November 05, 2020


Baby Montessori. Illustrated by Agnese Baruzzi. Edited by Chiara Piroddi. Andrews McMeel. $35.99.

How to Draw a Reindeer and Other Christmas Creatures with Simple Shapes in 5 Steps. By Lulu Mayo. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

     Ideally, there would be a way to write about Baby Montessori without using words, since the whole point of this four-book boxed set is extremely early, pictorial learning for the youngest possible infants – from birth to 12 months. With words, it is difficult to convey the quality of this material and the interest it can generate for infants. Suffice it to say that the four board books, enclosed in a cardboard slipcase, use only the colors and designs known to help the very youngest children connect with the world around them. That is, everything is basically in black and white, with a few splashes of red here and there, and everything is laid out in a super-super-super simple form that is both easy to follow and easy to interpret. Animals, for example, shows a closeup of the face of an almost-smiling cat, drawn in black and white using geometric shapes, with the only red being in two triangles within the ears. There is the complete body of a black-and-white snake, shown coiled into a spiral, with forked red tongue sticking out. And there is a smiling turtle, more colorful than most of the other animals here, with black-and-white shell made of hexagonal scales and with red feet, tail and head. There are no words at all in this or the other three books: the idea here is to provide the simplest possible Montessori-inspired introduction to each topic. Thus, The Garden shows a sunflower entirely in black and white, and a red tulip with black-and-white stem and leaves. Trees of different shapes are black-and-white, and so is a dragonfly, but a polka-dotted butterfly has red spots as well as white ones. And then there is Big or Small? Slightly more advanced than Animals and The Garden, this book shows contrasting items of various kinds on every two-page spread. Here you find a gigantic dinosaur that takes up almost two full pages – and an ant in one corner of the right-hand page; a massive, bright-white rhinoceros (with bits of red here and there) almost crowding out a small red bird; a huge black wheeled vehicle, something between a limousine and a bus, with a tiny red car nearby; a big tree adjacent to a small house plant; and so on. The fourth book goes a step beyond comparatives to very early interactivity: it is called Follow Me! It would be much too soon to have actual mazes for the infants for whom these books are intended, but here there are what could be called “proto-mazes,” simply paths to follow to get from Point A to Point B. For instance, a spider in the lower left of a left-hand page gets to follow a jagged path to the upper right of the facing right-hand page, where its web has trapped a fly. A bunny (top left of left-hand page) goes along a path of rounded, pointed and squared-off shapes to reach a carrot (bottom of right-hand page). And a bird flies from the upper left of the left-hand page back and forth, to the right and back to the left, on a pathway that looks like a series of rounded clouds, eventually ending up at the bottom of the page where it started, where there are fruits to eat. The drawings here are hyper-simple, as are the concepts, and that is just as it should be for the very youngest children: small things to learn, small things to do, colors to observe and enjoy, and not a single explanatory word offered anywhere – or needed.

     There are certainly more words in Lulu Mayo’s How to Draw a Reindeer – the book’s full title is about as wordy as titles ever are! But here too, in a work intended for older kids, simplicity and a focus on drawings are the basic ideas. Indeed, the book is all about the basics of drawing: Mayo shows how figures are created using circles, squares, rectangles, pear and banana shapes, triangles, hearts, and more. Her left-hand pages offer five-step drawing lessons showing how each figure is created, and there is one-sixth of each of these pages left over for readers to draw a figure themselves. The right-hand pages primarily consist of white space for additional drawings, with some suggested designs of figures shown at the bottom. There is a sort-of-Christmas theme throughout the book, but part of the fun here is that Mayo does not confine herself to traditional Christmastime figures, such as Santa, reindeer and snowmen. All of those are present, but she also shows how to draw hedgehogs (wearing suitably celebratory red-and-green party hats); sloths (several of which are clinging to candy canes); hamsters (opening gifts); penguins (pear-shaped, egg-shaped, and bean-shaped, all wearing Christmas accessories); llamas (one bedecked in seasonal colors and saying “Fa-la-la-la-llama”); and more. Whether your holiday tastes run to wreaths and gingerbread houses or to smiling snowflakes and exceptionally plump wiener dogs, Mayo shows how to create the basics and suggests ways to modify and dress everything up for your own form of expressiveness. The lessons are simple, pleasant and straightforward, and the possibilities of the designs are nearly endless once you absorb the underlying simplicity of the shapes used to produce each item or character. How to Draw a Reindeer is not only seasonal fun but also a very enjoyable way to spend the day if the weather outside is just a touch too frightful to be considered a winter wonderland.

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