At last! With Classic Fairy Tales we have an inexpensive ($12.99!!) gorgeously illustrated book of fairy tales with the perfect selection of stories retold by a master storyteller. I have written a post on The Importance of Fairy Tales as well as as post on Important Fairy Tale Picture Books. In a review of Lucy Cousins' excellent new fairy tale collection for kids 5 and under, Yummy!, I include a list of fairy tale picture books that present more detailed tellings of the stories in Cousins' book. But, I have never had the pleasure of writing a review of ONE book that has a great selection of tales AND worthy illustrations.
The twelve tales in this book are as follows:
The Sleeping Beauty in the Forest
Beauty and the Beast
Snow White (Snowdrop)
Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp
Hansel and Gretel
The Frog Prince
The Wild Swans
These tales are lavishly, uniquely illustrated by Jane Ray. I wish I could do better justice to her artwork, especially her illustrations for Classic Fairy Tales where all pages are framed by Ray's paintings that evoke textiles from foreign countries. Each story has a different pattern bordering the text and illustrations, although there is the occasional full page picture. And, the paintings for each story contain faces and scenery from many different lands. This is about as far away for a Disney-ized fairy tale as you can get.
One thing I always do when perusing a collection of fairy tales is flip to Red Riding Hood. I like to know who, if any one, gets eaten and how the wolf meets his end. Berlie Doherty does a delicious job with her retelling of Red Riding Hood. As the wolf enters Grandmother's house with "his long, wet tongue and his sharp, yellow teeth and his eyes bright as knives and forks." I think you know what happens next. And next. The story ends with the clever hunter snipping the wolf's tummy open with a pair of scissors, rescuing his victims and filling his stomach with stones so heavy that the wolf falls over dead when he tries to run away.
I especially liked Doherty's Author's Note in which she writes, "I had a wonderful time choosing which stories to tell from among the hundreds that I read. Even the most familiar stories have echoes in many different cultures around the world, and the problem sometimes was to decide which version to model my story on. I tried to find the earliest written sources available, and from those, the ones with the most perfect shape." Her note ends with a "Tales fist recorded by," list that presents each original source of the fairy tale (as far back as could be traced) and their time in which he or she lived.