'Are you black or are you dirty?' Italy's racist school books

Controversy over Italian school books accused of racism.

A racism row has broken out in Italy in recent days leading the Raffaello publishing group to apologise and withdraw a school textbook from circulation.

The second-grade book, Le avventure di Leo, features a page titled "Welcome back to school" in which children discuss their resolutions for the year ahead.

A little girl with blonde hair says she intends to "make lots of drawings with markers" while a red-haired boy plans to play more in the garden.

However the desire of a black child is different: "This year I want to learn Italian well."

The offending page was highlighted by a Milanese teacher, Francesca Sempio, who published a picture of it online, reports Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"It is not the book we use in my class, but it is being adopted in many schools" - said Sempio - "Words fail me to say how racist, vulgar, far from the reality of classes, are the authors and publishers of this thing that I can not call a book."

The image and its message led to an instant storm on social media, with accusations of "pure racism" and calls for the book to be withdrawn immediately.

The case was also taken up by non-profit association Educare alle differenze which denounced the book "that enters intercultural classes in which girls and boys born and raised in Italy have different colours, mixed and adoptive families, parents who come from other countries but have lived here for years or who in turn were born and raised here."

"But also recently arrived children who bring their cultures of origin with them" - continues the statement - "Children that we continue through representations like this to point out as foreigners, as being different from allegedly regular Italians, and to imitate with an embarrassing language what seems to be taken from a bad film from the 1930s."

The Raffaello publishing house has apologised for its "much criticised illustration," announcing that it has edited the page in the new version of the book which is currently being reprinted.

However the controversy has continued after the public's attention was drawn to another book, in which skin colour is associated with dirt, reports Italian newspaper La Stampa.In the first-grade reading book, published by Ardea Edizioni, a white boy is playing in the garden when he is approached by a black girl with "funny braids in her hair and mischievous eyes."

"Are you dirty or are you all black?" enquires the curious boy. However the little girl does not reply and instead does a somersault as she gets closer.

"You really are black," said the boy, touching the girl's skin with his finger, before she "smiled and ran away."