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Showing posts with label Fairy Tales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fairy Tales. Show all posts

6.03.2014

Rumpelstiltskin's Child (2014)

Written and Illustrated by Bonne Ferrante

Single Drop Publishing

Fellow children's book blogger Bonnie Ferrante was good enough to send me a copy of her book to peruse. I read it as another entry in the path set out by Wicked: the reshaping of a popular story with the villains and heroes inverted. In this instance, it is Rumplestiltskin, formerly a child snatching troll of a man, who is now but the misunderstood hero.

The villagers mocked his small eyes. "They look like peas."

They mocked his large feet. "They look like loaves of bed."

All the teasing stuck to him like honey on a bear's fur.

My favorite aspect of this book was the layout. Bonnie has a real creative way of combining text and pictures.

3.24.2014

The Little Moose Who Couldn't go to Sleep (2013)

Written by Willy Claflin

Illustrated by James Stimson

August House

This is a Maynard Moose book, so of course it begins with a warning: "This book contains Moose grammar, spelling and usage, all of which has been known to scrumble up the human brain."

This is the fourth Marynard Moose book - a trilogy no longer - and the fourth I've reviewed, and again the boundaries of the tale get pushed further back, this time as far as the outer reaches of space, where Mother Moose makes her home amongst the constellations and things get a trifle on the metaphysical side.

There's a creation story at play, which sets the tone of what is to come: "The whole universe come from the kitchen of Mother Moose," says Maynard, hovering over the non-sleeping form of Little Moose, his favorite cousin. "Is one thing to make a universe out of Thick air. But to make a universe out of Thin air, you got to stir and stir and stir."

In the world of Maynard the Moose and Willy Claflin's imagination, counting sheep is not just an excercise in self-induced monotony, but the ticket to an adventure, as the insomniac-laden Little Moose is transported out the window and through space, "up and up into the dark night sky, where the warm winds blow and the stars all sporkle and blink," and then from there to the house of Mother Moose, floating above the cosmos and filled with a wood burning stove and all the accoutrements of coziness, the place where the stories come from.

I like the unpredictable quality of the Maynard Moose books, and I feel that with each book the narrative gets more and more loosened up, freer to go in any direction Maynard feels like taking it. Most of the book is taken up with a more conventional back-and-forth between Little Moose and her parents and teachers, then suddenly, apropos of nearly nothing, off we fly on the back of a sheep wearing a football helmet!


7.31.2013

Father and Son Read-Aloud Stories (2006)


Retold by Robert Gould

Illustrated by Lara Gurin


This was a first, an author wrote to me and asked if I could review his new book, and it was actually someone I had heard of before! Robert Gould is the author of the Time Soldiers series, which our local library stocks in their "Guy's Read" section. I'm sure that would please him, since his company is called "Big Guy Books" and their mission in life seems to be getting boys into reading.

The title is not too subtle - this is a book for dads and sons – but reading through the selection of stories, I couldn't at first find a unifying thread. The stories are The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs, Puss in Boots, The Three Bears and The Lion and the Mouse. Pretty classic fare for a storybook. The only major alteration was that the main character of the Three Bears with the famous golden locks of hair was not a girl, but a young boy. Beyond that detail, the story proceeds as usual, and hits all the plot marks crisply.

"Someone's been lying in my bed!"

“Someone’s been lying in MY bed!”

“Someone IS lying in my bed and he’s fast asleep!”

There was no obvious, self-conscious man-ification to the stories – Jack didn’t chug a six-pack before ascending the eponymous beanstalk - but reading through them again did give me an appreciation for how inherently masculine some classic fairy tales already are. I decided that the unifying thread here was that all of the stories contained a very physical altercation of some sort, usually a hero and a villain squaring off in a physically violent way.

In The Three Billy Goats Gruff, of course, the final confrontation is between the oldest and largest of the Billy Goat brothers and the troll beneath the bridge. Re-reading it the second time through, it did seem to me - upon reflection - more amped up than in other tellings. Illustrator Lara Gurin places each of their faces on opposing pages, the text font has increased exponentionally.

"I've been waiting for you. And now I'm coming to gobble you up!"

"I don't like trolls! And I've got sharp horns to stick you with and hard hooves to trample you with!"

The three Billy Goats Gruff crossed their bridge every morning and grazed in the meadow, Gould writes, ending the story with, Getting bigger and stronger every day.

The tone flows into Jack and the Beanstalk quite nicely, the young boy outwitting – and finally outclimbing – the fierce Giant. It also has the added detail of the magic harp and the golden-egg-laying-goose all having once belonged to Jack’s father – who was himself a magician – and was robbed by the Giant long ago. This is not an invented addition - I’ve seen it before in other tellings - but it’s clearly no accident that it is here accentuated. In this way it becomes the story of a son taking up his father’s mantle, of fulfilling a destiny.

