Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer

beauty and the beast_mayerBeauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrations by Mercer Mayer

I’ve saved the best for last.

This is the book made me fall in love with fairy tales.

Mayer uses richly detailed paintings to illustrate this classic story of Beauty and the Beast, setting it somewhere in the medieval era. Mayer depicts the Beast’s strange and magnificent castle by including elements of Egyptian and Art Nouveau influences.

Mayer is a master at hair. It’s one of the little things that I love about this book from Belle’s father’s beard to the fur on the Beast’s cloak, and every single illustration that features Beauty close-up. Her hair is gorgeously done with the individual strands that are first lined and then filled in… it just looks so realistic. It’s beautiful.

Also, Beauty is a bibliophile and when she’s sitting in the tower, book in hand, so regal in her natural grace, posture and yes, her stunning jewelry, well, I just wanted to be her. Speaking of jewelry, I love the butterfly wing coronet in one scene, and the matching scarab brooch and ring in another.

Mayer juxtaposes Beauty’s life in the palace to the one she left behind. Small details in their home hint at the life she had with her brothers. There’s a lute and a skull in the house – who is the musician? Who loves the theatre? A crucifix on the wall hints at their faith.

There are some books that when you find them again, it is like you have re-discovered a great treasure. This is one of those books.

When I stumble across an original hardback copy of the 1978 classic, I stop and caress the dust jacket. Without opening its pages, I silently acknowledge the beauty within and should I linger, my heart begins to ache with the memory of a child who learned to love fairy tales, an ache that will only be satisfied by sitting down once more and beginning with these lines:

There once was a wealthy merchant who lived with his three daughters and three sons.

If you liked either of the books featured this week illustrated by Mercer Mayer, you may also like some of his other titles:

  • East of the Sun, West of the Moon
  • Favorite Tales From Grimm
  • Shibumi And The Kitemaker

You can learn more about the art of Mercer Mayer at: http://www.mercermayer.com/

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Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (Cruel Beauty Universe)

cruel beauty_rosamund hodge

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love. (Goodreads description)


The Specs
ISBN: 0062224735, hd, 352pp, 2014 Balzer + Bray


This was such a complex book. I really wanted to like it. I adore the “Beauty and the Beast” story too; it’s my all-time favorite fairy tale.  That doesn’t mean that I’m closed-minded about new interpretations, far from it.  That’s what storytelling is all about so when I heard there was going to be a new version released where Beauty (here called Nyx) is going to marry the Beast (a demon lord named Ignifex) and then try to kill him to save her people, I was like, “Yay!!!  They’re totally going to fall in love. Let’s do this!”

I know, I’m a little odd.

So this story is not only “Beauty and the Beast” but there’s also elements of “Bluebeard” and “Taming of the Shrew” too.  Ignifex’s castle is a labyrinth of locked rooms, some of which she has keys for and some that do not, and heaven help her if she finds a way into the rooms where she should not go.

I love that Nyx, who of course is intelligent, is almost an empowered heroine, educated and lethal.  Her anger and resentment towards her twin sister, Astraia, makes her more flawed and interesting.

Another element that I really liked was the presence of servants in Ignifex “The Gentle Lord”‘s castle.  In other iterations of B&B these servants are personified as magical, dancing objects, severed hands wielding candelabras or figures that move within paintings.  In Hodge’s universe, the servants are shadows, living under a cursed enchantment but still capable of expressing some emotions which Nyx uses as a way to alleviate her loneliness.  Great plot decision, loved it.

Okay, now for the bad.

What really bothered me the most about this novel (and why I rated it lower) is the conclusion of the book.  It felt rushed.  I was left feeling confused.  There was so much that was crammed in that I lost track of what was actually happening.  I rarely re-read a book when I’ve immediately finished it (though favs I’ll go to again and again). So, you’ve got to get my attention the first time around and Hodge lost me completely. I’m sorry!

Without giving away spoilers, I didn’t care for the way it wrapped up and was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.  If you’ve read Cruel Beauty and you understand what I mean, or maybe you understood the conclusion better, or maybe you think I’m completely wrong, sound off here.

I’m willing to give the title another round, and a different rating.  So there you go. If you think Cruel Beauty deserves a higher rating, and another chance, let me know.  As it was, I was rather disappointed.

