May 4, 1998
Written for Ralph Waldo Emerson's daughter, Ellen, when Alcott was 16, and first published in 1855, these six prosy fairy tales were chosen from a 1992 collection, Louisa May Alcott's Fairy Tales and Fantasy Stories, edited by Daniel Shealy; Shealy provides an informative afterword here. Readers meet a cast of elves, fairies, brownies and sprites with such Shakespearean names as Willy Wisp, Moonbeam and Thistledown, and the children who occasionally dally with them. Thinly disguised morality lessons told in an over-upholstered style, they instruct the audience in the importance of various virtues. In "The Frost King," for example, elves resolve to conquer the ice-hearted ruler of winter through peaceable means ("Let us teach you how beautiful sunshine and love and happy work can make you"). More than a little dated, the stories grow tedious with lofty homilies (e.g., "little Annie dwelt like a sunbeam in her home, each day growing richer in the love of others and happier in herself"). Preiss's (The Pig's Alphabet) garish artwork further hampers an emotional connection to the stories. The lack of tonal subtlety is aggravated by a self-consciously multicultural-esque grouping of fairy folk with oversize but misshapen eyes and bizarrely pointed ears and chins. Even the typeface, which has distractingly flowery ligatures, is overdone. All but the most die-hard Alcott fans can skip this one. Ages 5-12.