Book Review: Little People, Big Dreams: Maria Montessori, by Isabel Sánchez Vegara

An inspiring picture book and biography of pioneering teacher and researcher, Maria Montessori, written for children aged 4-7 years old.

Maria Montessori's educational methods have been in use around the world for more than a hundred years.

I love this series of children’s books which introduce both famous, and some not so well-known outstanding pioneers in their particular fields. Isabel Sánchez Vegara has a very deft hand with the spare biographical details which, alongside Raquel Martín’s colourful illustrations, tell the story of the educational researcher and teacher, Maria Montessori.

She was born in 1870 in Italy and was fortunate to have parents who valued education for girls at a time when such views were unusual. The family actually moved to Rome so their daughter could attend a better school. It was so unusual for a girl to study science that she had to go to a boys’ school to complete her secondary education. As the first woman in Italy to study medicine Maria was again breaking new ground. She frequently had to study alone as it was not considered suitable for a woman to be in the same room with male students when examining a body.

I especially enjoyed the differences between the picture of Maria at secondary school and entering the university lecture hall. In the first double page illustration she barely stands out; she is wearing the same grey colour but hers is a dress rather than a suit. Plus there is only one boy who is sneaking a sideways look at her with the remainder, including the teacher, barely seeming to notice her. What a contrast to the next illustration where all the male students and the lecturer have their heads swivelled around to see her coming through the door in a bright pink blouse! And then we see her shunned by the same male students and teacher – now in a room by herself, not allowed to work with them but, as the text assures us, ‘Maria didn’t give up’ despite the difficulties.

This is really the message behind the all the books in this series: In one way or another, all the dreams that are fulfilled by the subjects of this terrific series require persistence and effort on the part of the dreamer. Maria Montessori initially worked with children who were mentally ill and this early work led into further research into how to use games, activities and nature to enhance the education and learning opportunities for all children.

At the end of the book is a detailed timeline for Maria Montessori whose educational methods have been in use around the world for more than a hundred years.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: March 2019
RRP: $19.99

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