Carlos Collodi focused heavily on didactic storytelling to help parents shape young children into compliant, morally sound people. An overarching theme in The Adventures of Pinocchio is that cultivating obedience should be the goal for every child.

Picture book characters are mirrors. They are projected versions of the very same children who observe them, creating a liminal space where young readers can see multiple versions of themselves, before deciding which version they’d like to be. If the character engages in what’s determined (by an adult) to be poor behavior, they face a consequence. Alternatively, if the child obliges in what’s determined to be good, or morally sound behavior, they are rewarded.

Gepetto expects Pinocchio--a young child, who has barely existed in the world for more than a few minutes, to show him respect. However, he doesn't treat Pinocchio with empathy, curiosity, or care. Instead, he demands obedience without explanation, repeatedly models violent and aggressive behavior, and shames Pinocchio. Throughout his adventures, Pinocchio faces a similar parent-child dynamic with all the guiding figures he encounters: Cricket, Cat and Fox, and the Blue Fairy (among many others).

Collodi's Pinocchio gives us the chance to reconsider how we treat our children and ourselves. Children are curious, impressionable beings. What they require in a healthy parent-child dynamic is presence of mind and heart: a parent who takes the time to explain and reason with them, who empathizes with their large (and sometimes surprising) feelings while they learn to emotionally self-regulate, and who is supportive but firm with their boundaries. A child who has this behavior modeled for them--and who is encouraged to think for themselves--is better equipped to grow into an independent, self-sufficient, and critically-thinking person. 


Pinocchio is swallowed by a giant dogfish

This illustration of Pinocchio being swallowed by the giant dogfish is part of the decorative endpapers that sandwich the book. This drawing is particularly frightening, showing the young Pinocchio being chased by the vicious dogfish through seawater.

The illustration is printed in black and red ink, with the red of the ocean symbolizing bloodshed. Again, the violence and corporeal punishment that followed Pinocchio throughout the entire book is displayed here, with the lesson that Carlos Collodi intended ringing loud and clear: that good children listen to their parents, and those who do not will be punished.