in october 2015, I attended a regional IBBY conference in New York. One of the highlights was a “conversation about illustration” moderated by Paul O. Zelinsky; the illustrators were François Place, Roger Mello, and Lisbeth Zwerger. One of the moments that has stayed with me from that event was when Lisbeth Zwerger showed some of her earliest work, miniature illustrations of some classic fairy tales that she had made as an art student. Zwerger recounted how she had brought them to the publisher Michael Neugebauer, who, impressed by Zwerger’s delicate watercolors, encouraged her to re-draw some of them in a larger format, more suitable for publication. This resulted in Zwerger’s 1977 début as an artist with “Das Fremde Kind” (“The Strange Child”) by E. T. A. Hoffman. Zwerger was twenty-three years old at the time, but the miniatures date back a few years before that. It is interesting to note that even if the published illustrations are exquisite and lovely, the original miniatures have a charm and originality that in some ways rival the finished, published work. This was something that Zwerger herself commented on in her New York talk. In this issue of Bookbird, we reproduce (maybe for the first time?) some of these illustrations on the front and back covers.
One reason why I have chosen to use Zwerger’s “Strange Child” illustrations on the covers of Bookbird (other than that these are beautiful pieces of art) is that they also point to the theme of this issue: child authors and illustrators. The fairy tale miniatures by Zwerger are the fruit of a young artist, a young adult. They are from that period of life when you take the step from childhood to adulthood. Yet there is nothing immature or incomplete with these illustrations. Does it even make sense to talk about the age of an illustrator and author, as long as they have the talent and ability to write and paint as well as any of their elders? Wishing to hook you, I will let this question dangle, enticingly. Just let me say that my co-editor Peter Cumming untangles and explores the child author theme further in his critical introduction. Moreover, the child-as-author/illustrator theme is addressed variously and expertly in the feature articles as well as in the sections “Translators and Their Books,” and “Children and Their Books.”
There is yet another reason why it is motivated to use “The Strange Child.” Less known than Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and “The Sandman,” this tale is just as complex and unsettling. And it has something to say about childhood, growing up, play, and creativity that relates indirectly to the theme of this Bookbird.
The two children, Christlieb and Felix, are good and “natural”, just like their parents, but an influential uncle considers them primitive and uneducated. He sends them beautiful toys. These toys—a doll, a harper (music toy), and a sportsman (archer)—fascinate the children to begin with, and instead of playing outdoors like they usually do, they stay in-doors with their toys. Eventually, however, they go out, bringing the toys with them into the forest. Now, in the open air, the shortcomings of the toys become apparent, and in the end, the sportsman and harper are broken and Christlieb throws the doll into a pond. Sometime later, when the children are in the forest again, they encounter a “strange child,” who appears to have supernatural powers and in whose company nature is even more inspiring and beautiful than before. He warns them of an evil fly-like creature, the Gnome King Pepser, who can steal away life and happiness from spirits and humans alike. The strange child tells them that Pepser can disguise his monstrous form. Soon after meeting this wonderful being, their uncle sends a tutor to the children. Master Tutor-Ink, as he is to be called, makes their lives rather miserable. It is characteristic that he despises stories and writing, bird-song and wild flowers. The tutor keeps the children indoors, until the children’s father, the baron, insists that the he accompany the children into the...