My son was especially interested in the artwork. When I told him I was going to be writing the author and
asked if he had any questions, he wanted to know how they got the people to look so real. On several pages I felt sure I was looking at an actual photograph that the illustrator had somehow altered digitally to only make it appear as though it had been painted… but that’s only a theory. The images are striking and filled with details – I loved the hot air balloons dotting the sky as Jack and the dapper fellow bargained over cows and beans – and have a dynamic way of interacting with the text. Some pages are full-page illustrations; on others, the illustrations playfully wrap around the text and fill the white space. There’s no static layout, each page was clearly constructed individually, which is no easy feat, I would imagine.

I’m happy to have this one in my collection. It’s clearly a labor of love and I hope it finds an audience!



7.28.2012

The Bully Goat Grim (2012)



Written by Willy Claflin

Illustrated by James Stimson
This is the third Maynard Moose book I've reviewed, and it's the best of the lot. With each book, the world of Maynard Moose becomes more fully realized. It's really interesting to see how the look of this book contrasts with - for example - The Uglified Ducky.

There’s no formula for what a Maynard Moose tale might involve. With just three books, Willy Claflin and James Stimson have covered a variety of artistic territory.

In this outing, Maynard the Moose tells the story of a mean, vicious bully of a goat who terrorizes a poor family of bridge-dwelling trolls. But the story doesn't just rely on this reversal of archetypes for its punchline, but in the various ways in which the troll family attempts to outwit this mean beasty.

The two-headed patriarch of the troll family can't stop arguing with his other head about which tactic to take, eventually coming to blows, and knocking himself, Maynard tells us, "unconshable as a muffin." Meanwhile, the triple-headed momma troll begins discussing the situation with herselves over tea, debating and discussing  and re-thinking endless propositions until sleeps takes hold, "because the effect of too much process is soporific." But it is the single-headed baby Troll who is able to think the most clearly about the situation, leading one to presume that two heads is decidedly not better than one - much less three.

What is it that the Bully Goat says everytime he crosses the bridge?

The Troll Family
"Beware, beware, the Bully Goat Grim! Nobody better not mess with him!"

This is fairly typical vocabulary for a Maynard Moose book, but the baby troll dissects the sentence structure, realizes the presence of a double-negative in the Bully Goat's speech, and thus deduces that what the Bully Goat must actually desire is for everybody to mess with him!

This leads to a plan involving a pillow, a parachute, a case of Random Hostility Syndrome, and an extremely clever turning of the so-called tables.

There are a lot of nighttime sequences in this book, and I think James Stimson really enjoys playing with light sources and shadows, giving everything a full three-dimensional feel to it. The troll dwelling is especially marvelous, worth an extra glance after the story is over. He doesn't just illustrate the text of the story, but gives an insight into who the trolls are and how they live. The Bully Goat is genuinely fearsome, yet the two-page spread in which the animals of the forest drift "slowly down on the morning breeze, saying Good Morning to the birdies and buggies and busterflies" is filled with all the whimsy that the narrative describes.

At the end, it is Maynard the Moose who once again delivers the moral: "Learn to recognize a double negative!"

4.14.2012

The Uglified Ducky: A Maynard Moose Tale (2008)

As told to Willy Claflin

Illustrated by James Stimson

August House

Maynard Moose again, telling his Mother Moose tales about  the campfire, surrounded by all of his wildlife buddies, leaning in close for another good story. In Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs, I noted one of the big jokes at the end was that Maynard was not certain what the moral of the story was. In this one, not only does he know the moral, but he even leads off with it:

Do you ever feel like maybe you have been borned into the wrong fambly? Like maybe you feel like you are a little porcupine being raised by a fambly of kangaroos... Or maybe you feel like you are a little bunny rabbit being raised by a fambly of rhinoceroses... Well, this is the story of a poor moose who was raised by duckies.

The uglified duckling is not a duckling at all, but a young moose who inadvertently wanders into a nest of duck eggs just as they are about to hatch, to the incredulity of the returning mother. "Boy, that's the most uglified ducky I never see!" she exclaims.

The uglified duckling attempts to quack.
It might be nice if she loved the young moose regardless, but that is not the case. She has a job to do, and that's to teach these baby ducklings to survive in the world. She doesn't have time to spend on this grotesque duckling covered in brown fur who can't even master a little waddling. "This is waddle practice! This is not practice for trip and stumble!" she tells him.

Most of the story is comprised of these lessons, and the moose's inability to keep up. He can't waddle, he can't quack, he can't swim, and - most depressingly of all - he can't fly. He can only stare all forlorn as his adopted brothers and sisters fly off, leaving him "all d'abandoned and left alone."

