The Juniper Tree
translation by Lore Segal ~ pictures by Maurice Sendak
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973
When I first tiptoed into the early readers/young adult section at my local used book haunt, I asked one of the sales ladies if she knew of any authors like Roald Dahl or books like My Father's Dragon that were older, short and illustrated, and she handed me this gorgeous two-volume boxed set. She said it'd been in stock a while, so she marked it down to $4 dollars and I was on my way. Though, at this point, I've been doing more of the reading for myself than for the boy, it thrills me that this collection is on his shelf, ready to be enjoyed in the next few years.
According to the book jacket, the Grimm brothers released their first collection of stories in 1823, and in the early 1970s, Segal and Sendak got together and selected 27 of the original 210 tales to translate and illustrate. Many of the stories are old favorites (Hansel and Gretel) but others are relatively unknown (The Story of One Who Set Out to Study Fear). We all know that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were deep in the study of linguistics when they became intrigued with European folk takes of old. Many of the original stories they set to the printed word might have been lost to time had it not been for their retelling. Without them, Disney would be lacking a back-to-school Princess Collection at this very moment (think Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White... not to mention the soon to be released Princess and the Frog, i.e. The Frog Prince.) Apparently, the Segal translations here are as close to the original German stories as they have ever come in English, and it was the first time Sendak had wandered into his more "serious" realm of illustration. Though sparsely illustrated (there is about one drawing for every six pages of text), the black and white plates are simply lovely... each one a little gift alluding to the plot-at-large.
I must warn you however, these stories are not our childhood fairy tales. These are the real things often filled with a little gore and magic and creepy, awful things. Take the title story, for instance. A mean mother kills her stepson, makes her daughter think that the daughter did it, boils the boy up into a black stew and serves him to his own father for dinner. Then, magic takes over. At the foot of the family juniper tree, the sister places the boy's bones and his soul takes possession of a bird that floats around town singing a beautiful song of woe.
"My mother butchered me,
My father ate me,
My sister, little Ann Marie,
She gathered up the bones of me
And tied them in a silken cloth
To lay under the juniper.
Twee twee, what a pretty bird I am!"
In the end, the boy avenges his own life, kills the stepmother, is born again and lives happily ever after with his father and stepsister. Grim is right, no? And, why is it the stepmothers who always get the bad wrap? Were second wives looked at as witches back then or something? Poor ladies. Anyway, 80 thumbs up. Totally.
A Very Special House
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
What Do You Say, Dear?
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale
Some Swell Pup
Let's Be Enemies
Chicken Soup with Rice
Lullabies and Night Songs
I'll Be You and You Be Me
Outside Over There
In the Night Kitchen
Where the Wild Things Are
Seven Little Monsters
The Giant Story
Open House For Butterflies