The forest of life starts small with a young grove of pine trees, but it grows thicker and more complex as the explorers progress on their journey. This stunning book invites reflection on the essence of the human experience.
This really is a beautiful book to behold with its brightly coloured vellum jacket that lifts off to reveal a forest in various stages of growth. Across not just the front cover but the back cover too . . . and two gatefolds, providing four panels of glorious artwork. The surprises continue throughout the book, with its textured pages, die-cut eyes and additional gatefolds.
The forest, we soon discover, is a metaphor for life. The story opens with one simple line of text on a very white double spread. On the right-hand side, however, there’s a pair of cut out eyes and nostrils. It’s a baby’s face complete with poking out tongue! Through the eyes, we catch a glimpse of the young grove of pine trees in the next spread. The human exploration of the forest of life has begun. The face gradually ages as the story progresses, and the forest grows thicker and more complex until the explorer reaches the ravine that awaits every individual at the end of their journey. But is it the end or is it the beginning?
In pared-down lyrical prose Riccardo Bozzi portrays the essence of the human experience. From a place of security and safety, to open-air playground, the forest becomes increasingly more interesting but difficult to navigate. Other explorers appear on the scene and this gives rise to friendships, rivalries, collaboration and ‘sometimes even loves’. Injuries occur along the way, and the final climb is marked by pain and hardship.
The artwork by Violeta Lópiz and Valerio Vidali intensifies each stage of the life journey. Towards the start, a carefree young child swings upside-down from a branch, while some inquisitive monkeys peek out from the surrounding trees. Later, a double spread shows individuals (beautifully embossed in white) moving together – and working together – in the forest. The dominant palette features greens, reds and browns, but a couple of spreads deviate from the norm, including a moody tangle of blue and black, with dense foliage silhouetted against the moonlight.
The Forest is aimed at readers aged 4 and up. I think young children will revel in the colourful artwork, cut-outs and textured pages. This is a book they will want to touch, and guaranteed they’ll want to peer through the die-cut eyes too! Older readers and adults will also enjoy exploring and reflecting on the deeper significance of the story: the human journey through the forest of life.
The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz and Valerio Vidali, translated from the Italian by Debbie Bibo (Enchanted Lion Books, 2018)
Riccardo Bozzi is an Italian journalist who has worked for the newspaper Corriere della Sera since 1990. He has written two other children’s books, The World Belongs to You illustrated by Olimpia Zagnoli (Templar, 2013) and Per Mare illustrated by Emiliano Ponzi. He lives in Milan.
Violeta Lópiz is an illustrator from the Spanish island of Ibiza. She has illustrated picture books for many European publishers and her work has also been widely exhibited. Her illustrations have been selected five times for the prestigious Bologna Children’s Book Fair exhibition. Her studio is currently based in Berlin.
Valerio Vidali is an Italian illustrator and designed based in Berlin. He was awarded the Illustrarte Grand Prix in 2012. His picture book Jemmy Button, a collaboration with American artist Jennifer Uman, was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book in 2013.
Debbie Bibo was born in the US to a Japanese mother and American father. She moved to Italy to teach English in 1992. Her love of photography and the visual arts led to a career in publishing. In 2011, she founded Debbie Bibo Agency, which specialises in children’s picture books and illustrated books for all ages.
The Forest was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book in 2018.