Books & Beyond: Old Favorites Made New Again

By Kathleen Krull

Newly retold, recast and re-illustrated editions of classics tales for children offer great opportunities to revisit old favorites with your kids.

Editor's Note: Books may be purchased online from by clicking on title or book covers.

Famed greeting-card artist Mary Engelbreit calls on parents to slow down and enjoy the simple life. Revisit the classic books of our youth, ease off of TV, video games, commercialism. Then she happily obliges her own request with Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose: One Hundred Best-Loved Verses (HarperCollins, $19.99). Mother Goose will never die, and here she oozes old-fashioned charm, from “Little Miss Muffet” and “Little Jack Horner” to “Hey Diddle Diddle” and “Three Blind Mice.” Gather wide-eyed young children around for a reading, and even those rhymes that have never made sense to you will seem charming. Classic fairy tales are always available, always reinventing themselves.

The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen, is a touching tale – the poor little girl at Christmas, selling matches, lighting them to keep warm until she soars into a glorious dream of never being cold again. In this new version (Minedition/Penguin, $18.99), artist Kveta Pacovska fashions a bold, truly avant-garde book, with silver foil, gigantic matchsticks, and colors and shapes reminiscent of Miro, Kandinsky and Klee.

There may be more editions of Cinderella than any other fairy tale, but artist Barbara McClintock still makes the story her own (Scholastic, $15.99). She combines a readable text with expressive drawings that echo architecture and dress – as always, it’s about the clothes – from the era of Louis XIV and his palace at Versailles, all printed on elegant yellowing paper. This version concludes with an especially happy ending in which the stepmother is “terribly sorry” about the bad treatment.

Honoring Black History Month

“Mrs. Parks was having a good day ...” So begins Rosa (Holt, $16.95; for ages 6 and up), a stunning tribute to Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks. In the simplest words, author Nikki Giovanni gives us Parks’ life and impact in terms children can appreciate. On that day in 1955, she said “no” to giving up her seat on the bus to a white man. We see what thoughts led up to her decision, and what an effect it had – especially in a four-page foldout showing crowds of supporters on the day in 1956 when the Supreme Court ruled against segregation on the buses. In spectacular collages, incorporating his paintings, Bryan Collier shows Parks, who died just last year, as an inspiring force that continues to radiate golden light.

Earth Mother (Walker, $16.95; for ages 5 and up) depicts Mother Nature as a proud, beautiful African goddess. In Ellen Jackson’s original fable, Earth Mother walks the land, swims the seas and climbs the mountains, nurturing and creating as she passes. Check out her gorgeous outfits, different on each page, lovingly painted – as is all of creation – by Leo and Diane Dillon. Earth Mother chats with Man, Frog and Mosquito. In giving her advice, their pleas cancel each other out in a humorous way. Our world is interconnected, and Earth Mother rules on.

With Papa, Do You Love Me? (Chronicle, $15.95; for ages 4 to 8), Wisconsin author Barbara M. Joosse sets her endearing tale on Kenya’s Serengeti Plain, among the traditional Maasai culture. A father in red robes tells all the ways he will love and protect his Tender Heart from dangers, while a glossary offers more information about the Maasai. Barbara Lavallee’s soft, stylized watercolors are familiar from the duo’s previous classic, Mama, Do You Love Me?
– Kathleen Krull

What about Aesop, the fellow who taught us that “slow and steady wins the race” and to “be yourself” and all that other good stuff? He’s alive and well in Mice, Morals, & Monkey Business: Lively Lessons From Aesop’s Fables (Running Press, $18.95). Christopher Wormell provides food for thought by distilling 21 of the fabulous fables into a striking block print and a pithy moral. Don’t worry, the expanded tales are at the back.

Pop-Up Aesop (Getty Publications, $19.95) is simply too hip for words. Clever pop-ups enliven five moralistic tales, capped by “Fable Fun,” an interactive game that actually allows you to make up your own fables! Just spin the arrow and pull Aesop’s long white beard. Words by John Harris, eccentric paintings by Calef Brown. Traditional folktales now come to us from untraditional paths.

