When I first began working at the library, a friend suggested that I look into the works of author and illustrator Jane Ray. Born and educated in England, Ray presents traditional and original fairy tales – even biblical stories and Shakespearean plays – in gorgeous and captivating artwork. She uses watercolor, pencil, collage, and other mixed media to render already fanciful stories into otherworldly pictures.
Readers who are familiar with Grimm's Fairy Tales will undoubtedly recognize The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Jane Ray's retelling of the classic fairy tale, however, brings a well-trod story to new life in sumptuous artwork.
A king wonders why his twelve daughters awaken every morning needing new silken dancing shoes. Every pair is worn to shreds! How can they need new dancing shoes if their bedchamber is locked and bolted every night? The king decides to get to the bottom of the perplexing mystery, and issues a proclamation: the first man to solve the mystery (in three days or less) would marry the princess of his choice and inherit the throne.
Suitors line up for the chance to vie for a royal wife, but each and every night, the princesses' secret remains hidden. One day, a poor soldier returning from battle arrives to try his luck. Will he be the one to solve the mystery of where the princesses go each night, only to return with ruined dancing shoes?
I particularly appreciate the way Ray depicts families. The families in her artwork are multicultural and multiracial. In The Twelve Dancing Princesses, not one sister looks just like the other. They all have different skin tones, and a range of hair textures and colors is represented. This is not a cookie cutter fairy tale, but a modern retelling made timeless by Ray's luminous and richly textured illustrations.
In The Dollhouse Fairy, Rosy and her dad have breakfast together every Saturday and then make special things for her dollhouse. It’s her “favorite time.” But one day Rosy’s dad is taken ill and has to go to the hospital. It’s a Saturday, and he’s not there. The last thing Rosy expects during this sad time is that a tiny fairy appear in her dollhouse! Thistle the Fairy is noisy and mischievous, and makes Rosy feel less worried about her dad. Will Thistle and Dad get to meet? This book is somewhat over-sized, great for placing on one’s lap comfortably during reading. I love how expressive the faces are in Ray’s illustrations. Rosy’s open-mouthed look of surprise when she encounters Thistle for the first time is suffused with wonder. Her dark eyes say it all.
The Apple-Pip Princess is an original fairy tale about a once prosperous and beautiful kingdom. Now the weather is harsh, the trees don't flower, and there is not enough food to eat. The old king must decide which of his three daughters will inherit his troubled kingdom. He sets upon each of them a task: they must do something to make him proud. His daughters have one week, after which the old king will choose his successor. While the older daughters embark on grandiose tasks, the youngest decides to plant a tiny apple pip in the barren earth. Little does she imagine that everything is about to change. Younger children who may feel overshadowed by their older siblings will enjoy reading about a young girl who does a big thing. Everyone can do something, no matter if its beginning is as small as an apple pip.