About eighteen months ago, writer and artist Jackie Morris and publishers Frances Lincoln came together to produce a little gem of a book East of the Sun, West of the Moon
beautifully written, exquisitely illustrated, bringing new life to an old folk tale in a format designed to appeal to both old and young. All it lacked was a companion or two. Now it has one - a re-telling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Wild Swans.
It's a tale familiar from childhood; eleven princes are turned into swans by their step-mother, and their sister, Eliza, is the only one who can rescue them. Folk tale curses and enchantments are usually lifted by someone having to undertake a daunting, possibly life-risking, task or journey; here the task is maybe not so dangerous, but certainly very painful - Eliza must gather, thresh and spin nettles (bare-hand and footed) and then knit shirts from the thread, while never speaking a word to anyone! As Eliza goes about her task, more obstacles hinder her; sometimes people believing they're taking care of her, sometimes people wishing her harm. In the author's own words "It is a story about love, endurance, magic, silence and communication, misunderstandings, mistakes, courage". And it proves that the feisty young heroine isn't just an invention of modern fiction.
These books are perfect for those of us who, while still enthralled by folk or fairy tales, feel ourselves a little too old for 'children's books'. At 173 pages the story is longer than the brief version offered to small children, giving time for characters to be developed beyond the stereotypical doting sister, cursed prince or evil step-mother. Jackie Morris' illustrations are, as always, a delight - a fairy-tale world evoked in watercolours, and reproduced in several double-page spreads and smaller gems scattered among the text. This is above all a book that feels special, with attention to the little details so often skimped on - heavy pages, 'proper' binding, the title embossed on the slip-cover; a true gift of a book.
See Jackie Morris reading from The Wild Swans here on You Tube
Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre - folk tale, age? almost any!