Tender Bar that is currently streaming on Amazon Prime is a wonderful adaptation of award-winning author, J. R. Moehringer’s memoir (2005) of the same name. It has been directed by George Clooney and has Ben Affleck acting in it. It is a wonderful film that shows the tender relationship between an uncle and a nephew, but also of the immediate clan and close circle of his uncle’s friends. Somehow the writer manages the fine balancing act between masculinity and tenderness without it becoming toxic. J. R. Moehringer’s mother is a single parent who returns to live with her parents and her brother. It is a full house at home. The mother is restless and despite living many years in it finds it hard to call it home whereas her son has no difficulty in doing so.
There are many scenes in the film that are worth discussing but my favourite scene is when the uncle, played brilliantly by Ben Affleck, recognises the talent his nephew has for writing. Uncle encourages nephew to read and does so by throwing open the cupboard that houses his book collection and simply says, “Read”. At no point does the uncle ever say to his nephew that this is inappropriate for you or is not at your reading level. Incredibly liberating! The reading/writing bug big bit the nephew. Ultimately, he got a place at full-sponsored seat at Yale University.
It is not a mushy film. Just about right in its tenor. No wonder Ben Affleck has been shortlisted for some awards such as the Screen Actors Guild. He has been nominated in the category: “Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role”.
J. R. Moehringer won the Pulitzer Prize (2000; shortlisted in 1998) for journalism and subsequently co-authored tennis star, Andre Agassi’s “Open: An Autobiography” ( 2009). He also ghostwrote Nike co-founder, Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog” (2015). He has now been asked by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, to collaborate on the Duke’s forthcoming memoir that is to be published in late 2022.
My article on Geronimo Stilton has been published in Scroll on 11 June 2017. It is entitled “Even children who don’t read are addicted to this series of books about a mouse. Why?” I also interviewed Claudia Mazzucco, CEO of Atlantyca SpA. who publish and translate the books as well as Neeraj Jain, Managing Director, Scholastic India who distribute the series locally.
The Geronimo Stilton series is an incredible phenomenon in children’s publishing in India. In the five years since this series – starring the eponymous mouse who is a bestselling writer and the editor of The Rodent News – was launched here by Scholastic India, one million copies have been sold already. The immense popularity of the books – which have been translated from Italian into English – has actually transcended the realm of regular book fairs and book stores, with the pull coming from even stationary and toy stores.
“Geronimo Stilton as a series is rich with everything that children love in their books. They are replete with humour, they have nail-biting adventures featuring action set pieces in an age-appropriate and non-violent way. There was (and still is) nothing like this in the Indian children’s books category,” said Neeraj Jain, managing director at Scholastic India. The marketing campaign has been unique, he added.
“We waited for a while for the series to develop some word-of-mouth publicity,” Jain said. “Once the buzz grew, we went ahead with an on-air campaign on radio. There have been sustained visibility exercises through displays, character visits and special collaterals across schools that we reach out with to book fairs and book clubs. We carried out The Great Geronimo Tour of India in 2016 where there were character visits and activities at Tier II cities across India. The tour was also amplified on radio and social media.”
Children, many of them not big readers in general, have been lapping up these books and waiting eagerly for the next instalment. According to some retailers, schools are actually beginning to issue directives to book exhibitors not to sell Geronimo Stilton books as children are hooked and refuse to read anything else!
In this talk delivered in 2012, Elizabetta Dami, creator of Geronimo Stilton, said that the idea to create these stories came from her storytelling sessions with patients in a children’s hospital ward. She was clear that while the stories had to grip the child’s imagination, they also had to work at multiple levels like inculcating values and giving the young readers hope. Her own publishing house began to create these stories, after which she joined hands with seasoned publisher Pietro Marietti.
In September 2006, Marietti established Atlantyca Entertainment to forge new business opportunities for the company’s library of entertainment book properties. Since then, as chairman of the firm, Marietti has published over 100 titles in the Geronimo Stilton series. It has generated business worth more than $1 billion.
This growth is also attributed to strategic licence sales, such as bi-monthly comic book magazines, toys, stationery products, as well as a Broadway show called Geronimo Stilton: Mouse in Space presented by Orlando Repertory Theatre (January 2017). Amazon Prime has also committed to two seasons (52 episodes) of an Italian-American-French animated series.
Claudia Mazzucco, CEO of Atlantyca SpA., talked about the series, its origins, and what it takes to keep up the momentum of its phenomenal popularity over generations. Excerpts from the interview:
How did Geronimo Stilton come about? There is no guarantee that an anthropomorphised mouse will be a hit with kids. The Geronimo Stilton editorial series was initially published in eight titles by the Italian publishing house Dami Editore. Then Elisabetta Dami joined the publishing company Edizioni Piemme as a shareholder and, jointly with the owner Pietro Marietti, they developed the Geronimo Stilton project both on the editorial and the marketing side.
Why did you choose to create the text for children in this manner – multicoloured and diverse fonts? The “graphisms” in the actual format aim to add an emotional meaning in a funny and witty way to the literal meaning of the word. This helps children to catch the meaning in a blink with the valuable result, among other, to encourage even reluctant readers to read.
Are these texts based on some technical knowledge about creating reading material for younger children? Somewhat similar to Ladybird’s Read It Yourself, Harper Collins’s I Can Read and Dr Seuss books? I ask since these books are poised beautifully in that space between picture books and chapter books but with some characteristics of game books such as those created by Livingstone (1970s). The Geronimo Stilton series definitely helps a child read easily. This result was achieved little by little at the very beginning of the development of the editorial series in Edizioni Piemme, thanks to the editorial team, the leadership of Mrs Dami and Mr Marietti, and the enthusiastic feedback of young readers.
The rapidity with which these titles are released every month matches the pace of a magazine subscription, but it is actually a book. How does your publishing firm manage it? The editorial team is a very well-trained engine and they rely upon a big community of illustrators and graphics that have been collaborating for years.
Are some of the titles created specifically for some countries and not for the rest of the world, such as Bollywood Burglary? The titles are created for a worldwide market. Some themes are suggested by foreign publishers but the books are developed in order to be licensed and distributed all over the world.
What is the turnaround time of a story from conception to publishing? About five months.
The themes of the stories selected are very modern and at times, topical. How does this come about? Apart from an editorial team does the firm also rely on the feedback from young readers? Are there any special moments or letters that have been memorable? All over the world, children’s publishers have to be open to changes because their consumers are children – the more flexible, demanding, unpredictable community of the publishing market. The editorial team is even more careful because of the strong ethical commitment of this particular intellectual property. Moreover, a website for children and the related community gives immediate feedback with their comments to books and the marketing initiative.
In contemporary fiction for children, three characters come immediately to mind who have had such huge success – Gruffalo, Peppa Pig and Geronimo Stilton. Do you have any thoughts or insights on why this may have happened? Why now? Of these three only Geronimo is in translation. We have to make a distinction between properties based on an animated series or movie and those which are based on an editorial series. The first ones derive their popularity from the large-scale awareness that broadcasters can grant. The latter have a different, slower and more resilient evolution. A book-based character and the related brand, once they have reached a level of popularity, can last for years, and can influence generations. In Italy, the first readers of Geronimo Stilton, girls and boys who were eight years old in 2000 when the series was first published, are now grown up. They are parents now and their children are Geronimo Stilton readers.