East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris (2013)
If you haven’t got your hands on some of Jackie Morris’ picture books you need to get yourself down to your local bookshop sharpish. Morris is a talented author and illustrator and has penned some gorgeous fairy tale retellings. My favourite retelling has to be East of the Sun, West of the Moon; it is stunning.
Morris’ illustrations do the talking in this retelling and aim to speak to those children who are put off by large lumps of text. The images take on full pages in some scenes and draw the reader into the magical world of the bear. They are drawn with a sense of realism and do not fall into the cartoonish manner which many picture books can do. They remind me of Chris Riddell’s brilliant illustrations and Chris Van Allsburg’s whimsical images in The Polar Express. They depict challenging physical and emotional journey’s against the backdrop of vast and hostile landscapes. Whilst this sounds far from a bedtime story, the images manage to inspire a genuine sense of tranquility. The illustrations are simultaneously realist enough to truly steal the audiences’ imagination, whilst being distant enough to remind the reader that this is mythical.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon is essentially a version of Beauty and the Beast, and is a love story. It begins with a girl Berneen who embarks on an extraordinary journey with the bear. She travels to epic landscapes and is treated with nothing other than kindness. As the story progresses, Berneen cannot shake the bear’s overwhelming sadness. As his secret unveils itself, another journey unfolds for the bear and Berneen. On this journey they travel to the homes of the four Winds, and of course to the castle East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Morris’ fascination with the wind is evident throughout the retelling and she places great emphasis on the power of the environment.
This retelling is perfect if you are looking for a deeply emotional tale with a powerful heroine and an unconventional ending. It’s an intelligent story of love, loyalty and freedom.
To read more about the story and learn about Morris, head over to The Guardian.