Friday, March 6, 2009

A Pair of Janes: Fairy Tales With Yolen & Dyer

I'm a big fan of Jane Yolen, and was pleased recently to share two of her lovely picture books with the Light and Seal. These two books are made all the more magical by the pairing of Yolen's wonderful stories with the exceptional paintings of Jane Dyer. If you're in the mood for fairy tales, these two books are sure to please.

Child of Faerie, Child of Earth is a beautiful rhyming poem of Yolen's which tells of a human girl meeting a fairy boy--thus this is a real fairy tale, complete with fairies (my favorite kind). The two become friends and the boy asks her to stay with him in the fairy realm, but she knows she cannot give up the human world. Similarly, upon visiting her world and being invited to stay and work upon the farm where she lives, the boy knows he would miss his own kind. Instead, the two decide to remain in their own worlds while visiting and maintaining a friendship that lasts all their lives. This sounds perhaps a bit cliché, but the rhythm of Yolen's poem is hypnotic, and combined with the richly detailed works of Dyer, the book is absolutely enchanting. Dyer's work looks as if it comes from a vintage children's book of fairy tales, and is full of whimsy, color, and emotion. Check out some of her work here; unfortunately I couldn't find an official web site for her. Here is an example of Yolen's lovely verse: "He looked around the human world,/A world of gold and brown./A world where farmyard turns to village,/Village into town;/A world of colors pure and bright,/Of open sight,/Of warm sunlight,/Unlike the shadowed world of night,/Of moon and thistledown." To create that sort of lovely verse within such a rhyme scheme is difficult, and it is particularly impressive considering how long this poem is.

The Girl in the Golden Bower is a story rather than a poem, and though it is an original tale, there are elements that remind me of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, as well as typical fairy tale characters and motifs--a woodsman, an evil sorceress, a person with an unknown or mysterious past, a magic spell, friendly animals, etc. The story begins with a woodsman who serves a royal family. The king dies an untimely death and the castle falls into ruin, with rumors that a beast lives within its overgrown walls. One day the woodsman finds a frail young woman lost in the woods; the two marry and have a child they call Aurea. In time, another woman comes to the house in the guise of a cook looking for room and board in exchange for her services; the couple take her in because the wife is frail, but the cook is in fact a sorceress on a quest for a treasure hidden the woods. She believes a charm that can lead the way to the treasure is in the area of the woodsman's house. As you might expect, the sorceress proceeds to do away with the wife, but before her passing, Aurea's mother givers her a special hair comb that she says will protect her. When the child places the comb in her hair and it changes color to become indistinguishable from her hair, the reader knows that this is the charm the sorceress seeks. The story unfolds as the sorceress continues her destructive quest for the charm and ultimately uses her powers to try to kill the child and gain the comb. But the power of the comb, the truth behind the girl's special relationship with the woodland creatures, and the identity of the beast combine to provide a suitably happy ending for Aurea (and an unhappy one for the sorceress). Again, Dyer's paintings are richly hued, full of detail, and set the perfect fairy tale atmosphere.

Both of these enchanting stories are a delight to read aloud, and apparently to hear aloud, considering how many times I've been asked to read them since checking them out from the library. Check them out with your little ones for some good old fashioned magic.

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