Friday, February 29, 2008

Beautiful Children's Books: The Wild Swans

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!


Grace said...

Looks beautiful!

Thorsprincess said...

Dear Margaret,
Your mother wishes to point out to your gentle readers that you were a model child in nearly every way (one doesn't wish to be immodest). Your proud maman was pleased to allow you unlimited access to the family library, while you remained comfortably nestled among the cushions in our best room. Of course, you carefully turned the pages with immaculately clean hands. Some of my personal favorite illustrated children's books are Nancy Ekholm Burkert's Snow White, Errol Le Cain's Snow Queen, and his Twelve Dancing Princesses. Le Cain's illustrations are very reminiscent of Edmund Dulac's--my favorite art nouveau illustrator.

skatej said...

The Wild Swans! I love that story! Have you read the retelling by Juliet Marillier? It's part of a trilogy actually. I'm still trying to figure out if I like them. The first one, the one based on The Wild Swans (and she says also The Children of Lir, though I guess the version I read was a different telling, because the only similarity is the Stepmother's transformation of the children into swans), is called Daughter of the Forest. I read it in high school so it's due for a re-read.

Anonymous said...

I found this story sitting in a pile of books in my 2nd grade class. I read it 3 or 4 times every week all though my 2nd grade year. Before i left at the end of the year, my teacher gave it to me a a gift beause i enjoyed it so much. i still have it and i start my first year of college in a week.