The Onion’s Great Escape – by Sara Fanelli

The Onion’s Great Escape, the latest children’s book written by the gifted and multi-award winning artist, Sara Fanelli and published by Phaidon, is not just one picture book; rather like the onion which it depicts, it is actually several layered books functioning simultaneously between one set of covers.

It is a poetry book, relaying in verse the narrative of a red onion who wants to escape the dark horror of its destiny in the frying pan. It is an action book in which the reader can participate, writing, drawing and interacting with the text. And it is a philosophy book which is less of a book and more a series of starting points for steps on the road to wisdom.

Talking, writing, questioning, reading and imagining are all interlinked in one enriching language experience. And at the end of the enlightenment journey, you will release an extra little onion-shaped book of philosophy and profound questions; you actually help to make a new book as an outcome of your thinking.

From its outset, the book provokes profound thought. Starting with the universally embracing question ‘Who am I?’ the onion’s questions range across identity (are you called something different when people are pleased with you than when they are cross?), reality (how real are the things that we cannot touch, such as fear?), time (is a 2 minute piece of fast music shorter than a 2 minute piece of slow music?) and memory, which is defined as the traces that time leaves behind. Reflect on goodness and badness – can our good and bad deeds be weighed in the same way that the Ancient Egyptians weighed the heart to determine the value of a person? Ponder the essence and transitory nature of happiness or sadness, and the meaning of thought itself.

The artwork bears all the hallmarks of Fanelli’s style – vibrant colours, collage and cut-outs are carefully presented on a range of background papers, each in some way representing the theme of the page. Her fascination with handwriting, encapsulated in her Timeline for Tate Modern, is reflected here, too. References to other cultures are frequent, as key words in a range of languages are scattered across the pages.

Although written for children, The Onion’s Great Escape is an allegory of the power of thinking which will intrigue readers of all ages. Take plenty of time to read this book – progress is slow as the reader peels away the layers of their own thoughts. The final escape of the onion is a powerful symbol of the effect of thinking independently and freeing your mind from accepted ways of understanding.

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