Educate To Life - Montessori Notes

On cyclical reading:
Iela Mari's stories without an end

"I would like to draw the attention to shapes, in relation to the bombardment of images coming from television" said Italian artist Iela Mari in 1968.
Her work in the '70s was (and still is) pure avant-garde in children illustration. She is considered one of the most important Italian illustrators in the past fifty years.

In those years her silent books books went to art short films like gothic fairy tales went to Walt Disney full-length feature films.
Disneyesque is then defined as a genre, a way of telling stories about the world and the American way of life which is sugar-coated and dark at the same time (just think of all the scenes of violent death, in Disney movies, often happening to a parental figure). It is set aside as a type of narration and stereotyped imagery. Disneyesque is the translation of Hollywoodesque in children's literature.
Iela Mari had no need to be anti-Disneyesque. 
If you are familiar with her books you will not need any further explanation. If you are not, you will just need to have a look at her art to see how different it is (and I repeat, it still is) from anything else you might have seen around in the past and today.

The four books that I selected here belong to the series of cyclical reading: short stories without an end that convey the idea of cyclical patterns in nature. 
The reading experience becomes perpetual thanks to this Ring-o Ring-a'Roses structure of narration.

Each of them addresses a slightly different aspect of nature's life and death cycles. 
Two of them were designed together with modernist artist Enzo Mari .
Autoprogettazione, his revolutionary book written in 1974, introduced the idea of 'do-it-yourself' in design, a visionary project to make easy-to-assemble furniture using rough boards and nails, with the aim to improve everyone individual understanding of the sincerity behind each project.
Enzo Mari believed in the importance and supremacy of the form.

In L'albero [The Tree] a tree and a squirrel are pictured throughout the seasons: Mari draws the same exact frame in all the pages changing details and colours. Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn and...Winter.

The seasons and nature life cycles are also the main themes in La mela e la farfalla [The apple and the butterfly]. A tiny creature makes his way out a ripe apple: we watch it growing into a caterpillar, hiding inside its cocoon through winter and turning into a butterfly as spring comes. As the petals of flowers fall off the story is about to start again. 

L'uovo e la gallina [The chicken and the egg] focuses on animals life cycle: a cockerel meets a hen who then lays an egg. 
A new life is born: there is plenty of change and movement inside the egg, although it stays completely still. As we watch the chick breaking the egg and starting to feed and grow, we are back to the beginning of the story.

In the last title Mangia che ti mangio [Eat and be eaten]  we watch the deadly cycle of the food chain.
The way Iela Mari draws animals is absolutely outstanding. There is no space to sweeten facts, just the brutal reality of hunting instinct.

Her brush stroke is extremely neat and precise, with great focus on the shapes, to go straights to the core of the object.
The narration proceeds thanks to this precision:  the changing details create movement, defining the passing of time and leading to the construction of meaning.
Movement doesn't sit inside the image itself, it is generated by the transition from one image to the other, which also leads to a dynamic reading experience, and to perpetual reading.

These can be first silent books for toddlers, and will be loved for years.
I actually found myself staring at them many times while my children were reading them.
They encourage focus and help the child develop sequential thinking, they also inspire question making together with creating interest around the facts of nature.

Iela Mari's books are classics and I count them as essential reading for any child. 
They are also incredibly Montessori oriented: they are based on facts, realistically illustrated and respectful of the child's ability to understand reality, and they require the active participation of the child in the reading process. 
Mari believed in children's great ability to focus on detail, ad this respect terribly shows in her books.
They can be approached independently straight away, moving onto the different reading levels as the child grows and her knowledge of language and the world deepens.

These titles were published in French by l'├ęcole des loisirs and some of them have been translated in English and published by Barron's, but they have not been reprinted in the recent past and it is very hard to find them online.
The good news is of course that you can happily buy the Italian edition, since they are wordless books. However these should be easily available books, everywhere.
I really do hope they will be reprinted (some titles are out of print in Italian as well) and published in the English language, so that they can reach foreign markets and be available to everyone.

Reading List
La mela e la Farfalla [The apple and the butterfly] 1969 - Amazon Books
L'uovo e la gallina [The chicken and the egg] 1969 -  Amazon Books
Words & Art by Iela Mari and Enzo Mari

L'albero [The tree] 1973 - Amazon Books
Mangia che ti mangio [Eat and be eaten] 1980 - Amazon Books
Words & Art by Iela Mari

Italian editions published by Babalibri
Reading age 1+
Themes: Non-Fiction, Nature, Life Cycles, Silent Books

For further reading on Iela Mari's work:
Iela Mari: The world through a lens
written by Hamelin Associazione Culturale (Bologna, IT)
Italian and English edition published by Babalibri

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