Goha The Wise Fool (Philomel/Penguin, $16.99) Goha The Wise Fool (Philomel/Penguin, $16.99) is an unusual volume of 15 Middle Eastern stories, collected by Denys Johnson-Davies. Goha can be a fool, a wise man and a trickster – folktale fans will see the resemblance to Anansi, Coyote and Brer Rabbit. Two tent-makers from Cairo, Hag Hamdy Mohamed Fattou and Hany El Saed Ahmed, have hand-sewn tapestries of Goha’s misadventures.

A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia (Knopf, $15.95) originates in the Dominican Republic. Penned by Julia Alvarez, illustrated in a folk-art style by Beatriz Vidal, this is a story about the magic of oranges – that taste “like a sweet sunrise” and glow “like little suns” – and the importance of gratitude.

With strong visual appeal, Kibitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda Told Me (Viking, $16.99) brings to life Eastern European Jewish villages of centuries past. Simms Taback writes and illustrates 13 delightful tales – including “Chicken Soup,” “A Shlemiel and a Shlimazel” and “The Rabbi Is So Smart, or How Chelm Got Bigger.” Each story includes a helpful saying – Not every thought is worth expressing, Everyone has his own craziness, Just because you can talk, it doesn’t mean you’re making sense and more. All presented in a magnificent golden hue, plus a bouquet of Yiddish words defined in the back.

How the Tiny People Grew Tall: An Original Creation Tale (Candlewick, $16.99)American Indian myths inspired How the Tiny People Grew Tall: An Original Creation Tale (Candlewick, $16.99). Nancy Wood tells a how-did-we-get-here story, starting when the first beings, the Tiny People, lived in the Center of the Earth. Over and over, the Tiniest Person saves the day until the People, more like naked space aliens at first, grow into tall humans. Artist Rebecca Walsh paints vibrant, realistic animals and adorable Tiny People.

The Knight Who Took All Day (Chicken House/Scholastic, $15.99)New Twists on the Old Tales Many variations of old tales twist the usual male-female stereotypes. The Knight Who Took All Day (Chicken House/Scholastic, $15.99) is a delightful switcheroo about a fair-haired princess who has to save her own kingdom from the dragon because the knight is obsessed with his appearance – being “brave and fearless and handsome” takes time. Written and illustrated with verve by James Mayhew. With tall tales, there’s always Paul Bunyan, but finding a woman equivalent is tough.

Welcome to Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (Knopf, $15.95). This giant can dig a river bed with a fingertip, make tortillas that double as roofs, speak every language (even snake), and The Pirate Princess and Other Fairy Tales (Levine/Scholastic, $19.99)read an encyclopedia in minutes. Pat Mora laces her original tall tale with Spanish words, while Raul Colon paints a billowy earth mother protecting her whole American Southwestern village.

The Pirate Princess and Other Fairy Tales (Levine/Scholastic, $19.99) sounds like a celebration of strong girls, but it’s something even rarer. Author Neil Philip retells 200-year-old stories by Rabbi Nahman Bratslav, a master of Hasidic and Kabbalistic tradition. The imaginative tales combine elements both familiar and unexpected. In the title story, becoming a pirate is only one small part of a girl’s search for her lost prince. Mark Weber adds Chagall-like paintings.

Finally, the most inspirational tale of all, The Little Engine That Could, is out in a deluxe, lavish, top-this edition (Philomel/Penguin, $17.99). Watty Piper’s story about the engine who pulls a toy-filled train to children on the other side of a mountain is complemented by new, but thoroughly nostalgic art by Loren Long.

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Quick Summary: Books featured on this page:

Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose: One Hundred Best-Loved Verses
The Little Match Girl
Earth Mother
Mice, Morals, & Monkey Business: Lively Lessons From Aesop’s Fables
Pop-Up Aesop
Goha The Wise Fool
A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia
Kibitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda Told Me
 How the Tiny People Grew Tall: An Original Creation Tale
The Knight Who Took All Day
Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart
The Pirate Princess and Other Fairy Tales
The Little Engine That Could