Prizewinning children’s titles offer much to enjoy

The Greek state children’s literature awards for 2004, announced on January 24, include a new prize for foreign illustrators who live and work in Greece. Winners in all categories demonstrated they had something fresh to offer – be it appealing verse, gripping narrative, an imaginative reworking of classics or compelling illustrations. The special award for foreign illustrators, conferred for the first time this year, went to Bulgarian illustrator Vasilev Svetlin for his superb illustrations of «Don Quixote,» adapted by Maria Angelidou and published by Papadopoulos. It is a brave illustrator who tackles the work of Cervantes, whose book has inspired artists of renown for 400 years. Undaunted by his illustrious predecessors, Svetlin has his own vision of the knight. In keeping with the spirit of the novel, his Don is a reflective man of courtly bearing, a dreamer with his head in the clouds. The drawings revel in the rural landscape with its autumnal colors and golden fields of hay beyond which lie the celebrated windmills. Sancho Panza, Quixote’s foil in the story, is his physical opposite in these illustrations: stocky to Quixote’s lean, earthbound to the would-be knight’s starry-eyed dreaminess, and blunt of feature to the Don’s ascetic leanness. Svetlin also traces that hint of the worldly wise in Sancho’s stolidity. He records the essence of Quixote, seen on the cover in his library and in the first closeup portrait with his head in a book – that gateway into a dream world that entices him into extraordinary adventures. Among the pleasures of these pictures are the quirky viewpoints – the heroes are often seen from above or below. They and the text capture the magic and humor of the original. Visual humor Vassilis Papatsarouchas took the children’s book illustration award for «Little Red Riding Hood,» adapted by Argyro Kokorelli and Vicky Christoforidou and published by Ellinika Grammata. Visual humor is the keynote to these engaging pictures: The wolf looks satisfyingly vicious, his mean muzzle and long teeth in contrast to his top hat and polka-dot tie. The heroine’s elongated red hood, handmade by her grandmother, streams out behind her like a conical extension of her head. Her dress is a simple print made of pages from the story. Sharing the prize for a work of children’s of literature were two authors published by Patakis: Sofia Filntisi for «Poems for Children» and Petros Hadzopoulos for «The Disappearance of Dorothy Snot.» Filntisi plays with rhyme, rhythm and imagery to make enjoyable verse for children. The attractive illustrations are by Eliza Vavouri. This little collection for children aged 5 and over starts and ends with a lullaby. In between are verses that highlight the striking, the amusing, the different and the everyday in ways that spark a child’s imagination. A cricket and a nightflower find they need each other; the planned marriage of a sea urchin and an unwilling prawn is solved by a passing seagull; a rainbow is seen as a stairway to the sky; and a child tries to speak with a tortoise. Forest mystery Hadzopoulos’s hero is a detective, a squirrel by the name of Cornelius Crick, who is called in to solve the mystery when Dorothy Snot, a rich and popular caterpillar, goes missing from her majestic oak tree. The author obviously enjoys inventing appropriate names for his characters and he usually gets it right, with the exception perhaps of the unfortunately named caterpillar. There’s Veronica Gargle, the polo-playing trout; Malefica the bat; James Crook the no-good gambler frog and Arturo Agitato, security guard for the rats’ nest, and Gaspar Carlito y Bonpon III, the chameleon. Crick and his assistant, a fussy, voluble, timorous firefly called Martha, set out to interrogate the forest animals, nearly all of whom become suspects in what looks like a kidnapping case. On the way, Crick sends messages by parrot telegraph service, enlists a humming bird to pick locks for them and interviews Veronica under water by means of a straw. The prize was for the story and well-deserved, but the illustrations deserve mention here. Cleverly conceived and beautifully executed, they add much to the fun of the book. Classic A modern adaptation of a classic won the children’s knowledge prize. «The Long Journey of Odysseus» by Eleni Dikaiou, illustrated by Louiza Karagiorgiou (Patakis) retells the timeless tale of the hero’s long journey home after the Trojan War, with the feats, challenges and experiences that have thrilled readers and inspired writers ever since. A prose version that flows well, this is an excellent introduction for children to one of world literature’s best-loved works. The monochrome digital illustrations are the only drawback. Stiff figures in oddly sized artificial settings don’t do justice to this most thrilling of narratives.

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