Posted in about childhood, children's books, fairy tales

Beauty and the Beast, Ages 2-102

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.

Beauty and the Beast Coloring Book put out by Silver Dolphin Press
Beauty and the Beast Coloring Book
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Posted in about childhood, children's books, fairy tales

The enduring enchantment of fairy tales

The Legend of the Briar Rose
The Sleeping Beauty, (1890) by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Fairy tales from around the world such as Sleeping Beauty are stories that have traveled eons.  They have been part of our collective consciousness for so long that that as P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins — a great lover of fairy tales — put it, even if we are reading them for the first time, there is a sense of recognition, of having found something already near and dear and close to our heart. Perhaps a sense of longing for what has been lost and might never be found again spurs us on to re-tell the tales endlessly, crossing and re-crossing the bridge from a dim past into our own time.

Tales of enchantment fell from the lips of storytellers in the 10th century marketplaces of Baghdad and made their way westward with merchants on the Silk Road.  The old wive’s tales of medieval Europe have their roots deep in the orient, and have been re-incarnated time and time again, first orally and then pouring forth into written form.

One of the earliest versions of the tale is The Ninth Captain’s Tale of “The Arabian Nights.” This goes back a thousand years! The story has traveled from the Middle East to Europe, where it resurfaced as The Sun, Moon, and Talia, an Italian literary fairy tale written by Giambattista Basile in his 1634 work, the Pentamerone. Charles Perrault then retold it in 1697 as The Sleeping Beauty.  We know this version well.  We also know the tale as it traveled to Germany and appeared in the Grimms’ fairy tales in 1812, as Little Briar Rose.

Each version of Sleeping Beauty involves the prediction of some terrible thing happening to the young girl, if she pursues her curiosity or desire.  One of the reasons fairy tales are so enduring is that many of the tales involve a curse or prediction of some kind. These can come from animals, who can talk, either being under a spell or whatever..or a wicked fairy, as in Sleeping Beauty. Once the prediction has been uttered, the reader is set up with an expectation of the coming promised event. The sense of fate, of moving towards something, sparks a desire to see what will happen next.

Cultural theorist Catherine Driscoll has pointed out the “…girl’s role as a marker of cultural identity” that also “installs her as representative of the coherence of an historical period.”  If that is true, then the character of Sleeping Beauty is a kind of archetype, The Girl, able to shape-shift throughout multiple times and cultures.

There are multiple modern re-tellings of this tale, from Disney to numerous contemporary re-tellings.  The underlying inborn story continues to fascinate us.  In the contemporary world, as in all ages, she could well be a symbol for that tween or teen girl on the cusp of awakening.   Each one of us has either been or known someone like that — and we all love that girl.

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Click here to find my e-book,
Sleeping Beauty: the Evolution of a Fairy Tale
on Amazon

Posted in children's books, fairy tales

Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany

This is exciting news: a treasure house of 500 new fairy tales have been discovered!  It’s hard to imagine.  The fairy tales we all know  and love are so much a part of us. Who will we meet in these new stories, and what will they teach us?  I can’t wait….

Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany | Books | guardian.co.uk.

       What new dreams will our children dream?