I’m in the mood this week for a bit of a children’s literature round-up, a list of books featuring fairy tales accompanied by beautiful art. All would make great holiday gifts, if you’re looking for such a thing. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
For your serious fairy-tale fans, I highly recommend two books—Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess: And Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales and The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, translated and edited by Jack Zipes. You may have read about the first book in this 2012 Guardian piece, which was passed around social media quite a bit.
Von Schönwerth’s book, compiled and edited by Erika Eichenseer and translated by Maria Tatar, who also provides an introduction and commentary, was released earlier this year and presents in one volume the fairy tales collected in the eastern part of Bavaria by mid-19th-century folklorist von Schönwerth. It was Eichenseer who discovered the existence of 500 of these fairy tales among the von Schönwerth papers “stored,” she writes, “almost like buried treasure in the municipal archive of the city of Regensburg.” These fascinating and eccentric stories for all ages—from tales of romance and magic, to tall tales and legends, and many other stories in between—provide a basis for comparison, as Tatar notes, for understanding the Grimms’ tales even better. Each story opens with a small illustration from sculptor, glass-artist, and illustrator Engelbert Süss, who was born in eastern Bavaria.
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition was released last year and is a book I am slowly working my way through, savoring each story. As the title tells you, this collection presents an English translation of the first two editions of the original Grimm brothers’ fairy tales (1812 and 1815)—before the stories were edited so heavily in subsequent decades. “Ironically,” Zipes writes:
“few people today are familiar with the original tales of the first edition, for the Grimms
went on to publish six more editions and made immense changes in them so that the
final 1857 edition has relatively little in common with the first edition.”
What a treat these stories are, presented to readers now with Zipes’ masterful translations. The tales are, in turn, moving, brutal, and always unequivocally plainspoken, a refreshing thing to read after so many edited versions. The book also includes exquisite black-and-white cut-paper illustrations from visual artist Andrea Dezsö.
Speaking of cut-paper artwork, fairy-tale fans who also love a beautifully designed picture book may want to see the books of artist Sybille Schenker. Hansel and Gretel, adapted by Martin West, was released here in the States two years ago by Minedition, and Little Red Riding Hood, translated by Anthea Bell, was released last year. The books come with the following note, if this gives you any sense of what a work of art the books themselves are (not to mention the cut-paper illustrations inside): “For the protection of the fine laser die cut and the sensitive matt black surface of the cover, only remove jacket after purchase.” (It comes with a plastic jacket to protect it.) Absolutely exquisite, each of these books. Take a look here, if you’re so inclined, to see what I mean about the illustrations.
While we’re still being Grimm, I’d also recommend The Hare & the Hedgehog, illustrated by Jonas Lauströer. This was released just last month and features the lesser-known Grimms’ tale of a hare who insults a hedgehog. The two end up racing for a gold coin and a bottle of mead. Lauströer, born in Germany, brings readers sweeping spreads, filled with energy and movement. There’s a lot of humor here, too, with his anthropomorphized hedgehog family and the arrogant hare, clad in a suit and tie. I hope Lauströer has more picture books in his future.
Happy fairy-tale reading to all, and to all a good book!
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts 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.