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Lobato’s property

Essays analyze each of the "Sítio do Picapau Amarelo" series of books for children

reproduction of the "coleção centenário de monteiro lobato", published by editora brasiliense/ illustrations: manoel victor filhoIn June 1941, the Departamento de Imprensa e Propaganda (DIP) department of press and propaganda, a repression agency of the Getulio Vargas (1882-1954) Government’s Estado Novo dictatorship, was faced with a “serious” fact that had been getting a lot of press coverage in the State of São Paulo. According to the newspapers, the Departamento de Ordem Política e Social (Deops) authorities were investigating an accusation, by the public attorney of the State of São Paulo, Clóvis Kruel de Morais, against writer Monteiro Lobato (1882-1948), the author of Urupês, Negrinha and América and a series of children’s books, written or translated by him. Morais filed a request with the National Security Court/TSN for the immediate seizure, across the entire state, of Peter Pan, the story of the boy who did not want to grow up, as told by Dona Benta, in an adaptation of the book written by English author James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), published for the first time in 1930.

In fact, the “accusation” against the book had originally come from Tupi Caldas, the director of the Ministry of Finance, Federal Department in Sao Paulo . Tupi Caldas had accused the writer of adding subversive content to the original text.  According to the complaint filed by Morais, filed under number 4,180, on June 20, 1941, Lobato’s version “unjustifiably fed children’s spirits with an erroneous feeling in relation to this country’s government”. The state attorney stated that the work contained a – premeditated conflict -, when it referred to the differences in the lives of children in England and those in Brazil, with the purpose of convincing Brazilians – that they were inferior, in terms of the environment they live in and in terms of the gifts they are given.”

In Caldas’ opinion, Lobato had acted insidiously, when he explained the reason for the inequality that existed between the two nations, and had taken this opportunity to criticize government authorities. When telling the children how the taxes collected in Brazil were allocated, Lobato had added the following comment: “Brazil has a pest called the government, which taxes everything that comes from abroad, because of its greed to fill the stomachs of parasites”. The state attorney concluded that the reason for the writer’s disrespect was the “excessive” freedom granted by the regime to writers, at a time when books were among the most important communication vehicles for children.

reproduction of the "coleção centenário de monteiro lobato", published by editora brasiliense/ illustrations: manoel victor filhoAlthough the case is briefly referred to in one of the chapters, the details of the proceeding to seize and destroy all the issues of the story of the Peter Pan adaption are not emphasized in Monteiro Lobato, livro a livro – Obra infantil, by Marisa Lajolo and João Luís Ceccantini, which has just been launched by Editora Unesp and Imprensa Oficial publishers. Of course this does not take away any of the greatness or value of the book. The details are merely referred to as a revealing detail of two aspects:  Lobato’s huge popularity and the fact that he reigned as king over his readers and, secondly, how seriously he took his work and his readers. Although Lobato’s books are still being read by children, they have lost a lot of space on bookshelves due to litigation between the writer’s heirs and Editora Brasiliense publishing company. The publishing company was forbidden from including any kind of graphic or editorial updating – which has made the books less interesting.

Nonetheless, the older generations still refer to Lobato as a fundamental reference to develop reading habits and to the fact that his work is part of children’s imagination. The TV versions of the stories in the Sítio do Picapau Amarelo program, broadcast beginning in 1978, also helped perpetuate the writer’s legacy. This production is the focus of the interesting analysis contained in this 512-page book, which dwells on such aspects as language, illustrations and the writer’s publishing practices. “One of the novelties in this book is the path taken by each work of Lobato – ranging from the discussions of his original Project to the perceptible changes in the different editions”, Marisa points out.

She refers to the book as “the history of reading in Lobato’s Brazil”. All the participants are researchers specialized in the works of Lobato – they include researchers with master’s and doctorate degrees. She explains that there has been a huge research effort in this respect. To analyze Lobato’s work, the authors resorted to as yet unpublished documents, such as the letters sent by the author to his readers, publishers’ documents and school documents. “Nobody really knows how an Idea is Born. In the case of this book, a lot of conversation went on between researchers of children’s reading habits and books, about the need to conduct a deeper study of the work of Monteiro Lobato”, she recalls, in an interview to Pesquisa Fapesp. At a Jornada Lobatiana Monteiro Lobato event held at Unicamp, which brought together junior and senior researchers from all over the country, the term “book to book” was coined as being an interesting way of dealing with this need. “The idea remained alive, until Ceccantini took it on as a Project, black on white, script of chapters, etc.”

