Ciao, Sandro! words by Steven Varni, pictures by Luciano Lozano


Ciao, Sandro!

by Steven Varni

pictures by Luciano Lozano

Review copy from Abrams Books

Ciao, Sandro! follows a gondolier's dog as he traverses the city of Venice, visiting friends of his owner, Nicola. Final pages reveal the reason for Sandro's visits - he was making sure that no one forgot Nic's surprise birthday party! 

For readers who know nothing about the city of Venice, Ciao, Sandro! is a superb introduction and inspiration to learn more - although I do wish that a map of the city could have been included. Varni, a resident of the city for over ten years (and author of a superb blog with stunning photos about living and raising a child Venice) and Lozano do a fine job giving readers an idea of how different life is in an ancient city filled with canals. I had the great fortune - and pleasure of carrying a stroller up and down the stairs of the seven bridges we crossed twice daily to get from our lodging to the heart of the city - of visiting Venice many years ago. The very things that fascinated me during the few days I was there, things I think will resonate with young readers, are what Varni presents here. Luzano's illustrations capture the colors and complexity of the city, along with the diversity of tourists and residents alike. 

Sandro begins his mission on a tourist filled calli among a "forest of slow-moving legs and feet," where he passes an overloaded delivery cart being pulled along. There are no UPS trucks on this island where cars are banned! Sandro quickly slips down one of the narrow alleys that native frequent and tourists are befuddled by. Varni evokes life in this magical city, writing of the sounds (a water bus that sounds like a "grumpy sea monster getting out of bed") and smells ("salty like the sea or muddy and weedy like the lagoon") that guide real Venetians through the maze-like streets. 

Sandro visits Alvise while he is operating his espurgopozzineri boat. A glossary lets readers know that Alvise and his boat are emptying septic tanks housed on the bottom floor of some buildings. The glossary also lets readers know that most toilets and sinks empty directly into the canal, where the tides wash the waste out to sea twice a day. Sandro visits Francesca and her produce boat before crossing bridges and campi to board a vaporetto that will ferry him to a glassmaker's studio, probably on the nearby island of Murano, although Varni doesn't name it. Returning to Nic, man and dog make their way home where the guests are waiting to cheer, "Buon compleano, Nicola!"

My family has made three international trips and I made sure that my kids read - or had read to them - as many books about and set in the cities and countries we would visit as possible. Once there, we visited as many bookstores as possible to add to the collection. In 2008, we went to Italy, visiting Naples, Florence, Venice, and Rome. There were - and continue to be - very few picture books set in Italy, let alone Venice - in English (translation or otherwise), making Ciao, Sandro! an much needed addition to the shelves!

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