Kid's Stuff -- Fairy Tales And Fables
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"Beauty And The Beast"
Adapted by Jan Brett
Illustrated by Jan Brett
(Clarion, 1989)

A magnificent version of this old fairytale... If you'd like to introduce your child to this classic theme, but are leery about exposing them to the well-known Disney film (and those godawful songs!) then this book is a wonderful alternative. Brett's finely detailed artwork is the main draw, a lush, ornate style drawing on earlier, Edwardian sources -- the look is very realistic, with the Beast shown more or less an as anthropomorphized warthog and Beauty as a lively lass with golden ringlets. The story is laid out simply and straightforwardly, with vivid scenes and good dialogue. All in all, a very classy, compelling rendition. Recommended! (A)

Written by Charles Perrault
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Scholastic Books, 2005)

A magnificent adaptation of this classic rags-to-riches fairy tale... McClintock gives the story a slightly softer edge -- Cinderella's dad doesn't die at the start, and she winds up forgiving her wicked stepsisters (and hooking them up with royal hubbies of their own...) The text flows well, though the art's what's most magical here... McClintock returns the story to its Parisian roots, modeling the palace after Versailles and the fashion from that of the 17th Century courtiers. She takes many of her stylistic cues from the Roccoco movement (even citing 18th Century master painters Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Antoine Watteau as inspirations on the dust jacket...) The result is delicious, with rich detail and innovative design -- on several pages the action flows from left to right via staircase, and the compact text is handsomely framed by ample negative space. Once again, the craftsmanship of McClintock's work is far and away above that of your average picturebook, giving this volume a classic, timeless feel -- it should be around for quite some time! Highly recommended.

"The Gingerbread Man"
Written by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Scholastic Books, 1998)

A wonderful adaptation of the old folk tale of the mischievous and fleet-footed Gingerbread Man... This is the first and best of McClintock's collaborations with fabulist Jim Aylesworth, and one of the best versions of this story you'll ever find. A large part of the charm is the artwork, which is strongly reminiscent of old, Edwardian-era children's books. Some of the animals (the sow, in particular) are a bit grotesque, but not so much so that it detracts from the story. The Gingerbread Man himself is so delightfully drawn -- all smiles, shiny button eyes and happy, reckless glee -- that it's hard not to root for the little fella, even if he is asking for trouble. This version bursts with energy and life; too bad the sweet, spicy speedster has to get eaten in the end! (A+)

"The Gingerbread Girl"
Written by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Illustrated by Lisa Campbell Ernst
(Dutton, 2006)

A mildly feminist retelling of the Gingerbread Man story... Here, the old couple that baked the first gingerbread runaway tries again, but this time makes a girl... She turns out to be faster and smarter than her older "brother" -- she still runs around and taunts the usual suspects, but she winds up outsmarting the fox and coming up with a nonviolent solution to the whole mess. She takes everyone home, bakes a bunch more goodies and throws a big party, and teaches the fox some manners. Although the theme is a little forced, this is a reasonably fun book. The rhymes and artwork are okay, and the nonviolent ending is a nice twist. Similar to Bob Graham's Dimity Dumpty, although not quite as innovative. (B)

"The Princess And The Pea"
Written by Hans Christian Andersen
Adapted by Dorothee Duntze
Illustrated by Dorothee Duntze
(North-South Books, 1984)

A gorgeously illustrated version of this classic fairy tale. Duntze's sumptuous, richly detailed, pastel-soft artwork makes this book a real wowzer, especially her multi-panel scenes of the Prince plowing through a field of prospective marital partners... If you like the story, this version is pretty hard to beat. Recommended! (A-)

"The Princess And The Pea/La Princesa Y El Guisante"
Adapted by Francesc Boada
Illustrated by Pau Estrada
(Chronicle Books/La Galera, 1993)

