To open a book illustrated by Floyd Cooper is to be drawn into a world of warmth, bravery, and joy. His drawings are as essential as the text itself in illuminating the world of childhood, often of the Black experience.
He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1956. Early on, his family lived in the projects and had little money, but his mother was able to give him a sense of self-worth that he has carried with him always. She also shared stories with him, helping to build his imagination.
"In other worlds I used the imaginary kingdom not as a sentimentalized fairyland, but as an opening wedge to express what I hoped would be some very hard truths. I never saw fairy tales as an escape or a cop out....On the contrary, speaking for myself, it is the way to understand reality."*
Lloyd Alexander wrote many adventure stories for young people, including the wonderful Chronicles of Prydain which follow the adventures of brave, young Taran, who proudly holds the title of assistant pig-keeper, the fiery, quick-witted Eilonwy, shambling man-beast Gurgi, and Fflewddur Fflam, a teller of tales, mostly tall ones. In The Book of Three, these unlikely heroes are on the run from dread forces that have more personality and are therefore more terrifying than Tolkien’s Sauron.
"As soon as he entered the wood all those great trees, and the interlaced brambles and thorns, separated to let him pass. He walked towards the castle, which he could see at the end of a great avenue. He was surprised that none of his companions had been able to follow him, since the trees had closed in again as soon as he had passed. But he did not falter. A young prince in love is always brave."
Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella. Puss in Boots. Little Red Riding Hood.
These enduring stories were created as we know them by a brilliant man who lived in 17th-century France. Although similar, but simpler stories were gathered more directly by the folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th century, it was Charles Perrault's addition of delicate and amusing words, crafted to entrance a noble audience, that caught fire with readers' imaginations and were the basis for the way these stories are remembered today. It is easy to see the difference between a story collected by Grimm and a tale sculpted by Perrault. A Grimm tale is simple and direct and sometimes alarming while Perrault's are laced with details that still fire modern imaginations.
When Phyllis Reynolds was in first grade, she had a hard time making sense of the stories her teacher wrote on the blackboard. Those little, squiggly characters danced crazily across the open space and didn't mean a thing to her. One day, her teacher asked her to read a story out loud. Phyllis didn't hesitate for a second. She plunged into an exciting story-- her own story-- about a cat and a tree and an autumn day. The teacher shook her head sadly at Phyllis. No, she hadn't gotten it. But she had gotten it-- the desire to tell stories. In time, she did learn to read, and soon she was writing her own books on notebook paper. Phyllis had found a love for writing that she has never lost through the tough times and the good.
When Minfong Ho was a small girl, she listened. She listened to her parents who taught her all those necessary things that parents do. Their words were Chinese, and their words went straight into her heart, giving her wisdom and strength.
When Minfong became a little older, she played in the streets, marketplaces, and temple fairs of Bangkok. All around her, she heard life being experienced: the shouting, the playing, the prayer, the love, and the daily work. It was time to grow, a time to learn how to do the practical things. Minfong came to think of Bangkok’s Thai language as the language of doing; the language of her hands.
January 4 is Jacob Grimm's birthday! The Brothers Grimm collected stories told by the country people in Germany. The tales are very old, and because the brothers wrote them down, they have never been forgotten. See how well you know these famous stories.
Vera Baker was born in Hollywood, California, on January 28, 1927. She and her family moved to New York City when she was quite young. Luckily for Vera, they lived near a studio space called Bronx House where she learned painting, writing, acting, and dance. When she was nine-years-old, one of her paintings, called "Yentas," was put on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. She was filmed there explaining to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt the meaning behind her work. The Movietone film reel ran before the regular features at the movies. This, Vera recalled, made her quite a big shot in the neighborhood!
The author of Hans Brinker, a famous book about poor children who lived in Holland, grew up rather rich and never visited Europe. She was a New York City girl, born on January 26, 1831, to a well-off family who helped her on the way to becoming a beloved children's writer and magazine editor. This writer had an unusual and privileged background. Miss Mary Mapes did not go to school with everyone else. She was taught at home by tutors and governesses. There she studied French, Latin, music, drawing, and literature. Her family's circle of friends included some very intelligent people. Horace Greeley, a hugely important newspaper publisher, and the famous poet-journalist William Cullen Bryant were often hosted at the Mapes home.
Without Jacob and Wilhelm’s efforts to gather folk tales from their German homeland and making them popular worldwide, it’s unlikely we’d know Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, or Snow White.