Che cos’è che in aria vola?

by Roberto Piumini

Roberto Piumini, a nominee for the 2021 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Award, is Italy’s most beloved author of stories and poems for children.

With his March 2020 poem Che cos’è che in aria vola? he explained the coronavirus to Italian children in a practical, reassuring manner. Eager to share this “playful antivirus” with youngsters around the world, an international team of translators volunteered their time to adapt it for their home countries, with a total of 31 languages. The project is the result of the joint efforts of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF), the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations (CEATL), the International Federation of Translators (FIT) and the Italian translators’ associations Strade and AITI.

Leah’s translation, Is There Something in the Air?, has been chosen as the official English version. Both it and the original are published below with the author’s kind consent.

Download a PDF of the English version or the Italian version, or visit the Bologna Children’s Book Fair site to read it in your choice of 30 other languages. Watch the official video in English here.


Is There Something in the Air?

by Leah Janeczko


Is there something in the air?

They called off school: why’d they do that?

What’s the danger to beware?

My friend, let’s have a little chat.


The virus making people frown

is called Corona. It’s no king

even though its name means “crown”.

So you might ask: What is this thing?


The bully’s one that we can’t see.

It’s one so small the only hope

of showing it to you and me

would be a great big microscope.


A kind of poison floating round

and causing problems everywhere,

it’s sneaky, sly and has been found

to spread real fast from here to there.


It’s teeny-tiny and it’s light

but it’s a real danger too

because it puts up quite a fight

to get inside of me and you.


But it’s a fight that me and you

and everybody else can win

’cause there are things that we can do

to keep that brute from getting in.


Now first, remember if you sneeze

to catch it quickly in your arm

to stop the spread of its disease

so it can do us all less harm.


If you go out, once you get back

make sure you march off right away

to wash your hands of its attack,

not just today but every day.


Use lots of water, soap and care,

and rinse and dry your hands well too.

That way you’ll make it end up where

it’s down the drain and not on you!


When Mom and Dad walk in the door

make sure that they both do the same,

then shout Bravo! Well done! Encore!

to make it fun, like it’s a game.


And keep your fingers off your face.

Don’t touch your mouth or eyes or nose,

to keep out each and every trace,

’cause what you touch is where it goes.


If you pass others, when you meet them

keep some space from where they stand.

You can smile and wave to greet them.

There’s no need to shake their hand.


Hugs and kisses? Let’s not give them,

but that’s only just for now,

while that tiny, nasty villain

is still sneaking all around.


Some wear masks when on the street

but they’re not dressed for Mardi Gras

or even out to trick-or-treat

or bandits wanted by the law.


That friendly mask is for their cough

’cause when they cover up their face

it stops Corona’s flying off

and spreading round from place to place.


But while the villain’s still about

and free to damage, harm and roam

you know my plan to keep it out?

I’m staying put inside my home!


It’s a brilliant plan, my friend,

since we can’t even go to school.

Until this virus danger ends

“Stay home!” should be our golden rule.


But friends and family, yours and mine?

They’re all at home too, safe and sound,

and we can stay in touch online,

that way they’ll always be around.


And if you want to show you miss them

there’s a way for them to know it.

There’s no need to hug or kiss them:

with a world of words you’ll show it.


Words are presents, words are seeds,

they’re gifts that we have plenty of

and if they’re good they’re all we need,

when we’re apart, to grow our love.


If you and me and everyone

let caution, care and love inspire us

soon together we’ll have won

our fight against this nasty virus.


Once we’ve made it through together

maybe everyone will see

that we can learn to make a better,

wiser world for you and me.



© Roberto Piumini

English translation © Leah Janeczko


Che cos’è che in aria vola?

by Roberto Piumini


Che cos’è che in aria vola?

C’è qualcosa che non so?

Come mai non si va a scuola?

Ora ne parliamo un po’.


Virus porta la corona,

ma di certo non è un re,

e nemmeno una persona:

ma, allora, che cos’è?


È un tipaccio piccolino,

così piccolo che proprio,

per vederlo da vicino,

devi avere il microscopio.


