The Inexhaustible Magic of Sara Fanelli

Advent Calendar by Sara Fanelli 


So today I dug deepishly into my archives, from a blogspot I had some moons ago as a hobby, sharing in my love of children’s books… and who better to feature than my all-time favourite illustrator, the glorious Sara Fanelli! 

May 5th, 2011

I had the blooming blessed fortune of visiting the British Library in London a few years back. Well, it was more of a ‘pop in’. Not that anyone should ever admit to ‘popping in’ to the British Library. But I’ve been told it’s not everybody’s idea of a Great Time, that is to have spent the entire afternoon in a library. So when in company, I have to be reasonable about these things.

In truth, the two hours I had to spend didn’t even get me passed their gift shop (a stone’s throw from the entrance). A student budget blown, all I could do was covet the endless book memorabilia, possession out of the question. The thought of making a klepto-maniacal run for it briefly crossed my mind, in spite of what looked like pretty tight security.

I had my suspicions though. (Or an ill-advised moment of lawless rebellion…?) Surely London wasn’t ready for the crazy South African fleeing the scene of the British Library gift shop with an armful of Alice-in-Wonderland stationery and a demented, gleeful look in her eyes… Was it? ‘Bobby Dies of Pencil Lead Poisoning’.

No no. That wouldn’t do.

Peruse it was then.

And it was in these two hours of perusing/penny-less loitering (potato, tomato) that I fell in love with Italian-born illustrator, Sara Fanelli. She was one of the illustrators featured in a collection of children’s book art, The Magic Pencil.

Fanelli’s eccentric approach to collage and the art of re-enchanting found, everyday objects had me spellbound. And excited. There was an energy to her craft that was infectious. Cheeky. Brazen. Unapologetic. Infectious. I admittedly have been a huge fan ever since.

There is a certain unbridled joy in being given free licence in art class to colour outside the lines. Another in handling an art tool that won’t bend entirely to your will. (The second, however, may also be dished with the initial sheer frustration.) This is Fanelli’s gift as an illustrator, to remake the world outside the lines, recreating characters that don’t entirely bend to anyone’s will. And what better way than by (mis)representing one of our most infamously mischievous and unruly characters, Pinocchio.

Asked to work together with translator, Emma Rose, on an edition of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio for the Walker Illustrated Classics series, it was Fanelli’s first impulse to ease up on the moralistic overtones she remembered from her Italian youth. Her sense of Collodi’s tale was revived, instead, by its surreal characters and dream-like story, a dream in which one strange twist is always entwined within another and never feels beholden to excuse its illusionary extravagances to the reader.

Watching Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio (2002) a few years back, I had a similar re-encounter. The fairy I remembered from my Disney-informed youth was a bottle-blonde who routinely donned an immaculate sparkly blue dress. But Benigni’s fairy had dark, secretive eyes and long, beguiling blue hair. And Benigni’s fairy did not disappear and re-appear with the wave of a wand and emerge from a centre of bright light. His fairy travelled by coach, a coach drawn no less by an endless expanse of white mice. It was this version of Pinocchio that returned me to the real magic of Collodi’s fantastical escapade. Like Fanelli’s work it was refreshingly unapologetic.



Returning to the Walkers Illustrated Classic, this fantastical turn has arguably revealed a version closer to the original. Rather than making this a moralistic tale (where a once naughty boy is rewarded in the end for good behaviour), Rose and Fanelli ultimately re-tell the story of the inexhaustible love of a father for that willful and wild creature: his son. And with their help, at twenty-seven I have fallen in love not only with Fanelli’s work but also with a tale whose watered down version never wowed me in my bedtime-story days. I have come to fall in love with Medoro, the blue fairy’s right-hand agent, a “handsome poodle” in “a coachman’s uniform,” bedecked “with jewelled buttons and two large pockets to hold the bones his mistress [gives] him for lunch.” (Although, I adore most the blue satin cover he wears on his tail!) I have fallen in love with Gepetto, the carpenter teased by the children and called “Maisy on account of his yellow wig […] exactly the colour of maize porridge.” And I have fallen in love with that incorrigible stump of wood that becomes a Real Boy. What I love most though, of this edition, is the reminder that the joy of story magic is for all ages. And arguably Fanelli’s greatest contribution here is her work’s emphasis that illustration is art, the art of a magic pencil.


Click here to visit Fanelli’s site…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *