Which came first, the chicken or the egg? According to this book (original Italian title L’uovo e la gallina) it’s the egg. Put plainly, this is a non-fiction book about the life cycle of a hen. Yet this familiar narrative never fails to fascinate children, especially when told with Iela and Enzo Mari’s wit and graphic style.
The three-colour pictures, which are clear and elegant, are shown on two different backgrounds: white and black. Those on the white background show images of the hen – mainly focusing on her feathery lower half and her scaly legs – and the exterior shell of the egg. Those on the black background show images of the changes going on inside the shell as the developing chick changes from embryo to fully formed creature.
A rather magical illustration shows a slightly surprised hen watching her chick peck its way out of the shell and emerge into the world.
Another sweet picture, echoing the earlier one with the egg, shows the baby snuggled under its mum’s feathers. There are also some good insects to spot too, including an ant, ladybird and spider, and these add a touch of humour to what is basically a factual book.
Iela Mari (1931-2014) and Enzo Mari (b.1932, an Italian artist and furniture designer) were a husband and wife team who also created the complementary wordless book, Le Mela e la Farfalla (1969), or The Apple and the Butterfly. Separately, Iela Mari also illustrated a number of other books, including Il Palloncino Rosso (1967) or The Red Balloon; L’Albero (1973) or The Tree; and Animali nel Prato (1978) or Animals in the Grass.