These are the first three words that come to my mind when I think of Tales of the Elves: Icelandic Folktales for Children (adapted by Anna Kristín Ásbjörnsdóttir from the Icelandic Folktales of Jón Árnason, and illustrated by Florence Helga Thibault).
My adjectives apply to both the stories and the illustrations. Perhaps you’ve heard about the origins of the elves? (Or perhaps not, if you weren’t raised in Iceland or other parts of Scandinavia.) The elves were originally children of Adam and Eve. But when God came to visit, Eve hid away some of her children -- the ones that hadn’t been washed. This turned out to be silly, of course, because God knew what Eve had done. God pronounced that the hidden children would remain so, becoming invisible to humans while living in the mountains, hills, and rocks all around them.
Thus began the kinship between humans and elves. It is the founding story for those that follow: “Midwife to the Elves,” “Elf Wind,” “Payment for Milk,” “The Elves of Drangey Island,” “Queen Bóthildur,” and “Fostered by the Elves.” All are marvelous tales about the magical interface between humans and the “other.” It turns out that those others aren’t so different from us. They respond to kindness, respect, and courage from humans with good will in return.
I love the art in this book as much as the stories. At first glance the pictures may appear simple – but there’s magic in the details. Take this one from “Midwife to the Elves”:
Everything alive (and mysterious) is connected by patterns and designs that resonate: stars, lights, the moon, flowers, leaves, trees – and the elf girl. The human girl, in contrast, is much plainer. As a reward for helping with the birth this ordinary human girl becomes extraordinary, however. She is gifted with the ability to see elves, which she does quite often, until she loses the gift by…ah, but I can’t give away the ending!
I feel quite lucky to have come across this book in my local public library. Though it’s translated into English, I haven’t been able to find a place to buy a copy. The book I hold in my hands was purchased and donated to the library by a neighbor, who was on a cruise that visited Iceland. The publisher is Bjartur and pub date 2008. If anyone has a lead on obtaining copies in the U.S., please let me know. I love this book!