Buy Little Eli
Laura Bellini is the illustrator of our latest release, the Little Eli collection. She lives and works in Milan, and this week we interviewed her about her life and work, Little Eli and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Genoa in 1978, and drawing has been my true passion, one of my favourite ”games” since I was a little child.
I attended art school, but it wasn’t this that influenced my artistic choices nor led me towards the world of illustrated books. It was rather my experience working some years in the Pre-Kindergarten classes at the International School in Genoa. Playing and drawing with children has awakened my lifelong passion for painting and drawing, focusing my attention towards the world of childhood.
What inspired you to produce the ‘Eli’ books?
We could say that somehow Eli flew onto my piece of paper. I was looking for a character which could have within it both strength and lightness and this is what the dragonfly suggested to me. I felt it was the right one to tell my stories. Being an insect, Eli could interact with a microcosm that has always been part of my world and often of that of children too.
As for the stories I started from a fascination, something I wanted to draw in that moment and then let it flow very freely. The idea of building-collapse-transformation, the ability Eli has got of revolutionising the situation from a disaster to the creation of something wonderful came out by itself. And so has the idea of “meeting” friends from the three stories – the spider, the hen and the stick insect.
Instinct and randomness, joined to the care for the smallest detail, are the elements which characterise my work.
Why did you choose to publish ‘silent’ books instead of books with text?
I didn’t choose to make silent books. It happened. The choice of a book that only communicates through images has been natural: it was simply not necessary to write a text to go with a story that finds its expression and its meaning in images. I believe words would’ve taken away something basic for the “reading” of such books, that is the possibility to pause and linger, to take time in order to be led by the images though the pages of this silent and cocoon-like world, rich in those details that are the main trait of my works.
How important is it for pictures to tell a story?
The narrative value of an image in an illustrated book is crucial. It has to tell a story. Its evocative value is implemented and interpreted through the sensitivity and the fantasy of the “reader”. A child usually has a greater capability compared to an adult to create a story even from a single drawing, even when he still can’t do it through words. Its vision of reality is totally free to overcome the rules of reality itself.
Because your books are for everyone regardless of age, what feedback have you received from the different age groups (particularly, adults)?
This question is really flattering: being able to get into a relationship with people of different ages is something I believe many authors and illustrators try to do. I’m not the right person to explain why my books should be appreciated by adults as well as children, but I can tell you about some impressions I heard. Surely both adults and children like the great imagination Eli has.
Children wander through the pages looking at the details. I often watched their hands moving around to point at tiny details: the cards suits that fall over, the tiny parts of the broken pencil. They are surprised in front of the sleeping spider on the hammock, in the flyleaf of Little Eli… playing cards. They adore the small hen in the oval in Little Eli… eggs, because it is cheeky and funny. They laugh at the stick insect fallen on the ground with the broken spine, crossed eyes and messy antennas in Little Eli… pencils. A boy, looking at the three small symbols on the spine of the three books – card, egg and pencil – said: “it makes me feel like I want to collect them”.
Adults have far more filters and are therefore less free in their interpretation, but on the other hand they appreciate more the constructive side of the stories. Besides this, for those who can read images and are more confident with such expressive means it is also possible to appreciate the drawing, the delicate colours, the care for details.
What have been the highlights of workshopping & speaking about your books?
One of the most beautiful experiences connected with Eli’s books is surely the exhibition “Frrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr”, organised in October 2016 at the Kasa dei Libri of Professor Andrea Kerbaker, in Milan. It is a beautiful cultural space – with a collection of thirty thousand books – and we exhibited over 50 original drawings and the three scenic boxes which I built. The set-up – curated by architects Matteo Ferrario and Salvatore Virgillito – was conceived so that the drawings were suspended in the air, hanging from wooden bird cages in which the dragon flies drawn by the children were hung.
For almost a month, 400 children from 5 primary schools in Milan took part in a workshop on wordless books. Each child could re-imagine Eli’s story having her facing new unstable balances. Some of the teachers brought on the work on the books for months, without me knowing about it: receiving the images of their works after some time and imagining their commitment in creating something suggested by my vision was a great satisfaction.
During the exhibition the Kasa dei Libri held lots of meetings and conferences, dedicated to flight in its multiple variations – from literature to art, from indology to theatre – with important people from the Italian cultural world.
Why is it beneficial for children to read translated stories, or stories from other countries?
It is an extra input that we can give to children, to get in touch with different visions and often totally different images. Getting used to reading and looking through the minds of those who had the chance to interpret their own world can be the chance to learn how to catch multiple perspectives and points of view and to widen their look upon things. It is the chance to have an alternative.
What do children’s stories mean to you?
It is something that gives me the possibility to join the beauty of drawing with the vision of a children’s world seen with the eyes of an adult. It is the pleasure of drawing joined to a vision of interior worlds, all personal and therefore all different, told through a language thought for children. Children’s stories allow to penetrate an imaginary world made of beauty, intensity, irony, lightness, deepness, harmony, fun, refinement, surprise, comfort and destabilisation. All this, as well as the pleasure of the single moment, works within me, and after some time it tries to come out as something transformed, entering a creative process that tries to tell and share such feelings.
Thanks to Lauren Sandford for conducting the interview!
- Learn more about Little Eli
- Read about our wordless picture book campaign and some of the responses here, here, here and here
- Watch an interview about wordless picture books with author Elizabeth Laird
- Watch the book trailers for Little Eli: pencils, eggs, playing cards
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