September 20, 2012


The Folk Tale Classics Heirloom Library. By Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $19.99.

The Folk Tale Classics Keepsake Library. By Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $19.99.

      Prolific children’s author and artist Paul Galdone (1907-1986) is perhaps best known for his work with Eve Titus on the Basil of Baker Street series and the Caldecott Honor books Anatole and Anatole and the Cat.  The first tale of Basil and the two of Anatole all date to the 1950s, but Galdone continued working to the end of his life, illustrating more than 300 books in all and producing quite a few retellings of classic folk tales.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has periodically reissued the Galdone storybooks, and now offers two four-book collections that, separately or together, can easily become the cornerstone of a young child’s very own library.

      Despite the collections’ slightly different names, there is no real difference between them – any book in one could just as well have gone in the other.  The Heirloom set includes The Gingerbread Boy (originally published in 1975), Little Red Riding Hood (1974), The Three Billy Goats Gruff (1973) and The Three Little Pigs (1970).  In the Keepsake set are The Little Red Hen (1973), The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse (1971), Three Little Kittens (1986) and The Three Bears (1972).  Families that want to buy just one set will not go wrong with either; picking one or the other is a matter of personal taste – it will depend on which stories parents or children like best, or the ones with which they are most (or least!) familiar.

      One thing Galdone does particularly well in his illustrations is to provide them with humor or emphasize the amusement that is already there in the narrative.  In The Gingerbread Boy, for example, high points are the horse’s wide-eyed expression as it chases the gingerbread boy, and the enormous nose and flyaway hair of the bridge troll who threatens the goats.  The stories themselves are told pretty much in traditional form.  The pileup of people and animals chasing the gingerbread boy is well narrated and well pictured, and the troll’s threats and eventual comeuppance (he is head-butted into the river) are both effective and funny.  And there is a little “snip, snap” to the book: “Snip, Snap, Snip, at last and at last he went the way of every single gingerbread boy that ever came out of an oven.”  In fact, Galdone likes the phrase “snip, snap,” also including it in The Three Billy Goats Gruff, where he ends the story with, “So snip, snap, snout,/ This tale’s told out.”

      Galdone also does an excellent job of showing the characters’ personalities.  For example, in The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, based on one of Aesop’s fables, the elegantly dressed town mouse refers to the country mouse’s home as a “dismal place” and the food as “rustic fare,” luring his old friend to court with tales of “dancing and feasting and all kinds of merriment.”  So the humble country mouse – dressed like a friar, in a plain brown robe tied with rope – heads to town with his friend, and indeed encounters a table where “there were creams and jellies and sweetmeats,” plus fine cheese and delicious champagne.  But there are also threats, with which the town mouse is quite familiar but the country mouse is not: Galdone’s drawings of the open-mouthed, large-fanged cat and the scowling servants (seen from mouse height) clearly communicate the country mouse’s terror.  Galdone is careful to give the stories’ morals when they have them – here, “‘What good is elegance without ease, or plenty with an aching heart?’”  But with such morals or without them, these are stories that 21st-century families can enjoy time and time again, and the Heirloom and Keepsake collections of Galdone’s versions of the tales are an excellent way to do so.

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