Title: The Red Fairy Book
Author: Andrew Lang
Illustrator: H. J. Ford
File Under: Fairy tales
Age Group: 3 and up — the older toddler will love the pictures and some of the simpler stories when you read them aloud to his older siblings, and the teen will get the most out of the incredibly rich stories.
I hardly get a chance to talk about illustrations when I post here about books we love.
Most of the time I’m trying to quick! give you a book recommendation and let you know without too, too many words that this book, whatever it may be, is really worth your while, although I try to choose an edition that has the best illustrations.
(That’s why I don’t usually have more than one book at a time here on the Library Project posts. You can find reliable lists in this post, but sometimes a list is too much — sometimes you just want to know one thing. Also, sometimes a list maker feels like fleshing the list out, and then things make it on there that aren’t really the best. I can’t tell you how many times I have thrown a list across the room because, along with The Chronicles of Narnia, the list maker has included the Percy books or The Indian in the Cupboard. Not the same. That’s not quite fair, because you can’t make a list on which Narnia is one of the items, but you get my drift.)
Don’t think that you teach your children about beauty by having them take a course (although you yourself could take a course, and we are having a giveaway for a great one online!).
That’s not how children learn.
They learn by actually conforming their senses to beautiful things. The worst thing about our present day culture is the sheer number of ugly things our children see and hear. The great thing about our culture is how easy it is to find what is really helpful!
They need good stories (but not ones that “teach goodness”). They need to look at beautiful pictures.
The best pictures for children have proportion, line, and sometimes a little color (but not too much — just as children’s taste buds are more lively than ours, their eyes are more sensitive to color), and leave a lot to the imagination.
Yes, there is room for colorful images and for detailed drawings that encourage looking for the minutest detail. There is also room for fun pictures (such as those of Paul Galdone) that are not particularly refined, but convey the energy of the story and make it even more enjoyable to read.
However, to form a child’s imagination in beauty, the criteria of proportion, line, and leaving more undrawn than drawn remain the most important, especially when the story is very good.
That brings me to the Lang Fairy books. Illustrated by H. J. Ford, these books are never going to fail to deliver beauty. The princesses are really lovely, with faces full of compassion and strength (when they are not full of haughtiness, rebellion, stupidity, or selfishness!). The princes are handsome and daring (when they are not arrogant, mean, or heedless). The bad creatures are ugly but even their ugliness is fitting. The animals are naturalistic but retain a hint of the mystery with which the child regards them.
There aren’t too many pictures in these books, so the child listens to the story to gain the reward of looking at the picture that is just beyond on the next page. My copies are falling apart from being pored over by me and all my children.
I wish someone would reprint the hardbacks, which were truly stunning, but even the quality paperbacks will enhance your library.
When a child grows up with books like these (and of course there are many other favorite illustrators of ours), he gains a high standard for beauty that will protect him from attraction to ugly things.