Thumbelina, illustrated by Elsa Beskow

In the mail the other day, I received a review copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina, illustrated by famous Swedish artist Elsa Beskow. Ms. Beskow’s illustrations are justly known throughout Sweden and the world as classic artwork, both for her own books and for stories by other authors. Of course, Andersen’s story of a tiny girl “no taller than your thumb” is perfectly suited to Ms. Beskow’s lovely watercolor pictures.

This edition of Thumbelina features beautiful framed, full-page illustrations. The illustrations probably come from one of the eight (!) fairy tale collections that Elsa Beskow illustrated. Like Beatrix Potter, Ms. Beskow was a close observer of nature, and her pictures remind me of Potter’s, except larger. The “largeness” of the world, from Thumbelina’s vantage point, is portrayed quite well in this book, and a child reader will identify with Thumbelina as she travels through the countryside until she finally finds a home with the tiny King of the Fairies.

Elsa Beskow also wrote thirty-three stories of her own in Swedish, many of which have been translated into English and published along with her original illustrations. In my library I have Ollie’s Ski Trip and Pelle’s New Suit. Floris Books, the publisher of this Thumbelina, also has available and in print: Peter in Blueberry Land, The Land of Long Ago, The Sun Egg, Princess Sylvie, The Children of Hat Cottage, Emily and Daisy, Children of the Forest and many more. If you like classically styled picture book art, like the picture on the cover of Thumbelina, and then you will probably enjoy all of Ms. Beskow’s books.

The author and her husband Nathanael Beskow, a minister, had six children—all boys. I’m sure she enjoyed creating the pictures for Thumbelina and feeding the “girl-y” part of her nature, while surrounded by all those boys.

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

Reading Picture Books to with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See by Megan Dowd Lambert, in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

I was quite impressed, and furthermore educated, by this guide to the “Whole Book Approach” to reading picture books aloud to children. Like the author, I am much more attuned to print than to pictures, and many of the techniques and strategies for helping children to engage with not only the text but also the illustrations and the graphic layout of a book would never have occurred to me on my own. Who looks closely at the endpapers of of a picture book? Or the frames and white space around the pictures? Have you ever thought about how artists adjust their illustrations to take into account the gutter, the place where the facing pages come together in the middle? Other than my husband, who used to be a printer, does anyone look at the typography in a picture book and think about how it adds to or detracts from the meaning and feel of the story? What about the size of the book? The orientation, portrait or landscape, of the pictures on the pages? The shape of the the book?

Ms. Lambert suggests some simple questions that story readers (adults) can ask the children with whom they are sharing a picture book:

How is the cover of this book inviting you into the story?
what clues do you see in the jacket art that tell you what the story might be about?
Why do you think the endpapers or the boards are this color?
Can you make a color connection to the jacket art?
What’s going on in this picture?
What do you see that makes you say that?
What more can you find?
Does anyone else have a different idea about this picture?

These are all things that Ms. Lambert spends a great deal of time analyzing and explaining, and she also has developed many ways of helping children to see and think about these things during story time. Reading Picture Books With Children is great book for parents, teachers, and librarians to come back to over and over to refresh and expand the way we engage with picture books and the way we lead children to do the same. I’m going to recommend the book to the Cybils picture book judges, who probably already know all about all this stuff. But I didn’t. And I went to library school, back in the dark ages. But I don’t remember discussing any of these design and illustration choices in my children’s literature classes or in any other education or library science classes. Anyway, I really appreciate the publisher, Charlesbridge, who sent me a copy of this book for review, and I plan to recommend it to others who are interested in introducing children to art and illustration and graphic design in picture books.

Reviewing picture books here on the blog just got a lot more interesting, and my reviews might be a lot more perceptive and interesting, too. Maybe. But I’m still a print/story/words kind of gal.

” But art just wasn’t my thing. Or so I thought. The picture book class showed me that art could be my thing–even if I wasn’t an artist. I’d just have to learn to think with my eyes.”