It is only at the end, after he has wandered alone through the wilderness, that he comes upon a family of actual moose, and realizes his true nature. "And he is bounding joyfully through the forest ever still, happy to be the moose that he would be!"

The book is beautifully illustrated by James Stimson, and includes a glossary of "Moose words and their English equivalents." My favorite is "Quadrapedagogy: the state or condition of having four feet."

3.24.2012

Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs (2011)

By Willie Claflin

Illustrated by James Stimson

August House

Not just a fairy-tale mashup, but also a story-within-a-story. We begin in the Northern Piney Woods, and are told that every full moon, all of the animals come out to hear the 'old Mother Moose Tales,' as related by Maynard Moose. James Stimson depicts the scene with much lushness, the flames of the small campfire glowing against Maynard's antlers, the full moon shining down from above, I could have spent the whole story out in these environs. Yet soon enough, we venture into the world of the tale.

Her hair was so long that it drag out from behind of her along the ground. It get dragged through mud puddles, and kids run over it on their bicycles, and it becomes distremely filthified - all full of sticks and twigs and little nastified wudgies of glop.

Poor Punzel
The whole story is told in this strange vernacular, what we are told it was translated from the original Moose. Certain words are listed in the glossary, should the context prove unclear. Filthified means, "repulsively and disgustingly unclean." Glop is, "mysterious, disgusting, foul-smelling sticky stuff."

In this story, she is locked away in a tower by a wicked witch, and when the handsome prince attempts to mount Punzel's golden hair - being a bit chubbified - he instead yanks her from the tower and sends her flying into the forest, where she meets the eight or nine seven drawfs: Clumsy, Snoozy, Cheerful, Fearful, Hyper, Hungry, Grizelda, Ambidextrous and sometimes Bewildered.

Once in the care of the eight or nine Dwarfs, her head is shaved clean as a bowling ball in order than she may best untangle herself form the clutches of the wooded branglebush, which also doubles as a keen way to disguise her identity (in my opinion), but more plot-pertinent, allows for some cranial nueromancy on the part of the dwarfs, who crowd around the shorn noggin and inquire,

Mirror, mirror on Punzel’s head
Is the witch alive or dead?

Clumsy, Snoozy, Cheerful, Fearful, Hyper, Hungry, Grizelda, Ambidextrous and sometimes Bewildered.
From here, the story fairly gives way to Snow White, albeit with Rhinocerous costumes and poisoned watermelons and the creation of the Sleeping Punzel Museum and amusement park to house her camotose self. Only 75 cents to see her! And is it the handsome yet chubbified prince who will thus awaken her with a single kiss and prance on off into the sunset? Is it?!

Nope. It is a moose, of course.

And the moral of that story is, if you have long, long goldie hairs that drag out from behind of you along the ground, then you should always... um… The moral of the story is… there ain’t no moral to some stories at all!

Thus sayeth Maynard.

5.20.2011

Jack and the Beanstalk (1991)

Retold and Illustrated by Steven Kellogg

Colored inks, watercolors and acrylics

15 Point Clearface

Morrow Junior Books

Steven Kellogg is one of my absolute favorites.I believe he is unparalleled when it comes to drawings which are playful, detailed, lively and - most of all - do not merely illustrate, but add significantly to the text, compelling the narrative onwards at a velocity not normally found with a picture book.

According to the jacket for this book, before undertaking this project, he signed up for a summer course on folktales in children's literature at Columbia University. "I chose to undertake Jack and the Beanstalk, recalling my childhood fascination with Jack's sense of adventure and his conquest of the dramatic skyscapes despite the daunting yet intriguing frightfulness of the ogre's Fee-fi-fo-fum."

Meanwhile, in the Author's Note which precedes the tale, he tells us that his version is based on the version written by Joseph Jacobs in 1889. Kellogg wanted to remain faithful to the spirit of the original language, "retaining some now-remote phrases like 'start shop' and words like 'peltered' because of their contribution to the character of the tale."

Open it up to the first page, however, and you may think you're in the wrong story. The most gruesome 'giant' I've ever seen in a Jack story, wearing the fur of a sabertooth, appearing from out of a malestrom and holding a ship full of pirates hostage. Everything about the pirate ship is fully realized, including the table full of gold and other treasures. Surely, with such a time and effort, these pirates must somehow be pivotal characters...

They're gone after the next page, never to appear again. This is one of Kellogg's tricks, to fill in cracks of the tale in throwaway illustrations before the actual story begins. Other narrative clues hidden inside his pictures reveal from whence came the magic man with the magic beans, and a procession of Medieval lords and ladies who won't be seen again until the very end.