A marvelous adaptation of this classic fairytale... One big plus is the look of the book: the artistic motif draws on Indian and Middle Eastern art, and when the prince goes abroad at the beginning of the book, we see princesses dressed in the garb of many different cultures -- Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Thai -- which gives the story a whole new look and places us in a new, non-Eurocentric context. The story follows the standard princess-and-the-pea narrative which, while it still has a weird gender message, is relatively innocuous. No violence, and intellect is used to resolve the prince's dilemma. A very good version of this story, with compact, economical bilingual translations (this was originally published in Catalan, then translated into Spanish and English for this edition.) Recommended! (A)

"Princess Stories: A Classic Illustrated Edition"
Edited by Cooper Edens
Various Illustrators
(Chronicle Books, 2004)

The Walt Disney corporation has laid out such a powerful claim on the world of fairytale princesses -- and backed that claim with gigantic, relentless marketing and branding campaigns -- that it is a relief to go back and see the original stories, in versions that aren't dependent on "special edition" videos or endless plastic goo-gaws. Indeed, this beautifully designed edition collects not only eight of the most archetypal stories ("Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "Snow White," it also explores the various representations of these classic tales that were given by the masterful childrens' book artists of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Like other books researched by editor Cooper Edens, this gathers dozens of vintage illustrations, each more lavish than the next, reviving a different sort of storytelling magic than the video template of Disney and their imitators. It's a rich visual and historical experience, the perfect thing to inspire wonder about and interest in the past. The downside, such as it is, is that these are also unvarnished, unsanitized versions of these dark, disturbing stories. The prospects of sexuality, violence and death that pervaded the early fairytales is left intact, as are the often explicit religious messages. For this reason, I would not recommend this edition for younger children: it's a little scary, especially things like the original version of Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid," and the original "Snow White." There is a marvelous version of "Beauty And The Beast," however, and a very long "Cinderella," both of which are quite nice. It's the pictures that you will keep coming back to, though. This book is a rich visual treat that can sit on the family bookshelf for years to come, delighting and enchanting readers young and old. (B)

Written by The Brothers Grimm
Adapted by Amy Ehrlich
Illustrated by Kris Waldherr
(Penguin/Dial Books, 1989)

A solid version of this old fairy tale, with froofy, girly, unicorny, fine-lined artwork that has a strong whiff of the '80s to it... All in all, though, this is a good rendition, which gets the point across. Like most fairy tale, there's some dark, disturbing stuff, not the least of which is the "parent" (the witch) who permanently locks Rapunzel under the stairs, er, I mean, into her tower. What you forgot from the original version: Rapunzel's prince has his eyes gouged out, and wanders around blind for years before finding her again. Sure, her tears give him back his vision, but still: yuck! (B)

Written by The Brothers Grimm
Adapted by Dorothee Duntze
Illustrated by Dorothee Duntze
(North-South Books, 2005)

Nicely illustrated, but with an occasionally awkward text... This version includes the gruesome blinding of the prince, as well as the bastard children of the prince and Rapunzel, who are seen with her when she is in her exile. One nice visual touch is how the evil witch dresses in gowns made of giant cabbage leaves, and she dresses Rapunzel in similar attire. Perhaps the best panel is a bird's-eye view of the witch's garden, full of lavender, roses, huge pumpkins and wild irises. It looks quite lovely, as a matter of fact: maybe the witch wasn't so weird after all! (B-)

"The Shoemaker And The Elves"
Written by The Brothers Grimm
Adapted by Adrienne Adams
Illustrated by Adrienne Adams
(Scribner & Sons, 1960)

One of the very few fairy tales that isn't completely disturbing on some level... In fact, there's a happy ending and nothing bad happens to anyone! A shoemaker who has fallen on hard times gets a helping hand from mysterious agents -- a trio of elves who sneak into his shop every night and turn what little leather he has left into beautiful shoes that customers buy for top dollar. The cobbler's fortunes improve, and he becomes wealthy and happy, and when he finally discovers who his benefactors are, he thanks them by making special miniature outfits to wear, and they then go off to enjoy themselves. This is a fine adaptation by Adrienne Adams -- the artwork is old-fashioned but appealing and the story is still magical and mysterious, and holds up well over time. Recommended! (B+)