King Midas and the Golden Touch by Charlotte Craft

king midas_craftKing Midas and the Golden Touch, as told by Charlotte Craft, illustrated by K.Y. Craft (Morrow Junior Books)

I’ve always liked the story of King Midas which began as a Greek myth about a king who in his quest for gold, stands to lose everything he truly loves. What really stands out for me about this particular rendition are the beautifully detailed illustrations by Craft of a king in all his glory, and the apple of his eye, his daughter Aurelia.

I wish I knew why dogs played such a role in the background of Craft’s illustrations though. Just like in Sleeping Beauty, here too the castle is filled with canine companions which humanizes these graceful servants and royal occupants.

What makes King Midas an interesting figure compared to other fairy tale characters who falter – whether by greed or naiveté (ex: The Goose Girl), is that he pursues his own redemption. He isn’t condemned to his fate and he isn’t rescued from the outside.

While you can argue that the legend of King Midas isn’t a true fairy tale since it’s based on a Greek myth, I think that Craft really removes the story from its original setting and places it in its own time, creating a seamless meld between myth and fairy tale.

If you’ve built out your fairy tale collection with all the Disney basics, consider expanding your collection to include this version of King Midas by K. Y. Craft.

If you like these books illustrated by K.Y. Craft, you may also like her other titles:

  • Cinderella
  • Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave
  • Tom Thumb
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses
  • Cupid and Psyche
  • Pegasus
  • Beauty and the Beast (not yet released!)

You can learn more about K.Y. Craft at her website: http://www.kycraft.com.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Ruth Sanderson

twelve dancing princesses_sandersonSet in the 15th c., costumes and knowledge about period dancing provided by Nan Hurlburt.
One major change that I liked about this version is the disappearance of each of the princes who tries to discover where the 12 girls are going to.  In some other stories I’ve read, the punishment for failure is death.
I also like the introduction of Michael as the garden boy to Lina, the youngest of the sisters.  In some versions, the hero is represented as a hardened soldier, a bit older, and is matched to the eldest girl.  In this one, there is an appropriate similarity in ages between the potential match that is a modern update, but welcome.
The cause of the enchantment of the princes (without spoiling it) is one hat I haven’t seen before, and quite unexpected.  I don’t quite understand the conditions of the spell that is cast but since it is just a fairy tale, perhaps we don’t need to.
The princesses’ costumes are of course, glorious in golds, greens, and blues, some with gold thread trim, others with ermine and fur collars, some with veils, and netting, and tall pointed hats with veils flowing down.  Lina, the simplest adorned, has a coronet for her headdress and a golden gown with a blue underdress, like a vision of the sun on a clear sky.  It’s no wonder that Michael loved her best.
Sanderson has some other fabulous stuff out there. If you think you’d like this book, check out some of these other titles:
  • Cinderella
  • The Enchanted Wood
  • Goldilocks
  • Saints: Lives and Illuminations
  • The Snow Princess

Entwined by Heather Dixon

entwined_heather dixon

Come and mend your broken hearts here.

Just when Azalea should feel that everything is before her — beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing — it’s taken away. All of it. And Azalea is trapped. The Keeper understands. He’s trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. So he extends an invitation.

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest, but there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late. (GoodReads description)


The Specs

ISBN: 0062001035 , hd, 472pp, 2011 by GreenWillow Books, YA, Fairy Tale Retelling, Romance


There is so much humor in this book, I love it.  This is one of my favorite moments, near the beginning of the book (so not spoiling anything):

“[…] Azalea looked down to see a pudgy little hand reaching out from beneath the tree, grabbing at his trouser ankle. Azalea cringed. “Not there, Ivy, you great idiot,” came a whispered voice from among the boughs. “Left — left — no, left is this way–” The hands peeking from beneath the tree skirts felt around, grabbed the ends of the platter, and slowly, with clinks and clatters, dragged the plate in.”

Azalea is one of several sisters who are forbidden to dance after their mother passes.  When Azalea discovers a secret passage that leads her to a magical, silver forest, there is all the dancing they could desire.  But slowly, things go missing: a handkerchief, a brooch, etc.

The Keeper is an enigmatic feature, the mysterious type women are drawn to, but you never really can tell what his secrets are, or his motivations.

