Due to complications at birth, Veronica Cantero Burroni cannot walk; she gets around in a wheelchair, and has some trouble articulating hand gestures, but that hasn’t stopped her from doing incredible things, including writing five children’s books by the age of 14. Her latest, The Shadow Thief, recently beat out Pope Francis’ own efforts to win the 2016 Elsa Morante Prize in children’s literature, and earned her a hug from the pontiff.
The Shadow Thief is a story about a group of friends, one of whom steals shadows because he needs the money, and how his friends help him (in a unique way) to change his behavior — with a surprise twist at the end. It is a fantasy but there is nothing overly strange in the book, because Veronica loves to draw inspiration from reality, saying “Reality contains within itself things that are unique and bizarre.” (In Spanish raro, hence the title of her earlier book, Cuentos raritos — “Bizarre Tales”).
“I like to deeply observe reality, to discover the unique things that it contains,” she says.
Veronica gave her book to Pope Francis during a recent general audience. On its first page, she wrote a heartfelt dedication based on the pope’s invitation to young people in Cuba, to use the “eye of flesh” to observe reality, and the “eye of glass” to dream: “I learned this from you,” Veronica wrote to Pope Francis.
“They told me you are a very good writer,” the pope told her as he embraced Veronica, who was visibly moved.
The book award, the meeting with the pope, even ascending the Dome of St. Peter’s are just new “rarities” in the life of this Argentinian teenager who lives with her family in Campana, not far from Buenos Aires. “I write because I like it, it’s my way of expressing myself, and when I write I am able to give something of myself to others.”
None of the characters in her books are physically ill or challenged. Despite an autobiographical detail here and there, this aspect does not come into her stories. “The fact that I am able write is proof that a physical limitation is not an impediment” to one’s creative and expressive abilities, she says. “I want to continue to write and to express myself through writing. I share something with readers and we hold something in common: I give them something of myself, and I receive something from them through their comments.”
In Naples, where she received the award, she spoke with her peers (the books were selected by a scientific committee and by a jury of nearly 900 school children). When one of them confided to her that he writes songs, Veronica encouraged him to “go forward: he continues to write because it is something important. It’s the same thing they said to me, which gave me confidence in my abilities.”
Translated from the Italian.