"The Shoemaker And The Elves"
Written by The Brothers Grimm
Adapted by John Cech
Illustrated by Kirill Chelushkin
(Sterling, 2007)

One of the very few fairy tales that isn't completely disturbing on some level... In fact, there's a happy ending and nothing bad happens to anyone! A shoemaker who has fallen on hard times gets a helping hand from mysterious agents -- a group of elves who sneak into his shop every night and turn what little leather he has left into beautiful shoes that customers buy for top dollar. The cobbler's fortunes improve, and he becomes wealthy and happy, and when he finally discovers who his benefactors are, he thanks them by making special miniature outfits to wear, and they then go off to enjoy themselves. This is a fine adaptation by kid's lit veteran John Cech while the artwork is very modern and very odd -- a mixture perhaps of Ralph Steadman and the Brothers Quay -- and compliments the text well, although it also has an unsettling air about it. This story is definitely recommended as an entry point into the world of fairy tales; it's magical and mysterious without being creepy or crawly. This particular version might be best suited for older kids, as the art is a little dark and relatively hard to get a handle on; kids who are already heavily into wizards and whatnot will find it delightful. (B+)

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
Written by Sally Grindley
Illustrated by Thomas Taylor
(Penguin/Phyllis Fogelman Books, 2001)

A hardy, fresh-faced adaptation of the classic fairytale best known to countless millions from the Disney film, Fantasia. Instead of Mickey Mouse, though, this version features a real boy, and a notably fuzzier-edged magician, each with a strong whiff of Harry Potter and Dumbledore about them. The plotline follows pretty much the same course as the film version, though we get more detailed glimpses of all the arcane doodads in the sorcerer's laboratory (skulls, potions, ancient texts, etc.) in a way that is sure to appeal to the Potter generation... (B)

"Toads And Diamonds"
Retold by Charlotte Huck
Illustrated by Anita Lobel
(Greenwillow, 1996)

An interesting twist on the Cinderella-style wicked-stepmother story, mixed this time with a bit of the goose that laid the golden eggs. A young girl named Renee lives with her bossy and selfish stepmother and stepsister, who treat her poorly and make her do all the chores. One day, while walking to the well to haul fresh water back home, she is being kind to small animals, etc. when she meets an old woman who asks for a drink. Renee politely obliges and is rewarded with a magic spell that makes precious gems and fragrant flowers come out of her mouth whenever she speaks. Personally, I think that sounds a little uncomfortable, but the greedy stepmother is jealous and dispatches her daughter to go get all magic-mouthed as well. The stepsister is so foul-tempered and self-centered, though, that she walks through the forest terrorizing the animals and is rude to the fairy (who now appears as a young woman) and is instead cursed with toads and snakes that pour from her mouth whenever she speaks. The stepsister is too awful to ever overcome her curse -- she lives the rest of her life in exile in a cave, with reptiles spewing forth night and day, while Renee, of course, meets a handsome prince who falls in love and marries her. Also an old, old fairy tale, this is certainly an interesting twist on a familiar theme, indeed, it's a much blunter morality lesson, without the Disney sugarcoating... The artwork emphasizes the grotesqueness of the stepmother and stepsister, but generally is pretty nice and effective. If you're into these sort of fairy tales, this is a fine edition to explore. (B)

"The Three Billy Goats Gruff"
Adapted by Marcia Brown
Illustrated by Marcia Brown
(Harcourt Brace, 1957)

A remarkably grisly version of this old folk tale... Rather than merely knock the troll off the bridge, this billy goat gruff graphically dismembers him, poking out his eyes and reducing him to "bits, body and bones." (The rhyming line about how the goat has "two great big stones" might also raise a few eyebrows. Besides being rather gory, the text is also oddly crafted, and a bit difficult to plow through. The artwork is okay, but not so much so that you'd really need to read the book... Unless you're into bloodshed, you might be happier with other, more subtle versions... There are plenty to be found. (C-)

