think, but there was nothing out of this world.  It was kind of like a lot of other writers.  It was not like discovering new worlds as he makes us do when he writes for children.  When it comes to that, nobody comes even close.  He’s the greatest, the best!!!  He’s all by himself!

Oh, I almost forgot...My favorite book now is Memórias de Emília (Emília’s Memoirs).  I think I’m going to have it by my side for the rest of my life...Emília – that’s who I’d like to be! I adore her!

A big kiss from “the teacher,”

                                              Alice

 

CRITICAL MINDS AND BRAZILIAN FEELINGS

Monteiro Lobato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of the book "The Oil Scandal", by Monteiro Lobato

 

 

 

My dear Leninha,

Time is whirling and flying by fast.  I’m now 25 and I’m working with children in the 4th grade.  I change the teaching methods, I change the verbiage and what I expect from them, but I never change the required readings of Monteiro Lobato.  They are indispensable!

When I was teaching pre-schoolers, I used to tell stories about the Yellow Woodpecker Farm.  I used to tell a whole chapter at a time and I’d see their little eyes wide-open begging for more.  Now that I teach older kids, I work a lot with Greek mythology.  And who is better than Lobato to introduce them to the mysteries of Olympus?  Everything I know about Ancient Greece I learned by devouring O minotauro (The Minotaur) and Os doze trabalhos de Hércules (The Twelve Labors of Hercules). My students are just as charmed by them as I am.  And they cheer and get excited and learn their lessons lovingly, not just by rote!

I tried to work with Lobato’s textbooks.  They are better, far better, than those being published today.  It’s too bad that the concepts are now obsolete.  It’s no longer possible to use his A gramática (Grammar)  and A aritmética da Emília (Emílias Arithmetic) or Geografia da Dona Benta (Nana Benta’s geography).  But these books prod you into inventing lessons that are more interesting, much more fun, and less of a pain.  Surprise is the secret!

I always read his Fábulas (Fables) whenever I can.  There’s nothing better to make the students criticize, demystify, reach their own conclusions...and laugh at Lobato’s brand of mockery and at his blend of humor and simplicity.  He’s  a master at dispensing the exact amounts of these ingredients...

Something that has always impressed me about Lobato is how well he writes – without “grammaticabilities,” without being tethered to some silly and conventional rule.  The other day I found one his letters in which he says:  “You can’t imagine how I struggle to extirpate ‘signs of  literality’ from my books for children.  Each time I revise a new edition, I still find ‘literalities’ that spoil the work and I kill them as I would kill a flea.  This is how I want my students to write:  be free, be humorous, be “imaginating,” kill all “literalities.”

Something else that impresses me about Monteiro Lobato is his attachment to everything that’s Brazilian.  No other author who’s come into my life has brought me so much of Brazil without alienating me from the rest of the world.  Ah, to bask in the sun like a lizard; to eat jaboticaba berries and climb trees and make fun of those who, like monkeys, imitate foreign words and ways, and to relish our folklore in his Histórias da Tia Nastácia (Aunt Nastácia’s Stories) and  in Saci, and to see all of our natural wealth in O poço do visconde (The Vistount’s Well), and to feel him nudging us toward a patriotism that’s consciencious and contributive rather than imbecilic and cloddish.

I think he says that, very clearly, through Emília’s mouth:  “They say I don’t have a heart, but that’s not true.  I do have a heart and it’s beautiful.  Except that it’s not made of bananas.  It is not impressed by petty little things;  but it hurts every time it sees an injustice being done.  It hurts so much that I’m sure the ‘evilest’ thing in the world is injustice.”

I’ll always be grateful to him for my feelings as a Brazilian, which scream loudly every time I see an injustice being done.  Unfortunately, this has always happened in the past and continues to happen in our country...

And to think that he was arrested for his visceral participation in the campaign for the protection of Brazilian oil.  He was arrested for being a patriot...If that is the price, I’m willing to pay it.  I learned from him not to run away from my convictions, to go into a fight with everything I’ve got. To go for broke!

