Monday, May 10, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Snow White and Rose Red

Technically, fairy tales are not nonfiction. However, as I tell children when we're doing library tours, there's a lot of stuff in the nonfiction section that isn't "true"! Today I'm looking at several versions of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Snow White and Rose Red.

If you're not familiar it, the basic story is....two sisters, one dark and one fair, named after rose bushes, live happily with their motherin a cottage in the woods. One winter evening, someone knocks at the door. When they open it, it is a giant bear! However, he's a talking bear and, talking animals obviously being ok, they let him in to the house and adopt him into their little family. At the end of the winter, he takes off, bears not making good hearthrugs in the summer, even talking bears. As the girls wander in the woods that summer, they encounter a dwarf, whom they save from various predicaments despite his unpleasant behavior and ingratitude. Finally, the dwarf and bear encounter each other, the dwarf tries to get the bear to eat the girls, but the bear kills the dwarf, and this breaks the wicked dwarf's enchantment and the bear turns into a prince. After some time (quite a bit of time we hope, since Snow White and Rose Red are generally pictured as young children) the prince marries Snow White (blondes always get the best guy) and Rose Red gets stuck with his brother. They take their rose bushes and mother back to the castle and everybody lives happily ever after. Definitely not as weird as some fairy tales - I'll be looking at some Rapunzel versions later on...

My favorite version is retold and illustrated by Bernadette Watts, a much-beloved and well-known fairy tale illustrator in Europe. Her retelling keeps all the favorite details of the story, although she leaves out the angel watching over the children while they sleep, and has a rhythmic cadence that makes it perfect for reading out loud. Her pictures are full of gorgeous life and color and she does an excellent job of differentiating the characters of the two girls. And don't you love that teddy bear prince?

Snow White and Rose Red retold and illustrated by Bernadette Watts.
ISBN: 978-0805007381; Published March 1988 by NorthSouth (out of print); Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

I have to admit I'm not a fan of Spirin's art. This version is a very complete translation of the story, which makes it lengthy for read-alouds, but the original language, including the dwarf's insults, is fun. I don't really care for the illustrations. The children look too young to me and the medievalish art is too dark for my taste. Not pretty enough! The bear is very well done though, huge and ferocious, but the prince is very stiff and look-at-my-elaborate-renaissance-clothes-and-sleeves.

Snow White and Rose Red illustrated by Gennady Spirin
ISBN: 978-0399218736; Published November 1992 by Philomel (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Barbara Cooney's version says it's just from the Brothers Grimm, but it's one of the shortest versions so there's some editing going on somewhere. Except for the cover, all the illustrations are in tones of white, gray, and red. The illustrations have a rough, almost folk-art quality and this isn't one of Cooney's best, although it is kind of pretty, so no surprise that it's been out of print for quite a while. Her very medieval prince, complete with helmet and cowl at the end is a little bit of a surprise.

Snow-White and Rose-Red illustrated by Barbara Cooney
ISBN: 978-0385301756; Published January 1991 by Delacorte (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Someone who understands art could probably explain to me why I don't like Ruth Sanderson's illustrations, although I do treasure her edition of Secret Garden. The art just looks too....slick? dark? for my tastes? She does an excellent job of retelling the story though, keeping it compact without losing too much of the original feel and blending her own updated language smoothly into the plot. There's a lot of earth colors and golden light shining through her illustrations, which is maybe my problem, since I don't really like earth tones. I dunno. My friend Sara The Librarian, who is an expert on pretty, informs me Ruth Sanderson qualifies, so we will allow her to classed in the pretty books. And I think she's the only one who shows the dead dwarf....and isn't that a gorgeous bear? Much more attractive than the prince, in my opinion.

Rose Red and Snow White retold and illustrated by Ruth Sanderson
ISBN: N/A; Published 1997 by Little, Brown (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Adrienne Adams' version isn't my favorite of her fairy tale retellings, but it's one of my favorites of the Snow White and Rose Red retellings. It sticks very closely to the original story and the pictures are very stylized and almost stiff. Unlike Ruth Sanderson's art, where the characters could be real little girls, these are obviously fairy tale drawings. But still lovely! In fact, that may be why I like Adams more than Sanderson, because her art is so much more obviously fantasy and not real life. The grumpy dwarf is emphasized more than the bear, whom we only glimpse a few times, which is a pity since Adams does good, round bears! Her prince has a delightfully smug, ta-da! look on his face when he breaks the enchantment, which I love. And where was he hiding that sword? This version is really, really out of print.

Snow White and Rose Red illustrated by Adrienne Adams
ISBN: N/A; Published 1964 by Charles Scribner's Sons (out of print); Borrowed from the library

This is an odd little version I found at the library, retold by James Reeves and illustrated by Jenny Rodwell. It's not particularly remarkable, except for the amazing scene of the giant fish and the odd pointilism effect of the illustrations, not to mention the amazing eyebrows on the characters. And how on earth did the prince fit in that bearskin? It's obviously much too small.

Snow-White and Rose-Red retold by James Reeves, illustrated by Jenny Rodwell
ISBN: N/A; Published 1982 by Ray Rourke Publishing (out of print); Borrowed from the library

This version, illustrated by John Wallner, is very cartoonish. He gives both the girls black hair and dresses them in red and white, which is not at all what the story describes. Not interesting at all, other than that.

Snow White and Rose Red illustrated by John Wallner
ISBN: 978-0138152345; Published September 1984 by Prentice Hall (out of print); Borrowed from the library
I found this final version in a collection of three folktales illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. This is probably the shortest version, although it's a very lively and pleasant retelling. The most delightful thing about it is Tenggren's vibrantly colored illustrations, that pop right off the page, not to mention he's the only illustrator who really makes a bear skin big enough to look as though the prince really could have fit in it!

Tenggren's Folk Tales, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren
ISBN: N/A; Published 1973 by Golden Press (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Sadly, none of these versions are in print - in fact, according to Amazon, there's only one picture book version available. Sigh. I'd love to see the Watts or even the Sanderson (currently selling for $88 used) back in print. But I was able to get all these from my library system - see what your library has!

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