There is some great character development with Azalea’s sisters, particularly Bramble and Clover, who each have their romances in the book.  Azalea is perhaps more in tune than her sisters into recognizing danger, but as she tries to break away, a treasured artifact goes missing and she is drawn in deeper.

This is one of the best revisionist fairy tales I’ve read recently and it’s very well done.  I can’t wait to re-read Entwined again and this is one of those titles that is going in my permanent collection.  Take a look and tell me if you agree.

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

princess-curse

“Merrie Haskell’s middle-grade fantasy novel Princess Curse is an imaginative retelling of the fairy tales The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Beauty and the Beast.

In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Sylvania, the prince offers a fabulous reward to anyone who cures the curse that forces the princesses to spend each night dancing to the point of exhaustion. Everyone who tries disappears or falls into an enchanted sleep.

Thirteen-year-old Reveka, a smart, courageous herbalist’s apprentice, decides to attempt to break the curse despite the danger. Unravelling the mystery behind the curse leads Reveka to the Underworld, and to save the princesses, Reveka will have to risk her soul.

Princess Curse combines magic, suspense, humor, and adventure into a story perfect for fans of Gail Carson Levine.” (Goodreads review)

 

Before I launch into my thoughts about this book, I just want to take a moment and say that I hope I get to meet Merrie Haskell someday.

We both wrote our first stories at the age of seven, we both got BAs in anthropology (mine cultural, hers biological) and we both work in libraries that house a million + books.  The fact that she’s written books haled as appropriate for fans of Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale and Karen Cushman (Goodreads) and Karen’s endorsed The Princess Curse, is just frosting on the cake.

I love, love, love Levine, Cushman and Hale (see where I met Shannon Hale), so stumbling upon this book and looking it up on Goodreads (my go-to) and discovering all that praise, well, I was thrilled. I guess it was just one of those serendipitous things that happens sometimes. I really hoped that this book wouldn’t disappoint me and it was so much better than I had hoped. 🙂

This charming story is set in Sylvania (modern-day Romania) and includes some folklore terms thrown in for color involving witches and dragons and ogres.

This is the first fairy tale that I’ve read set in Romania which has a personal connection for me. My parents spent some time there when I was a teen and I remember them trying to teach me a few expressions they’d picked up, such as:

“Cu placere!” (you’re welcome) – sounded like “couple of cherries”

“La revedere!   La revedere!” (goodbye) – sounded like “river dairy”

“bine” (good) – sounded like “ben-a”

(Thanks to Linguanaut for a reminder on the spelling)

Expressions aside, Romania has a wonderful culture of folklore and mythology which Haskell references without trouncing out some of the Romanian tropes (no gypsies appear in this book).  I’m not read-up on Romanian history but I would guess the setting is some time in the Middle Ages. It certainly has that Karen Cushman feel of when her books are set (ex: The Midwife’s Apprentice) and Haskell doesn’t romanticize the life of Reveka, an herbalist apprentice.

There are elements of classic fairy tales built into Reveka’s story (advertised as ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’) but I would say there’s also elements of ‘Briar Rose’ too.  Reveka is a likable enough heroine with plans and dreams of her own but she’s not a 21st century heroine in a medieval setting — an altogether too common error in today’s YA.

Reveka is practical enough to know the ways of the world at thirteen and understand that she would rather be her own mistress than marry and assume the responsibilities of her husband’s trade.

As I’m sure others have pointed out, it will seem odd to think of a thirteen year old pursuing a career (or marriage) when the average marriage age in the USA today is 27 (Atlantic.com). I was 27 when I married actually but when you’re going back hundreds of years…things were different. Life expectancies were shorter. It’s a cultural divide as much as it’s a divide in centuries.

Reveka is old enough to recognize an opportunity so when she hears about the reward for breaking the curse of the dancing princesses, she jumps at the chance. Reveka is drawn into a world of magical and mythological beings and mysteries she must solve at the peril of her own soul.

This book also opens with a great first line:

Three days after my thirteenth birthday, Armas, the Executioner and Chief of Prisons, came for me while I ate breakfast.

Isn’t that great?

