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Children’s Book Receives International Coverage

Children’s Book Receives International Coverage

Renée D'Elia-Zunino, a distinguished lecturer in Italian Studies, published a children’s book based on stories and drawings by her German grandfather. The following article by Rita Neumaier appeared in a German newspaper February 3, 2018.

From Mühleninsel to America
Franz Rauchensteiner told stories to his children that are now appearing in book form
by Rita Neumaier
Translation by Jeff Mellor, professor emeritus of German

When Sieglinde Rauchensteiner and her sister Sophie were still young, their father Franz Rauchensteiner used to tell them his own imaginative stories in their home on Mühleninsel [Mill Island, neighborhood in Landshut / Bavaria] about "Wickl-Wackl." Sometime later, Sieglinde Rauchensteiner, who in the meanwhile had married an Italian tailor and whose name was D'Elia, was blessed with a daughter named Renée.

Franz Rauchensteiner was actually a school principal by profession. During World War II he refused allegiance to the Nazis and became a carpenter instead. "He had a gift for working with wood and made a lot of doll furniture for me," his granddaughter relates. He also carved a wooden figure of his invented "Wickl-Wackl" and made a kind of marionette with it. Renée D'Elia-Zunino's beloved "grandpa" died already when she was six, but she has preserved many memories of him. Not least the stories of "Wickl-Wackl," which he enclosed in his letters to his granddaughter. Renée often spent the long Italian summer vacations, from May to September, visiting her grandmother in Landshut. "She was very open and allowed me a lot of freedom" the university distinguished lecturer declares, who now lives in the US.

She attended courses in Seligenthal to learn German, spent afternoons in the swimming club, took excursions throughout Bavaria with her grandmother, discovering the Bavarian Forest that her grandfather had described in his stories. Three years ago, she came across some of the drawings and stories her grandfather had made. She put these together in a children's book with clearly German echoes "in homage to my mother and my aunt", as Renée D'Elia-Zunino says. A portion of the story rests on those of her grandfather "but also includes something from my own imagination."

American friend and artist, Mike C. Berry, provided illustrations that bring the heroes of Franz Rauchensteiner to life: the gnomes "Wickl-Wackl" and "Jacklhammer" and their friends. In the appendix of the English edition there are two original drawings that Franz Rauchensteiner produced. He wrote the explanations for them in English.

"I always spoke German with my grandmother, but my grandfather spoke English very well," Renée D'Elia-Zunino says, who herself grew up in a multi-lingual environment. Her father was a native of Grenoble in France but grew up in Italy. Sieglinde Rauchensteiner emigrated to the US as a twenty-year old. The couple met in the Bronx in New York in an evening English school course. Daughter Renée was born in the US, but the family moved to Italy in 1973. At the beginning, Renée attended an American school. In 1998 she came back to the States, together with her French husband, Laurent, who also teaches at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Her 13-year-old son Florian also delighted in the "Wickl-Wackl" stories, Renée D'Elia-Zunino relates.

Her book will be presented to the public in the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Knoxville on February 10. In addition, she will be giving readings in schools and libraries. And so "Wickl-Wackl," first invented on Mill Island in Landshut, will find its way into American children's lives.

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