The holidays are upon us. They’ve descended like the South’s 13-year May cicadas. (If I’m going to compare the holidays to something, why not conjure up a warm time of year?)
This week I offer up gift-giving ideas of one, and only one, stripe. You get three guesses. Will I be recommending as gift ideas: a) custom luxury yachts, b) Swedish gumboots, or c) books?
In all actuality, I know nothing about yachts, and since I’d rather be barefoot, I’m not exactly an authority on any type of footwear. So, let’s talk books. Specifically, let’s talk two gift ideas for Children’s Literature Lovers and the Children to Whom They Read. Or how about two Neat Gift Ideas for People You Actually Like. (What? We all have that perfunctory gift for, say, that extended family member we barely know.)
To geek out even deeper, let’s talk gifts for the fairy tale lovers in your life.
One must-have new title is Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, released by Viking in November. Here Pullman retells 50 of the Grimms’ stories. In a recent interview with Monica Edinger, he states that he chose the most famous ones and also simply the ones he found the most “powerful and strange” or “interesting to talk about.”
Pullman’s re-working of the tales is compelling. At each moment, the story, and not he as the teller, is the focus. This is no surprise from the writer who, in his 1996 Carnegie Medal Acceptance Speech (for The Golden Compass), spoke of how the best children’s book authors let the story shine: “[Children have] … more important things in mind than your dazzling skill with wordplay. They want to know what happens next.” For this collection of tales from the Brothers Grimm, he set out to retell the stories “as clear as water,” as he notes in the book’s intro, and he succeeds in doing so. With a deft hand, great vigor and enthusiasm, and humor (“The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers” just might leave you in stitches), Pullman proves that these stories, 200 years later, still captivate.
After each tale, he notes its type and source and lists stories in a similar vein for those interested in further reading. He also provides pithy commentary, which proves to be both enlightening and entertaining, like sitting down with a good friend passionate about the fairy tale tradition and having a chat. (His no-nonsense scholarship is also refreshing. When he describes “The Girl with No Hands” as “disgusting” and “repellent,” also calling out its “nauseating” tone, I had to laugh. Well, it’s true. Read it and see.)
Next up is a new edition of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, released in October by the New York Review Children’s Collection, translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock, and illustrated by Fulvio Testa, one of Italy’s most distinguished artists and illustrators. Even though Umberto Eco writes in the introduction to this volume that he’s “tempted to say it’s not even a fairy tale, since it lacks the fairy tale’s indifference to everyday reality and doesn’t limit itself to one simple, basic moral,” many people still mistake it as a fairy tale of sorts.
Pinocchio was initially serialized and, once upon a time, concluded with Pinocchio’s violent death before Collodi, at the request of his publisher, then extended the story and had the Beautiful Girl with the Sky-Blue Hair (whom Disney made the “Blue Fairy”) save him. If you have never read his tale and are expecting Disney’s version, you’ll be in for a shock. Instead, you can expect---as but one example of its bloodshed--- cricketcide: When Pinocchio meets the Talking Cricket in chapter four and tells him he doesn’t want to study in school, the cricket tells him he’ll “grow up to be a real jackass” and the source of everyone’s derision, later calling him a “blockhead.” Then, Pinocchio jumps up in a rage and smashes the Talking Cricket with a wooden mallet. “With his last breath the poor Cricket cried cree-cree-cree and then died on the spot, stuck to the wall.”
As this informative 2011 Salon article notes, Pinocchio is very much a black comedy, and Brock does well with this translation – not shying from the story’s inherent violence and not once having it pretend to be the morally uplifting tale Disney made it. Testa’s downright cheery cartoon illustrations are an effective and amusing contrast to the story’s harsher undertones.
Now, if you came here looking for yacht tips, I do apologize, but I fervently believe you can’t possibly go wrong with either one (or both) of these books as gifts for Children’s Literature Lovers and the Children to Whom They Read.
You can give the gumboots to cousin what’s-her-name.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.