È un tipetto velenoso,

che mai fermo se ne sta:

invadente e dispettoso,

vuol andarsene qua e là.


È invisibile e leggero

e, pericolosamente,

microscopico guerriero,

vuole entrare nella gente.


Ma la gente siamo noi,

io, te, e tutte le persone:

ma io posso, e tu puoi,

lasciar fuori quel briccone.


Se ti scappa uno starnuto,

starnutisci nel tuo braccio:

stoppa il volo di quel bruto:

tu lo fai, e anch’io lo faccio.


Quando esci, appena torni,

va a lavare le tue mani:

ogni volta, tutti i giorni,

non solo oggi, anche domani.


Lava con acqua e sapone,

lava a lungo, e con cura,

e così, se c’è, il birbone

va giù con la sciacquatura.


Guarda se mamma o papà,

quando torna, se le lava.

Digli “Ok!” se lui lo fa,

alla mamma dì: “Sei brava!”


Non toccare, con le dita,

la tua bocca, il naso, gli occhi:

non che sia cosa proibita,

però è meglio che non tocchi.


Quando incontri della gente,

rimanete un po’ lontani:

si può stare allegramente

senza stringersi le mani.


Baci e abbracci? Non li dare:

finché è in giro quel tipaccio,

è prudente rimandare

ogni bacio e ogni abbraccio.


C’è qualcuno mascherato,

ma non è per Carnevale,

e non è un bandito armato

che ti vuol fare del male.


È una maschera gentile

per filtrare il suo respiro:

perché quel tipaccio vile

se ne vada meno in giro.


E fin quando quel tipaccio

se ne va, dannoso, in giro,

caro amico, sai che faccio?

io in casa mi ritiro.


È un’idea straordinaria,

dato che è chiusa la scuola,

fino a che, fuori, nell’aria,

quel tipaccio gira e vola.


E gli amici, e i parenti?

Anche in casa, stando fermo,

tu li vedi e tu li senti:

si sta insieme sullo schermo.


Chi si vuole bene, può

mantenere una distanza:

baci e abbracci adesso no,

ma parole in abbondanza.


Le parole sono doni,

sono semi da mandare,

perché sono semi buoni,

a chi noi vogliamo amare.


Io, tu, e tutta la gente,

con prudenza e attenzione,

batteremo certamente

l’antipatico birbone.


E magari, quando avremo

superato questa prova,

tutti insieme, impareremo

una vita saggia e nuova.



© Roberto Piumini

Contact Leah if you would like information about her English translations of Roberto’s works, which include Splendormere (Lo stralisco), Mattia and Grandpa (Mattia e il nonno) and Motu Iti: The Isle of Gulls (Motu-Iti. L’isola dei gabbiani), the rights to which are available.

She recently translated his Trittico del Ritorno del marchese, a three-episode short film set to Baroque music for the Marchesato Opera Festival, and she’s currently translating his novella for adults L’amorosa figura and the children’s story Nel regno di Bistoria, which won the 2020 Andersen award’s Trofeo Baia delle Favole. 

With the author’s consent she would be happy to provide potential publishers with English samples of his many other works.

Over the course of his long career, Roberto has written a wealth of stories, novels, poems, nursery rhymes, plays, songs and more for readers of all ages. He is represented by Alice Fornasetti of the Grandi&Associati Literary Agency.

It’s quite common to come across someone who’s capable, or kind, or generous. Rarer to come across someone who’s capable, kind and generous all in one. It’s extraordinary to come across someone who, like Leah, is all that not only in life, in her personal relationships, but also in what she creates. To her, translating is a focused, joyfully furious act of “wrestling with the angel” – both when the text to be translated is angelic and when, poor thing, it needs to be saved from itself. In her translations, Leah’s cheerful, collaborative personal exuberance becomes intelligence and taste, creative rigor: a “bright quality” for which an author can only be grateful.

Roberto Piumini

Author and nominee for the 2021 Astrid Lindgren Memorial and 2022 Hans Christian Andersen awards

Leah Janeczko uses her creativity, passion
and expert knowledge of Italian and English
to help others express their authentic voice
in a language not their own.