Museum of Childhood Archives: Fairytales from many places

These sketches were made last week as I looked through a box of books on fairytales. Most of the books bound I found were collections of fairytales from different parts of the world that had been interpreted by British writers and illustrators. It is evident in the way the stories are told and the wording used that the writers were outsiders to what they viewed as a more primitive, quaint and harmless group of “peasantry”.

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In a footnote of Irish Legends and Stories of Ireland the writer notes: “the Irish are essentially romantic–and their love of wonder is more gratified in considering the change from poverty to wealth as the result of a superhuman aid, than in attributing it to the mere mortal causes of industry and prudence” (318-319). This writer had obviously not read many English folktales, which include many instances of “finding a fortune” such as Jack and the Beanstalk, which, in different forms, was and continues to be one of the most well-known fairytales in England. In it, Jack acquires the Giant’s fortune.

I found a beautifully illustrated collection of fairytales designed and illustrated by Laurence Housman in his art deco design style and spindly ink drawing illustrations . Laurence Housman designed the Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti which I wrote about in a previous post.

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I particularly loved this illustration by Housman of a lady lavishly and melodramatically combing her hair, with some masked character creeping out from a cupboard behind her:

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I was interested in My First Fairy Story Book because it was almost a picturebook. There were black and white illustrations printed next to every sentence or two, and some coloured plates at intervals in the book.

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Italian illustrator Gianni Benvenuti illustrated Russian Fairy Tales published, translated by Marie Ponsot and published in New York in 1960. Around the 60s and 70s there was a move toward inclusiveness in children’s literature with the aftermath of the second world war and ethos of the civil rights movement. More picturebooks and illustrated books experimented with styles emulated folk and traditional arts of other countries alongside collections of folktales that began to be published. This is an example of such a publication.

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