Have you seen the new live action Beauty and the Beast? The chances are good that you have; according to Forbes the film earned $6.9 million on its second Monday alone. This isn’t really surprising. The landscape of fairy tale is a map we all know so well. Close your eyes and you will see the contours laid out clearly, at times lovingly spiritual in its universality, at others chillingly human in its earthy specificity. There is the castle, shining in the background, flags flapping in the wind. Then there is the dark and murky wood, where wolves and bears and other frightening creatures roam – and where you must go to face your destiny. Upon this landscape live the many stock characters that breathe life into the tales: the cruel witch, the fairy godmother, the lonely Beast, the despairing princess, the courageous prince. In this land Magic runs rampant and injustice is fought until finally the balance of life is restored. Our collective unconscious stores this map, these characters, and their stories. We seem never to tire of recreating them time and time again. Most of us were introduced to fairy tales in childhood, some of us reading large heavily illustrated books ourselves, or having them read to us.
To continue that tradition, Silver Dolphin Books has come out with a series of board books for very young children, called “First Stories,” from which I had the pleasure of reading three fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. Each one is a little gem, charmingly illustrated in bright colors and adorable, detailed illustrations.
Chunky and sturdy, the board books are interactive, with tabs to push, pull, and slide. Pull up on one tab and Cinderella’s rags are transformed into a beautiful ball gown; pull down on another, and the Beast appears in his castle door. You can shimmy the witch up Rapunzel’s hair as she leans out of her tower, or push Cinderella back and forth as she sweeps the kitchen – and then, a few pages later, slide her foot up to the glass slipper! This is Exciting stuff.
Amazingly, each tale is pared down to only four rhyming couplets. Silver Dolphin did a good job picking out those plot points, and somehow the stories manage to come across, in no small part because the illustrations by Dan Taylor are richly detailed, in a deceptively sophisticated way. And not to worry about being too frightening for little ones; while there are scary moments — these are fairy tales we are talking about — the colors are bright and there is a cheerful atmosphere maintained throughout. The iconography of the fairy tale landscape is all there, giving your toddler the means to start their very own map of the enchanted world we all love.
For the older child, or just the young at heart, comes a gorgeous coloring book of Beauty and the Beast, with quotations from the original story by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, first published as a novel in 1740 and later abridged and rewritten into the tale we know by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Ornate and lavish, the exquisite drawings, based on the wonderful work of English artist Walter Crane, are reminiscent of 18th century France. Once I saw it I immediately went out and bought a set of colored pencils. It will take a while to get through the whole coloring book, but who’s complaining? Any girl –big or little –, who loves to color, will sigh with happiness when they get their hands on this one. Just make sure you have colored pencils or crayons at hand – they won’t want to wait to get started.