Written by Hans Christian Andersen
Adapted by Sindy McKay
Illustrated by Quentin Greban
(Treasure Bay, 2007)

A gorgeous, joyful adaptation of this Hans Christian Andersen classic. Belgian illustrator Quentin Greban (one of my faves!) crafts a beautiful, evocative vision of this magical, though slightly creepy, story -- the perfect look for a classic fairy tale... The text, by educational writer Sindy McKay, is designed to encourage children to read along with adults -- it includes prompts for both adult and child readers, but it's not necessary at all -- an older reader can still easily read the book for smaller children and it will still be very enjoyable. We've read a few different Thumbelinas, and this is by far and away out favorite. Highly recommended! (A)

Adapted by Caterina Valriu
Illustrated by Max
(Chronicle Books/La Galera, 1998)

A great bilingual edition of one of the best and most fantastical fairy tales... The text follows the classic version of the plot pretty closely, and isn't too gruesome or disturbing. The artwork is fabulous, a thick-lined cartoony style from the Spanish artist named Max. Good translations, as well. Recommended! (A)

"Goldie And The Three Bears"
Written by Diane Stanley
Illustrated by Diane Stanley
(Harper Collins, 2003)

A hip modern retelling of the classic Goldilocks fable... This time around, Goldie is a young gal who's kind of particular about everything... She wants her sandwiches a certain way, her clothes a certain way... and her friends a certain way, too. She hasn't had much luck finding the right friend, though, and her parents are a little worried that maybe she should get out and see more kids, and maybe loosen her standards a little... Everything changes, though, the day she stumbles into the Three Bears' house. From here, the story follows a fairly standard arc, except that Goldie and Baby Bear really hit it off, and become best friends in the end. I liked the artwork a lot, and thought the freshening up of the story was welcome and well done... A few qualms about reading how picky Goldie was about everything, but I only feel that way because our little angel is so nauseatingly perfect... (Not!) Anyway, this was a fun, clever book. Recommended! (B+)

"Falling For Rapunzel"
Written by Leah Wilcox
Illustrated by Lydia Monks
(Penguin/G.P. Putnam, 2003)

A kooky, nonsensical spoof of the old Brothers Grimm fairytale... Here, the wandering prince mistakes Rapunzel's loud frustration with her unruly hair as a a cry for help, and he misguidedly attempts a rescue. But she has trouble hearing him as he calls up to her, and keeps throwing the wrong things out the window -- her socks, her dresses, a canteloupe. These all, of course, rhyme with the things he asked for -- locks, tresses, a rope. As our laughter rises, so does his temper, and by the end of the book the prince is ready to give up. Luckily for the prince, Rapunzel has a cute maid who also gets plopped down onto his head, and then those two fall in love. The story is giddy and goofy, and is well matched with illustrator Lydia Monks' collage-ish artwork (I'm a big fan!) A perfect antidote for the tweaky sexism that underlies so many of the old princess stories... Worth tracking down! (B+)

"The Very Smart Pea And The Princess-To-Be"
Written by Mini Grey
Illustrated by Mini Grey
(Random House, 2003)

Witness if you will, the story of the Princess and the Pea, retold from the perspective of the pea itself. The goofy conceptual hook is a little abstract, perhaps, for smaller kids to get into, but the book does have a loopy charm. Mainly it's due to the artwork, with is graphically strong and distinctive -- the text itself has its clunky moments and inconsistencies (the pea tells us that it was planted less than a year ago, but also that the Prince searched for a year to find the right bride... Uh, which is it?) Also, it's hard to overcome the inherent sexism of the original story, although this version is meant to be a feminist reworking, with a dewy-eyed, bookish Prince hooking up with a rugged, hands-on gardener, rather than a mail-order Princess... Anyway, this book was okay, although it didn't totally wow us. (B)

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