reproduction of the "coleção centenário de monteiro lobato", published by editora brasiliense/ illustrations: manoel victor filhoMarisa agrees that, from the historical or critical point of view, the children’s books written by Monteiro Lobato were totally underestimated, even though they had always been popular in the course of the 20th century. “Fortunately, Lobato still has many readers! And I also believe that the critical perspective on him is changing”. She believes that the set of articles in the book build Monteiro Lobato up as being very rigid in terms of shaping his text. “His books are constantly being re-written and, when comparing the different variations, we perceive the materialization of Lobato’s literary Project:  increasingly refined humor, increasingly simple language and increasing respect for his reader.”

However, the researcher does not believe in “concluded portraits” of works or authors. “Each book on an author opens up many paths to be followed by other researchers; as a result, the image one has of a given writer and his work is always sort of kaleidoscopic, that is, it is always changing, even though the pieces are the same”. Monteiro Lobato, book to book, she adds, is a kind of “sample” of the result that can be achieved when one works with a notion of literature that includes the materiality of the free object and its commercial dimension in the discussion. “In this sense, I am sure that our work will generate other research studies that will go deeper and complement this vision of the artist of the Word as a worker”.

In her opinion, the material that Lobato relies on to create his work is widely varied: it is based on Brazilian folklore, classics of universal literature, school material.  In this sense, the content is quite representative of the pluralistic and mixed nature of Brazilian culture. “His vast correspondence – with other writers and friends, and readers, seems to suggest that Lobato – as he matured as a writer – worked on an increasingly articulated Project. The rewriting of this first publication – a short book which was added, in 1931, to Reinações de Narizinho, might represent a model of the way the writer worked, that is, he always focused on what can be referred to as the unification of his work, guaranteed entirely by the constancy of the characters and the space.”

reproduction of the "coleção centenário de monteiro lobato", published by editora brasiliense/ illustrations: manoel victor filhoEach researcher chose a different approach to deal with the writer. Maria Alice de Oliveira Faria, full professor of Brazilian Literature at Unesp – she passed away before this book was ready – chose to write about the illustrations of Belmonte (1896-1947), one of the foremost Brazilian cartoonists in the first half of the 20th century. Lobato’s critical focus, his controversial temperament and his participation in the great political and educational discussions of his time and the educational and pedagogical aspects of his books had found the ideal transposing of words into visual language in the pencil strokes of the cartoonist. In Maria Alice’s opinion, one of the best examples of this partnership is found in the book Emília no país da gramática, published in 1934. “In regard to Lobato’s text in this book, two aspects are focused on: one , is the parody, the making fun of school grammar at the time and, the other, his participation in the controversy on the spelling simplification of the Portuguese language;  Lobato was in favor of phonetic spelling rather than etymological spelling.”

The book’s other organizer, João Luís Ceccantini, chose to write about Lobato’s contribution to the Brazilian world of publishing in his role as publisher – in the 1920s, Lobato became an important name in the modernizing of books as consumer products, in the publicizing and promotion of books.  According to the researcher, it is only possible to understand this aspect of Lobato’s life – by means of the on-going effort in perceiving the overlapping of the roles of writer and publisher, in the same human being, where successive emphasis is granted to one or other of these two aspects, but one complements the other.”

In his opinion, this aspect is but one of many other aspects of a bigger phenomenon, linked to Lobato’s personality. This phenomenon allowed the persona of the socially engaged humanist, full of ideas and the persona of the businessman, totally aligned with the logical capital, to reside in the same person. Or the persona of the Portuguese literary figure, linked to the aesthetic paradigms of the 19th century and the writer fond of colloquialisms, neologisms and metalanguage, the admirer of the Greco-Latin culture, to blend with the person who appreciates the countless products of cultural production and its various aspects. Or, further, “of the publicist, with a keen sense of the reality and attuned to the country’s ills with the free, creative artist and lover of unbridled fantasy.”

He concludes that the writer – from the early 1920’s to the mid-1940’s – created the stories of the Sítio do Picapau Amarelo, which have surely created what Ceccantini referred to as “the most successful and aware national literary Project for children ever heard of, and which has seduced not only children but also young people and adults, and has revealed itself as an object of the highest interest for scholars of our culture.”