I was visiting the Sur la Lune forums the other day and noticed one of the readers asking about contemporary children's books with beautiful illustrations. My two favourite more contemporary children's book illustrators are Susan Jeffers and Nancy Ekholm Burkert.
My Aunt Heidi gave me a copy of Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans, illustrated by Susan Jeffers for Christmas in 1987. I had just turned six. I hardly looked at another gift that Christmas. I still remember having my mother read it to me and gazing for hours at the beautiful illustrations. I was utterly captivated by the idea of the beautiful young princess, Elise, who risks her own life to save her brothers.
Years later when I pick up the book I still am filled with awe at the beautiful drawings. They make you feel like you're experiencing Elise's story--you can sense the coolness of the mossy forest floor and the cold, dark danger of the cathedral's graveyard and the warm spring breeze on the hilltop covered with roses in the last scene. There are definitely some parallels to Pre-Raphaelite art within the illustrations. Elise, the princess-protagonist of the tale, looks remarkably like Dante Gabriel Rossetti's muse, Lizzie Siddal, with alabaster skin and flowing red hair. Her clothing evokes Jane Morris' artistic dress.
While doing a bit of research on Susan Jeffers' illustrations, I discovered that The Wild Swans is being republished this fall in hardcover (you can pre-order it from Amazon for 12.23!).
Surprisingly, my own copy of the book is still in mint condition! It was one of my favourite books and I must have been really careful never to bend the pages. I had other favourite fairy tales, but they were my mom's books and I wasn't allowed to take them out of the living room--a good parenting idea, if you don't want your books to end up ruined by eager little hands!