Several secondary schools included Mein Kampf, the manifesto of Nazi leader Adolf Hiter, in their top ten lists.
Partly autobiographical, Mein Kampf – which means ‘My Struggle' – outlines Hitler's ideology that formed the basis for Nazism. Written in 1924, it details his anti-Semitism which led to the Holocaust in which about six million Jews were murdered at the hands of Nazi Germany.
Alessandro Fusacchia, from the Italian Ministry for Education, referred to the choice as a “particularly nasty case”, adding that the book was ineligible for the vote in any case as secondary school pupils had been asked to select books by Italian authors published after 2000.
He said: “We are looking into it, but we are convinced that it was not a bad interpretation of the request, but rather a free choice.”
The choice wasn't confined to one region, with classes in Palermo, Catanzaro (Calabria), Potenza (Basilicata), Tivoli and Gaeta in Lazio, Trieste, Udine (Fruili-Venezia Giulia), and Piacenza (Emilia Romagna) all selecting Hitler's book as one of their favourite reads.
Fusacchia noted that teachers, rather than students, had been responsible for submitting the final responses, which were intended to be chosen following a class discussion about reading.
Overall, however, he said the high level of participation and the variety of books selected was a “great celebration of books and reading”.
The top three books selected by secondary school students were: Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue (White As Milk, Red as Blood) by Alessandro D'Avenia, Io Non Ho Paura (I'm Not Scared) by Niccolò Ammaniti, and Gomorra by Roberto Saviano.
The top-rated female author was Elena Ferrante, whose first 'Neapolitan novel', L'amica geniale (My Brilliant Friend) was voted the 13th favourite.
Two entries in the top ten showed the students' interest in social issues: Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli (There are crocodiles in the sea) by Fabio Geda, a novel about an Afghan refugee's journey to Italy; and Mio fratello insegue i dinosauri (My brother chases dinosaurs) Giacomo Mazzariol, a story about a young boy with Down's Syndrome.
Meanwhile, the choices of Italian primary school children, who were asked to select their favourite books without any limitation on the country or date of publication, revealed the enduring popularity of classic tales. British, American, French and Italian authors all made the top ten.
Their top three choices were: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (which came top in almost every region, receiving more than twice as many votes as the second place pick), The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
All in all, votes were cast for over 10,000 different titles. A total of 138,000 schools and 3.5 million students took part in the survey between June 1st and December 1st.
A 2015 study had shown that 60 percent of Italians over the age of six never read for pleasure, a figure which dropped to 30 percent in the impoverished south.
Participation in the schools' vote was particularly high in the southern regions, and each school will now receive €150 to go towards buying the requested books, in physical or ebook form, amounting to a total of €1.3 million.
Mein Kampf controversy
In June this year, a rightwing Italian newspaper, owned by Silvio Berlusconi's brother, was widely condemned for giving away free copies of Mein Kampf.
“Know it in order to reject it” was the justification given by conservative tabloid Il Giornale, which said: “Reading Mein Kampf is a real antidote to the toxicity of national-socialism.”
For 70 years, the German state of Bavaria which was handed copyright of the book in 1945, refused to allow it to be republished out of respect for the victims of the Nazis and to prevent incitement of hatred.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi quickly denounced the initiative on Twitter, writing: “I find it sordid that an Italian daily is giving away Hitler's Mein Kampf. I embrace the Jewish community with affection. #neveragain”.