When I was working in public libraries, I loved recommending Paul Galdone’s books to parents and students. His versions of classic fairy tales, folk tales, and nursery rhymes are perfect for young children as an introduction to the tales. Galdone had a talent for distilling the story down to its simplest parts while injecting it with lots of personality and humor. So I had to guard our library’s copies of the Galdone titles carefully, since they were so great, but sadly out of print. We mended them over and over, taped the covers and hoped they wouldn’t go missing. Now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has made my year by reissuing four of Galdone’s titles in the Folk Tale Classics series. They are gorgeous editions – hardcover books, with gold highlights on the front covers. The endpapers of all the titles have clover scattered across them (with one title also offering lucky ladybugs throughout the clover). I am beside myself with excitement, and want to celebrate these books with you.
First is the nursery rhyme Three Little Kittens. Since it is a rhyme, it is the shortest of the four texts. However, with just a couple of lines of text per page, the illustrations have to give the standard text its personality. The pictures are filled with bright pastel colors and mischievous kittens. And when the mother cat scolds the kittens for having lost or dirtied their mittens, she practically vibrates with annoyance. Galdone also uses the illustrations to heighten and incorporate the text – the three little kittens chirp their meows in a word balloon above their heads. This picture book, unlike the others in the series, does not have full-page spreads. The illustrations are boxed in black, with white space filling the page above and below. But Galdone uses this limited space effectively with crisp, clear illustrations to help young readers interpret the text and read along.
Next it is three more of something…The Three Little Pigs. This story is the longest one of the series. Galdone uses his trademark humor to keep the story full of energy and interest. He doesn’t skimp on the traditional facts of the story – the wolf eats up the first two pigs fair and square. There’s no attempt to hide them in each other’s houses or have them pop out of the wolf’s belly. The third pig does trap the wolf in his pot of boiling water and then eats him for supper, but the only carnage is the wolf’s tail sticking out of the pot. The wolf is depicted as ferocious and devious, but he never looks scary or gruesome. There is a lot more text on each page of this story, but the text and illustrations flow well together.
Here’s three more of a kind – The Three Bears. And just from the title, you can see that Galdone’s sympathy is squarely with the bears, not Goldilocks. In fact, Galdone’s Goldilocks is unattractive, with a pug nose and gapped teeth. It is the bears who are warm-looking and kindly, at least at the beginning. Galdone uses the text very cleverly in The Three Bears. When the baby bear is speaking, it is in a tiny font, and so on. So not only does the reader see the small bowl, but they can connect the small bowl with the baby bear’s voice in the text. Even a pre-reader who has heard the story at least once can identify what is going on. When the bears begin shouting and roaring, the font continues to grow larger, giving readers an indication of the seemingly benign bears’ true power. But once Goldilocks is gone, they are back to their usual domestic routine.
And finally, my favorite of the four stories is The Little Red Hen. On this one, Galdone really goes for broke. The design of the pages are really exquisite – my favorite is the first time the cat, dog and mouse refuse to work. Each animal is lying comfortably on their own bed in previous spreads. Galdone creates this spread so that the reader’s eye travels from the cat’s face peeking over a windowsill to the center stage dog spread out on a hammock to the other corner, where the mouse’s ears peep through another window. Their positions are highlighted by the text, as “Not I” is centered over each snoozer. This is why Galdone is such a genius!! And another time they refuse the hen, each animal’s face (suitably lazy) fills the O in the phrase “Not I!” Again, it brings personality to the story and gives life to what could have been stock characters.
In the few weeks we’ve had these books checked out from the library, I have come across Gloria numerous times, retelling the stories to herself. At 2 ¾, she is young enough to be the perfect audience for Galdone’s stories. And she loves them as much as I do. I want to own my own copies. Please, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, bring back more Galdone!! And people, go buy your own copies of these tales – they are classics and you won’t go wrong with them. These books stand the test of time.
Three Little Kittens. Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986.
The Little Red Hen. Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, copyright renewed 2001.
The Three Bears. Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1992.
The Three Little Pigs. Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1970 1998.
Borrowed from the Lewis & Clark Library