Book Review: The Adventures of Pinocchio

Rating: ★★★★☆

Pinocchio is a classic story, and a very different one than the saccharine Disney version most Americans are familiar with.  Carlo Collodi’s 1882 book lays out the story of a wooden puppet come to awkward life, who proceeds to act out on every selfish, crude and obnoxious impulse ever known to childhood.  Each bad decision brings sorrow to his “father” Gepetto and his “mother” the Blue Fairy, and brings a terrifying consequence to the puppet — in the course of the book his feet are burned off, he nearly starves, he is attacked by robbers, he is sent to prison, he’s nearly fried as a fish, and he’s transformed into a donkey to be sold for money.

With each consequence, his penitence for foolish behavior is more real.  At the beginning of the book he’s the kind of child who sells his schoolbook, purchased by his father’s sacrifice of his winter coat, to go to a marionette show.  By the end of the story, Pinocchio is the kind of boy who leaps into the sea, risking his life to save his father from a monstrous fish.  This gradual transformation culminates in Pinocchio dreaming one night that the Blue Fairy comes to him saying,

In return for your good heart, I forgive you all your past misdeeds.  Children who love their parents, and help them when they are sick and poor, are worthy of praise and love, even if they are not models of obedience and good behavior.  Be good in future, and you will be happy.

He wakes in the morning to find that he has become a real boy, with the old wooden puppet limp in the corner.

This wasn’t originally a children’s story, but it is a story about childhood and the taming of childish, reckless impulses.  It’s a deeply moral tale, often reiterating the importance of working hard, being responsible, and telling the truth.  It may open up a discussion about what it means to be a slave to sinful impulses (Romans 6:16-18; Romans 7:21-24), and it confirms the Biblical teaching that “folly is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15).

It isn’t, however, a Christian story, and it lacks the Christian quality of grace which transforms undeserving sinners.  The moralism is sometimes quite heavy-handed, and penalties for disobedience are often gruesome.  Pinocchio’s redemption ultimately comes, not from a power outside himself, but from his own resolve to change when he sees the consequences of his behavior for himself and others.  Because of this moral self-reliance, this story may not be a good match for children who are prone to self-righteousness.

If you do decide to go with Pinocchio, please avoid the many uninteresting illustrated versions available, and check out Roberto Innocenti’s rendition.  His surreal, dramatic, and often funny pictures perfectly complement Collodi’s vivid style.

You may also be interested in a recent interview at Redeemed Reader with Italian novelist Simonetta Carr, in which she discusses Pinocchio’s cultural significance and moral themes.  In addition, a few years back Frederica Mathewes-Greene wrote an essay about Italian actor Roberto Benigni’s film interpretation and why American critics couldn’t understand it.  In this essay she also explores how Collodi’s view of childhood contrasts with a modern American view.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Publication Information: Collodi, Carlo. Adventures of Pinocchio, The. Innocenti, Roberto (Illustrator). Knopf Books for Young Readers. 1988. ISBN: 0394821106.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 04-08, Amblesideonline, Book Tree, Books That Build Character,, Honey For a Child's Heart, NEH Summertime Favorites, Read-Aloud Handbook, World Books That Show
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted on May 13, 2012

2 responses to Book Review: The Adventures of Pinocchio

  • Mohammed Husain says:

    Its very nice review i will read the book

  • Chris McSweeney says:

    My kids and I just read this book as a read aloud–it was WEIRD and we laughed ourselves silly! Loved the looooooong chapter titles. I totally agree with your point about the missing element of the human’s need to admit that he can’t possibly be good on his own. It was a great opportunity to pause and talk about human nature with the children. We also talked about how an author’s own belief about the world affects how he writes and the “world” he creates for his readers. Some sources suggest that Collodi was connected with the Masons, but I do not know if that is true.

  • Leave a Response