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Showing posts with label Morrow Junior Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morrow Junior Books. Show all posts

7.19.2011

Esther's Story (1996)

Retold by Diane Wolkstein

Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard

Gouache on paper.

Text set in 14.5 Gody Old Style BT

Morrow Junior Books

This is a very full retelling of the story of Esther, which I've been piecing together from various picture book versions in my previous entries. This one is by far the most beautiful and expansive version I've read yet.
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"Esther's Story is woven together from the biblical Book of Esther, oral legends, and my own musings," writes Wolkstein. "Other legends were told to me by my own rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach."
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Right away, I could tell I was going to dig this one. I can tell she has her priorities straight. Not a mere retelling, but a conflation of different sources and personal acquaintances.
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Esther is eleven years old when the story opens, and named Hadassah. She is writing in a diary given to her by her Uncle Mordecai, on a night wherein he has left her by herself and attended the King's banquet. The whole of the book is written in the first person, with Esther's voice.
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When Mordecai returns home, he comes bearing news:
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"Tonight Queen Vashti, the queen of all Persia, refused to go to the king when he called for her, so she has been banished. Tomorrow a search for a new queen begins throughout the one hundred and twenty-seven lands of Persia."
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We follow Esther through her adolescence, growing into a young woman. Wijngaard has done wonderful work showing not just the key players, but the entire world in which they live: fully realized with innumerable details. I love the lattice work and her triple braids as she stands looking out at the evening sky.
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In Persia, Esther is the goddess Ishtar, who is the goddess of love and war. She is also the first planet to appear every night in the sky. I often watch for her in the evening. I think it is very brave of her to appear all alone when it is dark.
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What?! Polytheism in a Bible story?!
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I dig it.
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When Esther is a bit older (thank God) she is selected to live in the palace with other beautiful, young women from the kingdom. Presumably, this is part of the bride-choosing process. It is only when she happens across the king in the hall and they share a laugh that he asks her to marry him.
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This was the only version I've read in which some genuine emotion went between them, and we feel that they truly are in love, that it is because of her good-natured, child-like quality that she is able to warm the sad king's heart. Not just because, you know, she's hot. In fact, I think it works greatly toward this story's overall message that Esther is not necessarily the most beautiful.
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There are many other details which I loved. Esther does not merely enter the King's throne  room, but she "..walked through the first, the second, and the third gates. At the fourth gate, my legs began to tremble. I walked more slowly. I passed through the fifth and sixth gates. As I came to the seventh gate, I wondered if these were my last moments to live. Then I heard the sound of the shofar, and pushed the last gate open." In a medium in which minimalism seems to be the name of the game, I love lengthy descriptions like this all the more.
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The story will pass from one to another. I think that is how it was meant to be. Once it was my story. Now it belongs to each of us.
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Indeed.
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For more stories about Queen Esther, click here!
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For more stories from the Old Testament, click here!
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For Jewish Folktales, click here!

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!
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