A Retired Teacher's Dream: Meet Maestro La Cava

Antonio is an extraordinary protector of the written word. Once a passionate schoolteacher, he has now retired from teaching and converted his three-wheeled van into a mobile library, the Bibliomotocarro. Driving the hills and mountains of Basilicata, Italy, La Cava is able to reach children in remote villages like San Paolo Albanese, which only has two children of primary school age. Discover his fascinating story.

Italy is best known for its food, fashion and lifestyle that draws people in from all over the world. But one thing it sure is famous is the passion in its people. The italian people are some of the most passionate people I have ever encountered. They take pride in who they are and what they do. When I met Mr La Cava, my life was transformed in the way that I had never felt such passion in someone’s heart. Mr La Cava is 79 years old and is still sharing his love for books to this day - a true angel which we had the pleasure to meet and interview.

A photo of bibliomotocarro parked on the side.
Photo Credit: Napolike

In the sun-drenched hills and rugged landscapes of Basilicata, a region nestled in the far south of Italy, something extraordinary stirs. A tiny bus, bathed in pale blue, winds its way through the countryside. This minuscule vehicle, perhaps the smallest mobile library in the world, is more than just a means of transportation; it's a vessel of dreams, carrying a precious cargo of books.

At the helm is Antonio La Cava, a retired teacher whose love for literature and learning didn't fade with his career. After 42 years in education, he transformed his 'Ape' 3-wheeler van—'ape' meaning 'bee' in Italian—into a traveling book haven. This initiative brings stories and knowledge to the children of isolated villages, where books are as rare as rain in this arid landscape.

Basilicata, straddling the arch of Italy's foot, is a land steeped in history and hardship. Once known as Lucania, it was a place of poverty and emigration, where residents left for distant cities in search of better lives. The renowned novelist Carlo Levi, exiled here during the Fascist regime, depicted its silent, resilient spirit in his memoir, 'Christ Stopped at Eboli,' painting a picture of a land forgotten by time and fortune.

Basilicata map
Photo Credit: The Educated Traveller

Yet, Basilicata is changing. The once-sleepy town of Matera, now a bustling hub of culture and the European Capital of Culture in 2019, symbolizes this transformation. However, the small, secluded villages perched in the hills remain untouched by this renaissance.

It's here that Antonio La Cava's mission finds its heart. For over a decade, his bibliomotocarro, a charming linguistic blend of 'library,' 'scooter,' and 'cart,' has meandered through these hamlets. He stops in communities of fewer than a thousand souls, engaging with locals and gifting children the joy of reading. His dedication doesn't end with the distribution of books; he also carries exercise books, inviting children to pen the first chapter of a story, then passing it to the next village to continue the tale—an exquisite relay race of imagination

“Without a book, so often the child is alone,” says Antonio La Cava.

A photo of Antonio La Cava sitting inside his bibliomotocarro.
Photo Credit: Wide Magazine

Antonio La Cava's journey with his bibliomotocarro is fuelled by a profound belief in the transformative power of reading. For him, books are not mere collections of words on paper, but keys that unlock the imagination and open doors to new worlds. His passion for sharing this belief is rooted in his own experience as an educator. Having witnessed first-hand how books can ignite curiosity and inspire learning, La Cava understood that bringing books to children who might otherwise never own one was more than an act of charity; it was an investment in the future of these young minds. His dedication is a testament to his conviction that every child, regardless of their background or circumstances, deserves access to the treasures that books hold.

Antonio La Cava sitting inside his Bibliomotocaro, a mobile library, giving a lecture in front of the children.

In the villages of Basilicata, where traditional ways of life still prevail and modern conveniences are often scarce, La Cava's mini library on wheels is a beacon of hope and excitement for the children. He often speaks of the joy he witnesses in their eyes when they leaf through the pages of a book, discovering stories and ideas that were previously beyond their reach. His mission is not just about literacy; it's about creating a bridge between the isolated rural communities and the vast, diverse world beyond their immediate surroundings. La Cava's work goes beyond merely distributing books; he engages with the children, sparking conversations about their dreams and aspirations, and encouraging them to believe in their potential. This personal touch has made him a beloved figure in these communities, and his visits are eagerly anticipated events.

“I was strongly worried about growing old in a country of non-readers.” La Cava believes that it’s important to spread the joy of literature to as many children as possible: “carrying out such action has a value, not only social, not only cultural, but has a great ethical meaning.”

La Cava hopes his Bibliomotocarro brings the message that culture is made by and for everyone, not just a privileged few.

A close-up shot of Antonio La Cava smiling while looking at someone.

This narrative is more than heartwarming; it's a beacon of inspiration. In a land where hardship once reigned, Antonio and his little blue van weave a different story—a narrative of resilience, hope, and the enduring power of literature. It's a reminder that, perhaps, miracles do happen, and that the spirit of humanity can thrive in the most unexpected places.


  • Matera is the capital of Basilicata and was the European City of Culture in 2019.
  • Learn more about Antonio La Cava's mission at www.ilbibliomotocarro.com.
  • Antonio's van, a converted 'ape' van by Piaggio, shares its lineage with the 'vespa' scooter—a symbol of post-war Italian ingenuity.
  • For more on Matera and Basilicata's cultural renaissance, visit the European City of Culture 2019 website.
  • Special thanks to Giovanna Iacuzio for some of the enchanting photographs.

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