Haskell tactfully avoids any romantic entanglements with Reveka (who is, just thirteen) and the men in and around the castle, which would just come across as odd, if not disturbing, to readers.  I loved one moment in the book where her master (employer) says of Reveka that she’d no more consider (a certain person) romantically than she would a donkey.

The shadowy figure she meets is an interesting, complex character.  There is a lot to explore there and while we do find out more about him, his story is by no means left resolved.  The Princess Curse could be a stand-alone book but I hope it won’t remain that way for long.  I want to rejoin Reveka’s life and watch her break another curse.

Rating: 4 stars, because I think the concept, author, and story are awesome.

Two Versions of Sleeping Beauty!

sleeping beauty_CraftSleeping Beauty, retold by Mahlon F. Craft, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft (SeaStar Books)

This is a gorgeous illustrated version of Sleeping Beauty.  One of the unique features about this version are the illustrated letters beginning the text on each page.  I also love how the fairies are depicted.

The good fairies are ethereal beings, non-corporeal, with a glow about them, as if they’re gods.

The evil fairy has a wizened face and hands emerging from a smoke monster inferno of black birds. Pretty gosh darn scary.

The time period feels very Renaissance with glorious pearl detailing and rich brocade fabrics and translucent overlays on the dresses, suggesting maybe silk or organza.

What surprised me the most about this version was the depiction of the youngest fairy sister.  The twelfth fairy arrives on a fiery chariot drawn by dragons, too late to stop the curse, but able to console the king and queen and put the realm to sleep.

I’ll repeat in case you were scanning and missed that bit.

A CHARIOT OF FIRE DRAWN BY DRAGONS

That is really, really cool and kind of scary for a kids book. A detail that I caught for the first time re-reading this version is the presence of a German Shepherd in several of the illustrations.  First, aboard the chariot, then secondly, present when the prince discovers Aurora, and lastly, when Aurora is awakened.

I kind of wonder if the twelfth fairy asked her pup to ‘shepherd’ the kingdom as they slept, because he’s depicted as sleeping when Aurora sleeps, and awake when she’s awake.  It’s a neat little detail I’ve never noticed before.

This is a beautifully illustrated rendition of the legend of Briar Rose, and worthy of your collection.

the sleeping beauty_mayerThe Sleeping Beauty, retold and illustrated by Mercer Mayer

One of the beautiful elements of this version of Briar Rose is the Celtic motifs throughout, featured at the top of each page and intermingled in the architecture and garments of the characters.

This original retelling shares more of the prince’s side from his origins to his quest to find Briar Rose.

There’s a lovely bit of original poetry spoken by the Blue Faerie as she pronounces her curse:

“Never shall you children bear, for this insult will not repair!”

The Blue Faerie is a fantastic villain. I love the details Mayer includes from her cobweb shawl to the horns and skull hair accessories. Unlike some versions of the story, this faerie appears before Briar Rose’s birth, at the christening, when the curse occurs, and we learn what happens to her following the one hundred year sleep.

Briar Rose is an exquisite beauty, Celtic to her roots with her striking ginger hair and emerald green gown. I love all the knot-work on the corset, hair accessories and bracelets.

Beyond the castle folk, the fairies, and Briar Rose and her prince, Mayer does some wonderful illustrations of the “tests” the prince encounters along his path to find his princess.

This version of The Sleeping Beauty is getting harder to find but I recommend that you snatch it up for your collection should you come across it. I will, if given the chance.

Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky

rumpelstiltskin_zelinskyThis version of Rumpelstiltskin is my favorite. I remember it being featured on Reading Rainbow back in the day and the copy I borrowed from the library had the coveted silver “Caldecott Honor Book” sticker on the cover.

It’s set in the late medieval period and I love how Rumpel is illustrated, from his strange pointy hat, to his aquiline nose and bone-thin arms and legs. He’s a small man, who is made smaller by the way his tunic swallows him whole. He smiles devilishly.

One thing that I’ve never liked about this story is that due to her father’s bold (and false) claims, that the miller’s daughter will die if she cannot do what her father says. If there were any fairness in the world, shouldn’t it be her father who is to perish?

This is one interesting differential between Rumpelstiltskin and Beauty and the Beast.

There is some lovely, almost Madonna-like detail of the miller’s daughter, as a queen, holding her firstborn son. The shapely brows and startled eyes frame her face as looks in fear and realization that Rumpel has come to claim his prize.

