I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I accepted The Emperor's Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales for review. Stories about birds seemed a narrow focus, but I love children's books so I figured it would be a fun read. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a children's book addict but I was actually quite surprised by how much I loved The Emperor's Nightingale.
Many of the stories in The Emperor's Nightingale, which is also illustrated by author Jane Ray, are familiar classic stories or poems that have been gathered by her over the years, some rewritten, some not as commonly known. One is a poem by Emily Dickinson, one a tale by Oscar Wilde. What I particularly love about the book is that the stories have the rhythm and style of the fairytales I fell in love with as a child. I felt very much as if I was being transported back to my childhood as I read them and that's a great thing. There is very little I treasure more from my memory than how much I loved being read to by my parents.
You can click to enlarge the interior photos I took. There's an introduction to the book (unfortunately printed on red paper so that it's a bit difficult to read) and then each story/poem has its own little intro. In the intro to "Jorinda and Joringel" you learn that it's a fairy tale by the Grimm brothers but one that is lesser known.
I have some particular favorites amongst the illustrations.
At some point, when I was searching for a cover image and coming up flat, I came across a wonderful review which I have not managed to find, again. The blogger who wrote it talked about knowing Jane Ray as the "wrapping paper lady" because she has designed wrapping paper and about how the illustrations in The Emperor's Nightingale are made using a method I remember from elementary-school art (but which I can't name), in which solid paint is layered over a surface that may be colored or plain and then a design is scratched into the paint. Some of the illustrations don't appear to have been made that way, but perhaps the slight difference in style simply serves to show the artist's range.
I tend to like more vivid, bright, colorful illustrations in a children's book and Jane Ray's illustrations are fairly understated in The Emperor's Nightingale, but I still like them immensely. They're a little uneven in presentation and, in a way, I found that was a good thing because I never knew what I'd see next, when I turned the page. Plus, I really do like her touch. However, it was the stories that won me over. I absolutely adored the stories and poems in The Emperor's Nightingale, to the point that I decided to drag out the reading over three days. As an adult, you could easily whiz through this book in an hour or less, but I think it's better to read each story slowly, enjoy the rhythm, and spread out the fun.
There are 171 pages of text. I think The Emperor's Nightingale would make a wonderful bedtime book. "Only one story per night!" will likely fail. I can imagine that if this book existed when my children were young enough to demand bedtime stories, they would have insisted that I read, "Just one more! Just one more!" several times. But, they're also worth reading over and over and over, again. Do read the text in the images above, if you can, and you'll see how lovely Jane Ray's storytelling is.
Highly recommended - Whether you're already seeking out Christmas gifts or simply want to read a book that will transport you back to your childhood, The Emperor's Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales is perfect. It's enjoyable enough that I wouldn't worry about age range beyond making sure a child is past the page-tearing stage and able to sit still on a lap or old enough to happily read on his or her own. Lovely, rhythmic writing, delightful illustrations and a nice mix of clean tales make The Emperor's Nightingale a pure joy to read. My copy (sent by the publisher) had a slight binding issue in the inside cover, so if you buy it as a gift I'd recommend double-checking the solidity of the binding before wrapping it. Whoever ends up with a copy is going to want The Emperor's Nightingale to last for many years, guaranteed. It's a wonderful book.
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