The perfect book for Epiphany 2014, and Italian families across the USA, is that of an English author who has already had children across Britain befriend her character Bef after completing a 51-stop tour of the UK.
‘The Befana Drama’ is a children’s book for those aged 8+ which makes the eyes of those with Italian heritage light up once they realise its lead character is based upon their traditional present bringer, who has filled their stockings on January 5th for centuries, bringing coal to naughty children and candy to the good boys and girls.
The book soon wins other children over too, once the fantastic plot is revealed and it has gone down a storm in British schools at which the author has presented it. The author in question is Gianna Hartwright, who has given up providing an upper age limit for the book, as adults across Britain have agreed that it’s a book they simply have to read.
The great news for all of these fans is that Befana Drama 2 is following hot on the heels of the first book and due for launch at The Bologna Children’s Book Fair, in Italy (March 24-27). Both books are likely to take the exhibition by storm, as it will be the first time that Italy has seen the Befana Drama series. The fact that Gianna Hartwright is a PR professional with over 30 years experience and over 20 awards under her belt, including an award for being ‘Best Freelance PR Practitioner’ in Britain, certainly helps.
In Gianna Hartwright’s book Italian tradition is under threat as children demand computer games, gadgets and gizmos and a rather short-sighted mayor tells The Befana that he is boarding up her postbox, downsizing her festival and letting Santa take over as from next year. This starts a global adventure by broomstick again drawing upon Italian tradition.
In Italy, it is believed that The Befana helped the Three Wise Men find the Baby Jesus. In Gianna Hartwright’s book, she calls in a favour centuries old and finds their descendants, so as to gain access to their gold and stockpile enough coal and candy to take over Santa’s run before he takes over hers. She discovers that they are a boyband in Dubai called ‘The Three Kings’!
So as to not upset Italian traditionalists, Gianna Hartwright rejuvenated and changed the Befana by sending her off to Old Father Time. This stroke of genius has given her a compelling story line for Befana Drama 2, but also some interesting comments from Italian families that she has met during her tour. In Bedford, England, where one in five people are of Italian descent, a ‘nonna’ agreed that the cover image was not that of the traditional Befana. As she said: “The Befana does not wear lipstick!”
As Gianna Hartwright says: “Some of the best experiences I have had on tour have involved seeing the eyes of Italian families light up when they realise that this book is about their tradition and that the world will be discovering their Befana. The reaction is just amazing,”
The plot of The Befana Drama has already enthralled many British kids from other cultural backgrounds, however. They have had the opportunity to buy the book since October 2013 and many have met the author face to face. She has put in an awful lot of work within the education sector, creating an education pack linked to the book and visiting schools across Britain. The feedback has been fantastic and Befana Drama 2 promises to be even more gripping. As children, teachers, parents and journalists say, the Befana Drama is really crying out to be made into a movie.
With larger-than-life characters such as ‘The Most Fearsome Feller in Folklore’, an exiled-to-Siberia tailor, the best reindeer whisperer the world has ever seen and Rocky Candymeister, the owner of an American candy factory, the action is absorbing from first to last. Once Bef arrives in Lapland, with her coal and candy purchases on board, true magic emerges, as her resolve to take over from Santa wanes, but her dislike of the vain, shopaholic wife of Santa, Capriccia Claus, knows no limits.
With the best reindeer whisperer in the world controlling the minds of the elves in Santa’s Post Office, including that of the Head Elf, resulting in Bef getting a job there, the young reader may believe that Bef’s mission is complete. Gianna Hartwright’s clever introduction of the one elf that cannot be controlled – who happens to be the only elf who likes Capriccia – adds another dimension to the story, leaving everyone wondering what will happen right up to the last page.
It is in the Lapland scenes where the true message of The Befana Drama is communicated. This is the message that the most important gifts in life come with no price tags, as they are qualities such as kindness and selflessness, rather than commercialised presents. This is a compelling part of the book and one of the author’s favourite passages.
Befana Drama 1 and 2 (the latter entitled Capriccia’s Conundrum) are likely to take not just Italy by storm in Bologna, but the whole world. The books will be showcased on the stand of the UK’s Publisher’s Association, giving them added kudos and profile.