"The Captain's Parrot"

A Brief Summary of the Book

Pietro's grandfather, captain of a sailing ship, on his return from a voyage to the southern seas brings back a present for him. It is a talking parrot, called Cocorito.

Cocorito has the habit of listening to a story and then intervening to finish it off with one old proverb or with several old proverbs, which serve to point the moral of the story. This is the motive for various members of the family - the grandfather, when he is home from a voyage, the mother, the grandmother and Pietro and his little sister, Sara - to  sit down in grandfather's study which is full of an old sailor’s mementoes, and tell stories, while Cocorito is apparently asleep on his perch.

The first few stories are simple and it is easy for Cocorito to quote a suitable proverb. Thus, if the little kitten, despite his mother's warning, jumps all around his saucer of milk and ends up tipping it over, Cocorito quickly intervenes to observe "It is no good crying over spilt milk". Other stories are more complex and Cocorito sometimes feels constrained to intervene during the narrative and quote some proverb suitable to that  stage of the story.

There are eleven stories, plus a prologue and an epilogue. The  whole book is in its turn one long story and serves as a framework to the others. The parrot is at the centre of everything and everything revolve round him. Everyone participates in telling stories to the parrot, even the grandfather far away in the Southern Seas, thanks to his carrier pigeon, which he sends with the ‘true’ story of the "Island of treasure". This island has been found but there seems to be no treasure. As in a miniature detective story, it will be discovered at the end that the monkeys have found the treasure, and in playing games with it, have scattered it all around the forest except for a few pearl necklaces, which now shine around their necks as they laugh mockingly, jumping from tree to tree.

The children also intervene with the telling of the stories, and sometimes their intervention changes the development of the story. Thus, when the grandfather is all set to tell the story of the old fisherman and the little golden fish, Pietro’s intervention change the golden fish into a golden bird and the first wish of the old man is that he should have a bright red Ferrari.

When  Pietro takes his little friends into grandfather’s study to see the marvellous Cocorito, it is not difficult to predict that the normally calm atmosphere will be shattered, that the calm will become a storm. But Cocorito, terrified and having flown from his perch on to a large helm wheel hanging  from the ceiling in order to escape the storm, although he hasn’t heard a story, nevertheless manages to extract a valuable lesson from the situation:  “Who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind”. And the whirlwind does materialise for Pietro in the form of a slapping from his mother, who is angered by the broken picture frame and the ripped cushion and the goose feathers everywhere. An inglorious ending indeed for a group of children brought together to tell a story to Cocorito.

The larger outline story that makes a framework for the smaller individual stories finishes with the romantic flight of Cocorito. He has been overcome by the nostalgia for the far away forest of his homeland and he escapes, accompanied by the beautiful Ciquita, a girl friend that grandfather had brought back for him at the end of another of his voyages.

The book speaks to very young children through the spell of stories where the protagonists are sometimes just animals, sometimes animals and people. But it also speaks to older children who might be aware of the irony which surrounds all stories, as they take with a pinch of salt the magic which the stories evoke.

The stories are varied and new, except for a few which mimic popular folk tales. There are ecological stories where animal rebel against the hunters and emerge victorious. But between man and animal it is not always the latter which prevails. Thus, that most astute of animals, the fox, if he tries to be too clever, finds his match in a human who catches him out.