I love fairy tales and little kids love fairy tales. When I read them out loud to my students, even the kindergarteners seem to instinctively know the stories and want to hear them again and again. However, there are a lot of fairy tale books out there and they are not all created equal. For a connoisseur of fairy tales, it's a challenge to get the illustrations and retelling just right. And then there is the audience. While I would read Paul O. Zelinsky's Caldecott winning Rapunzel out loud to third graders, I wouldn't read it to first graders. The beautiful, painterly illustrations would be lost on them, as would the pace of the storytelling. Creating a fairy tale for very young audiences that maintains the integrity of the original without watering down the story too much is a fine balance. Ed Bryan and his quartet of fairy tales published by Nosy Crow, a independent British publisher of children's books that is also an imprint of the superlative Candlewick Press, based in Somerville, MA, strike the perfect balance.
With Jack and the Beanstalk, Bryan condenses the story, having Jack steal all three treasures from the giant in one visit. As Jack sneaks through the castle, he has the opportunity to help the cook, a frog and a baby dragon. In turn, all three tell Jack where the gold, the goose who lays the golden eggs and the talking harp are stashed. Bryan ends the story the same way, with Jack chopping down the beanstalk and living happily ever after. Bryan also make the giant big and hairy and angry looking, but not too scary for little listeners. Bryan's collage style of illustration is crisp and colorful and humorous - sure to please everyone.
Bryan's Little Red Riding Hood is another great adaptation of what can be a pretty gruesome story. Red heads out to Grandmother's with the usual instructions and the same basket of goodies. When Red meets the wolf, she tells him where she is headed and moves along. She stops to pick some daisies, again to collect acorns and finally to help a bear fill jars with honey. These moments are so far off script, it's fun to predict where the story is headed. When Red reaches Grandmother's house and finds the wolf, disguised and tucked into her bed, Red surprises the wolf and readers with her treasures! When the wolf runs off, Grandmother jumps out of the closet and the two have tea. I especially love that Red, and not the huntsman, saves the day in this version.
Also by Ed Bryan:
Source: Review Copy