The Western versions of “Cinderella” and “Puss in Boots” discussed in Part 1 are generally attributed to Charles Perrault as is “Little Red Riding Hood.” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm also had versions of these stories, as well as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Rumpelstiltskin.” Caldecott Award versions of these last three stories will be considered below examining, as in Part 1, how illustrations make these versions unique.
Trina Schart Hyman’s retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” is a familiar one. This was Hyman’s favorite fairy tale, and as a child, she spent a whole year wearing the red cape her mother made for her. On the verso of the title page, Little Red is reading her own story featuring the cover of Hyman’s book, sucking her thumb, just as Hyman did in childhood (Hyman, 1981).
“My illustrations are full of ‘real’ people who are my friends, family and neighbors. They are also full of places I’ve been, chairs I’ve sat on, cats and dogs I’ve known, and things I like to have around me” (McElmeel, 2000, p. 229). The setting is New England at the turn of the century, and the house is Hyman’s home in Vermont. Little Red is Hyman herself at age four. Her mother and grandmother play their respective parts, and an 85-year-old real huntsman who was a neighbor is the model for the character with his fringed buckskin jacket. The black cat that follows Little Red around like a dog and appears in almost all the illustrations was Hyman’s own cat Arthur.
A trademark of Hyman’s work are the borders that enclose the text on pages opposite the full-page illustrations, all created realistically in “ink and acrylic” (ALSC, 2017, p. 123). They are filled with flowers and flowered patterns as well as scenes that enhance the narrative such as the lean and crafty wolf dashing off to Grandma’s or Grandma asking, “Who’s there?” from her bed. On the last page, the borders include geranium flowers in pots with Hyman’s initials and the year 1983 inscribed. Hyman’s 1984 Caldecott Honor Book was the first Red Riding Hood story to win the award.
illustration © Trina Schart Hyman, Little Red Riding Hood,
Holiday House, 1983
In 1990, Ed Young won the Caldecott Medal for his translation of the story from a collection of old Chinese folktales, Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Tale from China. His version differs from that of the Brothers Grimm in that mother goes to visit grandmother, and her three little girls are left at home, instructed to latch the door at sunset until mother returns the next day. The wolf, living nearby, sees mother leave, and that night, visits the girls disguised as grandmother. The girls allow the wolf in, but rather than be saved by someone else, the resourceful girls outwit the wolf and save themselves.
Young’s impressionistic watercolor and pastel art is distinguished by use of panels, a noteworthy convention of Asian art (ALSC, 2017). This avoids the problem of losing some of the illustrations within the gutter. It also allows the wolf to occupy more and more panel space as the danger increases. When he first appears at the door of the cottage, he takes up one quarter of the two-page spread. In the next spread he occupies three quarters. Finally, he gains entry and leaps across the entire next two pages.
The wolf actually appears in every illustration except the last. In the first two-page spread of the story, as mother waves good-bye to her children, the landscape is the wolf’s head, eye closed, indicating dormant danger. The final scene shows the cottage again with no wolf or danger present.
Young claims, “When you tell a story, you have to have evil forces, and you want to find the symbol for it. The wolf is used for the evil force” (Teaching Books, 2013). He apologizes to wolves in his dedication page with an illustration of a wolf morphing into a human shape of a bent old woman holding a cane, suggesting the grandmother.
illustration © Ed Young, Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China,
Atlantic Books, 1990
The evil force in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the wicked stepmother. Both the version translated and illustrated by Wanda Gág and Randall Jarrell’s version illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert tell the traditional tale with slight variations from each other.
Children’s librarians, most notably Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library, encouraged Gág to write her 1938 Caldecott Honor book to provide a more accurate version of the Grimm’s fairy tale after the Disney animated movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and the accompanying books were released in 1937 (Hoyle, 1994). Gág did not individualize the dwarfs with names, but her illustrations differentiated their beds, chairs, and pajamas with unique designs. Among other corrections, she also included three visits from the disguised queen to tempt Snow White with bodice laces, a hair comb, and finally the apple.
ALSC (2017) described Gág’s black and white illustrations as “lithographs (?)” (p. 161), a medium she used sometimes. But others described her illustrations as ink drawings (Erbach, 2006; Zipes, 2000). Few illustrations are rectangular. Instead, they are shaped to accommodate the subject and action. Lines are rounded and soothing. Zipes (2000) describes them as having a “naïve and almost childlike quality” (p. 91). This, plus the small format of the book, and the repetitiveness of the text and illustrations, makes it appealing to children.
Gág wrote that one of the aims of her illustrations is “To make them accurate in relation to the text” (Gág, 2001, p. 39). Though her illustrations don’t enhance the action of the story, they do affect the mood. Each time the queen visits Snow White and becomes more dangerous, the clouds in the illustrations become darker and lower (McElmeel, 2000). Also, in the illustration of the queen asking her mirror who is the “fairest of them all,” her flowing gown and hair resemble the tail and crown of the peacock beside her suggesting she is vain and “proud as a peacock.”
illustration © Wanda Gág, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
Coward McCann, 1938
In contrast to Gág’s intimate-sized Snow White, Jarrell and Burkert’s large format is suitable for group sharing. This 1973 Caldecott Honor book has bordered pages and end papers. Each double-page illustration alternates with two pages of text. Using “brush and colored inks” (ALSC, 2017, p. 131) and a soft palette, Burkert’s detailed paintings create a medieval setting through clothing, castles, and heraldry. Unlike Gág’s child Snow White, Burkert’s is a young adolescent with a budding bosom as can be seen in the perfectly balanced illustration of Snow-White fleeing through the forest. On the verso, Snow-White looks over her shoulder as she runs, and on the recto, a deer looks over its should as it leaps away. Other animals and flora are detailed realistically as light filters through the forest.
illustration © Nancy Ekholm Burkett, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1973
It’s hard to determine the villain in the Rumpelstiltskin stories. Is it the parent that gives away the daughter, the king who threatens to kill the girl if she can’t spin flax or straw into gold, or the small creature that actually helps the maiden for a price? For simplicity’s sake, and for comparison purposes, the small creature will be the focus in the next three books. He goes by different names and descriptions: Tom Tit Tot, an impet; Tarraway, a devil; and Rumpelstiltskin, a little man. All have unique final exits.
