Being written and illustrated by a Swedish author, the illustrations in Elsa Beskow’s Children of the Forest are very different from most American illustrations. Both the illustrations and the story are fanciful, while many, if not most, American stories and illustrations for children (that are not about talking animals or ordinary people) are more whimsical than fanciful. My definition of whimsical versus fanciful illustrations and stories has to do with fanciful stories and illustrations usually involving fanciful creatures the reader already knows about, such as dragons, unicorns, fairies, or other types of Little People (like the Forest People in this book). Whimsical illustrations and stories, on the other hand, usually involve fanciful creatures no one has ever seen before. Dr. Seuss’ characters are good examples of this. Well-known fanciful creatures, however, can be whimsical if drawn differently from how people normally think of them.
Another way this book’s illustrations are different from those in many American picture books is that even when there’s activity going on in the pictures, the illustrations are usually very quiet and calm. The Forest Children playing with the squirrels, for example, is a very gentle scene despite them being active. Harriet, the older of the two forest girls riding a bat and being watched by frogs and her siblings is another example.
Though the illustrations are different from those in most American children’s books, they are no less enjoyable. I love how on every text page, there is a small black and white illustration related to the text, with a full page color illustration next to it. I also love the very vague face on the moon in one of the night scenes. My three favorite illustrations are the two forest boys being pulled in a sledge by a hare, the owl teacher with all her animal and forest child students, and the Forest Children on a seesaw with forest fairies. The only thing I’m not sure about here is the fairies being all white. Aren’t fairies colorful?
Being a relatively simple story, and a common type of story at that, the story of Children of the Forest is much more similar to American children’s stories than the illustrations. Like many other stories around the world, this story is all about a normal year in the life of its characters. Sometimes that’s all a story needs in order to be interesting, and I really like stories like that. An American children’s book like that is Charlotte Zolotow’s Over and Over. That’s a wonderful book that I hope to eventually review on this blog. Children of the Forest, though, is an excellent example of using this type of story to introduce a fantasy world and its inhabitants.
The only thing I don’t like about this story is the part where the Forest Children’s father kills the snake. Sure, the story later says to never harm a creature of the forest unless it means you harm, but I think this book should have emphasized getting away from predatory animals, only trying to kill them when you know there is no escape. By teaching their children to kill predatory animals every time they see them, I can’t help worrying that the Forest Parents are teaching both their children and the readers that the world would be a better place without certain animals. That is hardly ever the case. In fact, a book like this should try to teach children the importance of every creature in an ecosystem, including the ones that don’t seem friendly. Like I said in my The Night Fairy review, animals eating other animals is not an evil deed, and I don’t like it when authors treat it like it is.