Kellogg's Jack is no fool, nor is he lazy. He is good-hearted and willing to work. The magic beans he receives as payment for the family cow - Milky White - are clearly magical from the get-go, tumbling and floating in his hands, glowing brightly.  The beanstalk they produce the following night is an abstract explosion of color and texture, twisting and weaving and sprouting this way and that away, taking Jack to a land not merely in the clouds, but high above the planet Earth. There are snow-capped mountains in the stars, along with an intricate castle, ladled with thousands - perhaps millions - of stairs, leading to the various towers at whose doorstep awaits a towering female ogre, wearing a necklace of tiny skulls.

There is a page in which the giant finally discovers Jack which I had to quickly flip past lest it fill my son with nightmares, so gruesome and ghastly, it seems death will come to Jack and it will come soon and violently.

"Mother! Mother! Bring me an ax!"
Jack's mother rushed out with the ax in her hand, and Jack gave a chop at the beanstalk, cutting it in two.
The ogre fell down and broke his crown and the beanstalk came tumbling after.


Phew A fitting, wordless epilogue shows Jack as an older man, happily married with a few dozen children of his own, happening across the old magic man, who is still in possession of Milky White. But the epilogue doesn't end there. On the back cover appears the enigmatic portrait of what appears to be the giant's wife, arms raised up before the castle, which is enclosed within an orange sphere, surrounded by dark and stormy clouds.

Click here for more versions of Jack and the Beanstalk!

11.30.2010

Jack and the Beanstalk (2006)


Retold by E. Nesbit
Illustrated by Matt Tavares

Pencil and watercolor
Typeset in Garamond

Candlewick Press

2006 is when this beautiful edition illustrated by Matt Tavares came out, but the story itself is the unabridged text from 1908, published originally in The Old Nursery Stories. At nearly 50 pages, this is the most complete telling I've ever seen of this classic folktale. Nesbit begins with the character's full background:

He was always trying to make things that seemed like the things in books - rafts of sledges, or wooden spear-heads to play at savages with, or paper crowns with which to play at kings. He never did any work; and this was very hard on his mother, who took in washing, and had great trouble to make both ends meet.

Jack is a dreamer, content to lay about in the summer fields and stare at the clouds. He is well-meaning, but always makes a blunder of himself. The debacle with selling the family cow is just one in a series of misadventures. One question which I've always wondered is, does the butcher in his wagon know the magical properties of the beans with which he uses to bargain for the ill-fated bovine? In every version I've seen, the butcher seems to be clearly playing Jack for the fool. Yet somehow, magically, after having been tossed from the window by his enraged mother... It's as though Jack himself produces the magic effect the beans have. As though they really were worthless, until Jack infused them with his own simple, child-like faith...

Tavares does a tremendous job making the beanstalk make spacial sense. In just a couple of illustrations, we see Jack's look of absolute delight as he climbs the stalk. He is clearly several miles off the ground, the surrounding countryside spread out around him, but his eyes eagerly yearning only upwards. However, when he reaches the top of the beanstalk, he finds "the trees were withered, the fields were bare, and every stream had run dry." Not only that, but there are skulls and bones dotting the barren earth.

This was the land which once belonged to Jack's father, who had been king - a fact that not all versions make clear. His father was killed by the vicious giant, who took over the kingdom, turned his subjects into trees, and horded all of the gold for himself. All this is explained to Jack by a tiny fairy. Exposition dispensed with, fairy fluttering off, Jack is now free to do that for which he is destined.

"Now the time has come for you to set things straight. And this is really what you've been trying to dream about all your life. You must find the giant and get back your father's land for your mother. She has worked for you all your life. Now you will work for her; but you have the best of it, because her work was mending and washing and cooking and scrubbing, and your work is - adventures. Go straight on and do the things that first come into your head. This is good advice in ordinary life, and it works well in this land too. Goodbye."

Interestingly, the giant's wife is not a giant at all, but a little old woman who takes pity on poor Jack, and allows him to hide away when her giant husband comes home. Each time, Jack steals one of the amulets of the Giant's power - the goose who lays the golden eggs, the sacks of gold, and the golden harp - and each time the giant's wife allows him to enter, reluctantly. She never seems to realize that Jack is the same child as before.

Also, very interestingly, and a fact I only noticed the second-time through, the giant never utters the words for which he is famous: "Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread." Instead he growls simply, "Fresh meat today, my dear. I can smell it."

Finally, harp in hand, Jack races down the beanstalk. This third time, the giant finally realizes what's going on and gives chase. "Jack screamed to his mother for a chopper, and, like the good woman she was, she brought it without asking what it was for."

Once the giant is dead, we see Jack's mother sweeping the front walkway of their tiny cottage, and Jack feeding the chickens while cows graze in the background. The pastoral pleasantness is unchanged. There is a moral here about leading the simple life.

As for the enchanted land up above - well, the fairy told Jack that after the death of the giant the people came out of the trees, and the land flourished under the rule of the giant's wife, a most worthy woman, whose only fault was that she was too ready to trust boys.
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