In another Biblical reference, the first names she guesses are the ones traditionally believed to be the names of the Three Wise Men.

Rumpel is a type of devil, and his magical powers are expanded from spinning straw into gold, to being able to ride a wooden spoon around like a witch does a broom. We see a small door at the base of a tree with hinges and two rings — perhaps this is were Rumpel lives? The great cauldron is smoking, lit by a blazing fire, but we don’t know what his meal shall be.

The miller’s daughter has made a devil’s bargain, but if she fails, what will the child’s fate be? One interpretation could be that Rumpel will have the child for dinner.

In the story world, Rumpel cries out at his name being discovered, “The Devil told you that!” Indeed, as it came from Rumpel’s own lips, perhaps the devil did tell her his name. I wonder if he’ll ever learn the truth…

Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky

rapunzel_zelinsky

This is another Caldecott Book winner (gold sticker) by Zelinsky that takes German and French folktales of Rapunzel and Petrosinella (respectively) and sets it in a world full of Italian influences.  Rapunzel is born to a family who are living somewhere in Italy — you can tell from the outdoor gardens, Greek sculptures and the lovely terracotta tile roofs.

In the end notes, Zelinsky discusses the presence of a campanile, a bell tower, on the Italian landscape. With this in mind, he designed Rapunzel’s tower as a magnificent bell tower, ornate with geometic designs and a terra-cotta roof.  Rapunzel is the belle in the tower (pun intended) and  the story continues much as every version does.

Something I’ve always wondered about the sorceress is why she is angered at the news of Rapunzel’s pregnancy. Why did she want to keep Rapunzel “safe from the world”? Really, I think she means “safe from men” which leads me to wonder, is the sorceress sort of like the fairy tale version of Dickens’ Miss Havisham? Was she betrayed some time in her past?  The possibilities are interesting.

In most versions of Rapunzel, this detail of her pregnancy has been changed and Rapunzel complains about how heavy the old woman is compared to the prince.  I think this is grossly unfair to the sorceress.  Who do you think would weigh more — a strapping, young and hale prince, or a feeble, elderly woman?  I mean, come on Rapunzel! You wanted to have that conversation out, didn’t you? I wish I had a gif for every time I heard that story.

I wish that Zelinsky would do more fairy tales but he’s moved on to some other picture books, including The Wheels on the Bus. If you like these books illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky,  you may also like these tall tales he’s illustrated:

  • Swamp Angel
  • Dust Devil
You can learn more about Zelinsky at his website: http://www.paulozelinsky.com/.

The Goose Girl, Retold by Eric A. Kimmel

goose girl_kimmel

This is a beautiful fairy tale that is a bit darker than most and has a more complicated plot compared to some of the Brothers Grimm tales.

This story has been retold by Shannon Hale as “The Goose Girl” in the “Books of Bayern” series which I strongly recommend you read.

What is remarkable about his story is Falada, the white horse which is the princess’ companion.  The magic horse Falada wisely speaks:

“If your mother were to see, her heart would burst with grief for thee.”

I also like the king who sees the princess’s true beauty, in spite of her rags and rescues her from destruction, giving her a job to tend the geese.

In a gruesome twist, Falada (who knows the truth) is put down and the princess mounts his lovely head atop the gate where she passes each day, and so, she has a reminder of her lovely, and loyal companion.

There are other forms of magic present — the protective charm that the princess is given (and which she loses), Falada’s ability to speak after death, and even the princess’ ability to command the wind with a rhyme.

That said, the princess is a simpleton, crying out in despair to a stove, without realizing that she would be listened in by the king.  That said, perhaps sorrow and despair makes fools of us all.

It’s unclear from the story how much time passes when Margaret (the serving girl) is mistaken for the true princess, and when Margaret meets her brutal, bloody end.  While not addressed, you have to wonder what the prince thought, losing his bride, and finding this new girl.  There’s a line the king mentions about Margaret drinking from his son’s cup.  Does that mean that they’re married?  Or engaged?  I’m not sure.

Yes, it’s just a fairy tale but it leaves me wondering about the psychological impact of these events on the long-term “happily ever after” the book promises.  Something to think about.