Friday, December 10, 2010

26. Three Stunning Redos

Peter Pan and Wendy: Centenary Edition, written by J.M. Barrie, illustrated by Robert Ingpen, foreword by David Barrie, Sterling, $19.95, ages 9-12, 216 pages. Few illustrators draw out the magic of stories like Ingpen and in this lavishly illustrated edition of Barrie's beloved Peter Pan, the acclaimed illustrator once again looks into our dreams of what this adventure would look like. Seventy illustrations, atmospherically painted as if lit with candlelight, are sprinkled through the book every two pages or less. Some are tucked into text to show a telling expression or a stolen moment, or to draw out a whimsical scene, as when the island boys are followed by wolves, and bend over and look through their legs to try to defy them.
Others fill the page with a classic moment from the book, such as when Peter kisses Wendy, and a few span two entire pages to draw out the drama of turning point or particularly poignant scene. In one of the most arresting, Peter stands trapped on a rock in a lagoon after rescuing Wendy (by tying her to the tail of a kite floating by). All around him the air is misty yellow and Peter looks out into the emptiness and sees nothing to save him. He is afraid at last.
One of my favorite images graces the book's cover, in which Peter, Wendy and her two brothers soar down from the sky, for it captures the exhilaration not only the children feel, but the reader experiences reading the adventure. Also a delight are the collages of Peter that appear on the book's inside covers. In each, Peter is captured in playful poses about the page, as if the drawings were practice pages in a drawing pad and every open space was up for grabs. Once more, Ingpen has matched a great author's imagination with images that linger in your thoughts like a dream.

The Fantastic Adventures of Baron Munchausen, by Heinz Fanisch, illustrated by Aljoscha Blau, Enchanted Lion Books, $17.95, ages 4 and up, 32 pages. Here's a book that's as witty and wonderful as its cover suggests. On the cover you see a proper-looking fellow with a beak nose sitting ramrod straight on his swimming stead, a giant seahorse, as it gallops toward a beautiful woman asleep in a chair on the ocean floor. In this artful, clever book, Germany's Fanisch retells 11 of the most preposterous stories ever attributed to infamous raconteur Manchausen, including a few Fanisch (perhaps playfully) attributes to a newfound notebook. Each story, written as if told by the baron himself, is hysterical to read because the baron is so utterly mad. He describes the most preposterous events as if they were things anyone might encounter, matter-of-factly, yet with a dash of mischief in his voice. Illustrating every story, Austria's Blau captures the baron's eccentricity with delightful, delicate details, some so irresistibly clever you wish you could frame the picture. In one of my favorite images, an obliviously happy Munchausen flies through the air on a cannonball, as the force of the air gently leans him backward. His elegant booted feet point limply ahead and his sheathed sword drifts behind him, as he sails regally over a canal to spy on an enemy's fortress. As luck has it, after recording to memory the battlements below, Munchausen spots an enemy cannonball heading back to his army's fortress and jumps off his cannonball onto it to be jettisoned home. In another painting, illustrating the story, "The Battle of White Feathers," Manchausen stands in a fog of fluff, looking mischievously back at readers. As the baron explains in his story, he's always thought it foolish to shoot another human being, so one day he endeavored to make soldiers forget to fight. During the night, he secretly removed the balls from canons on both sides of the battlefield, then stuffed the canons with goose feathers. When the battle resumed in the morning, the air filled with a muffled roar and  began to snow feathers. "Here and there soldiers began to laugh as feathers tickled them in sensitive spots," Munchausen recalls, before blowing a few feathers out his mouth and dashing off to a nearby inn. Translated from German, this marvelous import is so hilarious I suspect it could tickle laughter out of the stuffiest of characters.

Snow White: A Tale from Brothers Grimm, written by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, illustrated by Charles Santore, Sterling, $16.95, ages 4-8, 48 pages. Grand in scope and enchanting to look at, Santore's interpretation of the classic fable of Snow White and the seven dwarves feels almost like it's playing out before you. Paintings envelop almost every spare inch of the page, many spreading out over two, and the story is kept compact, often tucked into scrolls off to the side of a scene so as not to get in the way of your view. At times the pictures feel majestic, as when the elves approach the summit of a barren, rocky mountain with Snow White's glass coffin resting on the shoulders; misty clouds flood the lower reaches as mountain sheep look on and a black bird glides overhead. Though the witch shows treachery in her eyes, she never haunts the book or makes the tale too dark for bedtime. With every page, you feel as if you're moving with the scene, as the pace surges and slows. There is such a seamless flow from one picture to the next that you hardly realize when Snow White has grown from a little girl to a beautiful woman. Lavish and magical, this a must-have for any fairy tale collection.

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