Evaline Ness, once married to Elliot Ness of the F.B.I. (University of Southern Mississippi), wrote and illustrated the first Rumpelstiltskin story awarded a Caldecott Honor in 1966. Tom Tit Tot is based on an old English folktale from Joseph Jacobs’ 1890 English Fairy Tales, and the clothing suggests medieval times. Using a muted palette of brown, gold, black, and aqua, Ness’s woodcut (ALSC, 2017, p. 136) figures are angular and exaggerated in a cartoon style. The wood adds texture to the illustrations. Tom Tit Tot is a small black creature dressed in brown. He has a long twirly tale and wings with which he uses to fly away when finally thwarted.
illustration © Evaline Ness, Tom Tit Tot, Charles Scribner,‘s Sons 1965
Harve and Margot Zemach’s Duffy and the Devil is a gentler story in that there is no king threatening to kill the maiden if she fails in her task. The squire marries Duffy after she produces lovely knitted stockings and clothes for him, and he is the one to discover the name of the devil which he relates to Duffy. In this 1974 Caldecott Medal book, Margot Zemach uses “pen-and-ink drawings with watercolor” (ALSC, 2017, p. 130) in pastel and earthy hues to create plump, homely characters. Many details such as overturned dishes, dancing dogs, and a baby crawling through a crowd of the squire’s admirers add humor to the story. The devil dresses in a rose-colored polka dot jacket, has horns and a long, hairy tail, and vanishes in “a flash of flame and a puff of smoke” after Duffy guesses his name.
illustration © Margot Zemach, Duffy and the Devil, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1973
Paul O. Zelinsky wrote his Rumpelstiltskin based on several iterations of the tale from the Brothers Grimm. His interest in the story originates from the time he was eleven and played the part of Rumpelstiltskin in a community theater production (Zelinsky, 2020). Instead of threatening to take the maiden away for his own as in the Ness and Zemach versions, Rumpelstiltskin receives a ring and a necklace from the young woman. When she has nothing left to offer, he demands she give him her first-born child, and he continues to spin her straw into gold. Zelinsky uses “oil paints over watercolor underpaintings” (Zelinsky, 2020) in subdued colors with golden overtones for interior scenes. Architecture and clothing evoke a Renaissance setting. Rumpelstiltskin has a long pointy nose, skinny legs, and googly eyes. In defeat, he flies away on his wooden cooking spoon. Zelinsky won the 1987 Caldecott Honor for Rumpelstiltskin, and he won Caldecott Awards for two other fairy tales: a Caldecott Honor in 1985 for Hansel and Gretel, and the Caldecott Medal in 1998 for Rapunzel.
illustration © Paul O. Zelinsky, Rumpelstiltskin, Dutton, 1986
Many other illustrators have won Caldecott Awards for their visual interpretations of fairy tales. The sparse details regarding setting and characters allow illustrators to interpret the stories in their own distinctive style. Comparing various versions of fairy tales offers readers the opportunity to appreciate the unique creativity of some of the foremost illustrators in the field of children’s literature.
Picture Books Cited
Gág, W. (1938). Snow White and the seven dwarfs. Coward-McCann.
Grimm, J., Grimm, W., & Hyman, T. S. (1983). Little Red Riding Hood. Holiday House.
Jarrell, R. & Burkert, N. E. (1972). Snow-White and the seven dwarfs. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Ness, E. (1965). Tom Tit Tot: An English folk tale. Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Young, E. (1989). (E. Young, Trans.). Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood story from China. Philomel.
Zelinsky, P. O. (1986). Rumpelstiltskin: From the German of the Brothers Grimm. Dutton Children’s Books.
Zemach, H. & Zemach M. (1973). Duffy and the devil. Farrar Straus Giroux.
Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). (2017). The Newbery and Caldecott Awards: A guide to the medal and honor books. American Library Association.
Ed Young: Meet the author program. (2020, December 2). Teaching Books.net.
Erbach, M. M. (2006, July). Classic Caldecotts by decade. Book Links, 15 (6), 16 – 20.
Gág, W. (2001). A message from Wanda Gág. In R. A. Berman (Ed.), The Kerlan Awards in children’s literature 1975 – 2001 (pp. 36 – 40). Pogo Press.
Hoyle, K. N. (2009). Wanda Gág: A life of art and stories. University of Minnesota Press.
Hyman, T. S. (1981). Self-portrait: Trina Schart Hyman. HarperCollins.
McElmeel, S. L. (2000). 100 most popular picture book authors and illustrators: Biographic sketches and bibliographies. Libraries Unlimited.
University of Southern Mississippi McCain Library and Archives. (2001, June). The Evaline Ness papers. de Grummond Collection.
Zelinsky, P. O. (n.d.). Rumpelstiltskin. Paul O. Zelinsky.
Zipes, J. (2000). Sticks and stones: The troublesome success of children’s literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. Routledge.
A wonderful, informative look at the stories behind these history-making picture books. Really loved this!