When Vitello accidentally makes a long scratch in his mum’s nearly new car, he realises he is in big trouble.
Vitello lives with his Mum. He’s a bit of a scamp, but his mischievous nature will likely endear him to many readers. Vitello Scratches a Car is one in a series of titles, five of which are available in English from Pushkin Children’s Books. In this story, Vitello accidentally makes a long scratch in the paintwork of his mum’s car while hitting a ball with a broken rake. But we soon find out that he’s been in plenty of trouble before. And he’s experienced the consequences of his actions, too – he’s been grounded and smacked* for his misdemeanours. (*More on the smacking later).
It is the fear of punishment from his furious-sounding mum that causes Vitello to run off to the local shopping centre. There he stays for a few hours before deciding it’s best to head home and face the music. But Mum is not angry on his return, at least not at first. Instead, we witness her sheer relief at having her missing son back. Together with Vitello, we realise what really matters – and it’s not Mum’s nearly new Audi.
I really enjoyed the chatty tone and energy of this longer-style picture book. It is told in the 3rd person but from Vitello’s perspective, making it fun and highly readable.
‘Mum yelled a few times sounding really angry. Wow. Vitello hid. He flattened himself on the ground and just hid.’
There are some brilliantly observed pieces of writing, notably the scene leading to that scratch. First, we find out that Vitello is hitting a ball, then what he is hitting it with, then what happens when he hits the ball again, where the ball ends up, and why Vitello then has to hit it again. Author Kim Fupz Aakeson takes an everyday scene and builds the tension right up to that terrible moment of metal against metal.
The cartoon-style illustrations by Niels Bo Bojesen perfectly capture the spirit of the story. Vitello with his shock of black hair and scruffy clothing is at once mischievous and likable, a kid who creates havoc without fully comprehending the extent of his actions at the time. And there are some moments of delicious humour, such as three characters, including Mum, lying belly-up on the tiled floor after slipping on a slide Vitello has made with Mum’s face cream.
Various aspects of this book may surprise or shock some readers. Mum pours herself a slug of red wine on the second page, and we learn that she becomes a little emotional after three glasses. Vitello uses the word damn (‘I am damn well careful’) in conversation with his mother on one occasion. There’s a passing reference to a game of Cowboys and Indians. And the subject of smacking surfaces more than once as an actual punishment (Vitello gets a little smack from Mum), or potential punishment. And, of course Vitello runs off to the shopping centre, too.
I’ve read this book on a number of occasions with my daughters (ages 4 and 6) and we have had some useful discussions around some of the content – on what we consider to be acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. They also really enjoy the story – it keeps their attention from start to finish, even at the end of a busy day. Miss 6 has asked me to order some of the other books in the Vitello series to read together, which I’m taking as a seal of approval!
Vitello Scratches a Car by Kim Fupz Aakeson, illustrated by Niels Bo Bojesen, translated from the Danish by Ruth Garde (Pushkin Children’s Books, 2013)
Kim Fupz Aakeson has written more than 80 books for adults and children, including 19 books in the Vitello series. He is also a prolific screenwriter. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Niels Bo Bojesen is an award-winning Danish illustrator, who creates editorial cartoons for newspapers, websites and magazines around the world. He has also illustrated all the books in the Vitello series by Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Ruth Garde is an independent curator, creative producer and writer. She spent three years working in the film industry as a translator of Danish into English.
Stop press! There is now a film based on the Vitello series! Released in 2018 and available in English, you can read a review about it here.