Lots of the very best Brazilian kisses,

                                                        Alice

 

UNIQUENESS AND PERMANENCE

Monteiro Lobato is arrested for his patriotism...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purezinha, Monteiro Lobato's future wife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monteiro Lobato

 

 

 

My dear friend Leninha,

Years have gone by and I’m still in the mood to talk with you about Monteiro Lobato.  I’m over 40 now, but the  other day I decided to read all of his books once more.  I’m talking about his books for children, of course.  These are the 17 volumes that I keep and show to my friends as my greatest treasure.

My eyes are no longer so inocente and so easily charmed.  I notice details that I had never seen clearly before.  His insights are incredible.  There are only two smart, curious children living in the farm, no different from thousands of other children.  Miss Cute-Little-Nose is an orphan and Little Pete has a mother somewhere who shows up at the very beginning of the first story and then vanishes, never to be heard from again.  Nothing about his parents...The children are brought up by their grandmothers, two ladies who are light-hearted, playful and not at all repressive.  It’s great!

Lobato also knows how to get around any problem.  For example, Nana Benta is cultured, wise, prudent, very neat, and is white.  Aunt Nastácia is easily frightened, is superstitious, homely and is “black with thick lips.” It’s amazing how he always manages to avoid any situations of racism.  It’s enough to give you the shivers.  And remember that Aunt Nastácia is the only person who works in this farm-wonderland.  She is also the most creative.  After all, she created Emília and the Viscount.

Speaking of the Viscount of Corn-cob, you can see that he is the character Lobato likes the least. He is a busybody, a pedant, a complex person unable to deal with the concrete world, a coward.  An academician!  On the other hand, Emília, who is a doll, not a child, is irreverent and always speaks her mind.  She is totally independent and in charge of her own life, the first feminist in Brazilian literature.

The most vanguard of all!  She was in the front lines for women’s rights.  The love-hate relationship between her and the Viscount is wide-open and delicious!

The Yellow Woodpecker Farm, where I’ve always wanted to live, bothered a lot more people than you can imagine.  The other day, I read an article saying that in 1942 the book A história do mundo para crianças (The History of the World for Children) had been removed from all public libraries and Catholic schools.  And they lit bonfires to burn all of Lobato’s pages.  Pure vandalism.  All to no avail.  He survives to the this day.  And probably having a few laughs. 

In today’s schools they don’t light up bonfires anymore.  But then, they don’t read Lobato as they should.  He’s been set aside, put away.  The children hardly know him now and they are losing so much...The fault lies with their mothers and teachers, too lazy to handle a longer text, afraid to be nudged into doing any thinking, fearful of Lobato’s reproaches, unwilling to deal with untrammeled and discerning children like Little Pete and Miss Cute-Little-Nose.

The farm is a utopian possibility for a harmonious, intelligent and dynamic   civilization, where everyone wants to take refuge.  In Emília’s words:  “The secret, my friend, is only one:  freedom.  Here we have no leashes.  The greatest misfortune of all is to be in a leash.  And how these leashes have spread throughout the world!”

Monteiro Lobato, upset with indignation, but in tune with the future and aware of children’s intelligence and capabilities, has given his best to this child-reader: his irreverent humor, his touching stories, his prodding knowledge, his unpredictable characters, his fantastic blend of the real and the imaginary, his belief in freedom.  I know he was the pioneer in children’s literature in Brazil.  I also know that no one has yet taken his place.  He has only followers who are eager to reach his level, where his indispensable presence remains as the object of great admiration, affection, adulation and deserving of applause on the part of every child-reader (whatever the age, like me...).

Oh, my most favorite book is still Memórias da Emília (Emília’s Memoirs).  And my ambition, as a human being, is to be “independence or death,” as Emilia describes herself.  Someday I’ll get there!

Kisses from Lobato’s eternal reader,

                                                        Alice

 

* Fanny Abramovich writes books for children and only wishes she could give her readers one tenth of the pleasure that Lobato has always given her.

 

LIVES OF THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING WORLD  informs our visitors that Fanny has sold more than one million copies of her books.

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