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Mother Earth and Her Children: A Quilted…
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Mother Earth and Her Children: A Quilted Fairy Tale (1906)

by Sibylle von Olfers

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Mother Earth and Her Children, illustrated by Sieglinde Schoen-Smith.

Originally published in 1906 as Etwas von den Wurzelkindern (literally "Something About the Root Children"), this classic German picture-book has also been released in English, together with Sibylle Von Olfer's original artwork, as The Story of the Root-Children. This edition, put out in 2007, offers a new translation (in verse) by celebrated fairy-tale scholar Jack Zipes, and new illustrations - based on von Olfers' own - in the form of an elaborate (and award-winning) quilt created by Sieglinde Schoen-Smith.

The story itself is simple: Mother Earth awakens her children, calling them to prepare for the coming Spring. Making new clothing for the season, painting the beetles with bright colors, the cherub-like children emerge from their home in the ground, delighting in the beauties of Spring and Summer, before being called home again in the Fall. A lovely and gentle celebration of the passing of the seasons, with a somewhat sentimental, anthropomorphized view of Nature, Mother Earth and Her Children is a visual delight! Schoen-Smith's quilt, made in honor of von Olfers' story, is simply gorgeous, whether seen in part, in each individual scene, or all together, at the end. Definitely one that fairy-tale fans will want to peruse! I think I may try to hunt down an edition with the original artwork, just to compare...

Addendum: after having read the German original today, I have concluded that, although Zipes is to be commended for sticking to the rhyming poetry of von Olfers' text, there are some significant differences between his version, and hers. I think this is probably inevitable, as he was attempting to translate in rhyme, but is also unfortunate, as it necessitates the inclusion of words and phrases not in the German - something I tend to dislike. In any case, those looking for the English-language text closest to the original Etwas von den Wurzelkindern should definitely pick up Zipes' translation, rather than The Story of the Root-Children, from Floris Books, which greatly expands upon the text, without ever acknowledging that it is doing so. ( )
1 vote AbigailAdams26 | Apr 7, 2013 |
Etwas von den Wurzelkindern, original German text and illustrations by Sibylle von Olfers.

After reading two very different English "translations" of this classic German picture-book, first published in 1906 - Jack Zipes' brief but poetic rendition, in Mother Earth and Her Children: A Quilted Fairy Tale, and an unnamed translator's extensive prose version, in Floris Books' The Story of the Root-Children - I have been lucky enough (thank you, Gundula!) to obtain a copy of the original German edition. Having now read the original text, my estimation of the two versions listed above, as well as my judgment of two other loose retellings - Audrey Wood's When The Root Children Wake Up, illustrated by Ned Bittinger, and Helen Dean Fish's similarly titled When the Root Children Wake Up, with von Olfers' own artwork - must be reconsidered. An important lesson, I think, about the difficulties attendant upon translating poetic works, even seemingly "simple" narratives like this.

This tale of the little Wurzelkindern, or Root Children, who awaken as Spring approaches, and, with the guidance of old Mutter Erde (Mother Earth), make ready for their appearance in the world, is told entirely in rhyming poetry: "Und als der Frühling / kommt ins Land, / da ziehn gleich einem / bunten Band, / die Käfer, Blumen / Gräser klein, / frohlockend in die / Welt hinein." Together with von Olfers' charming Art Nouveau style illustrations, the sprightly text makes for a delightful reading experience: one imagines that German children have enjoyed hearing it read aloud for a few generations now! It's a shame (though perhaps not surprising) that none of the English-language versions I have read really capture the flavor of the original. In any case, I'm happy to have had the chance to read the German, as it has definitely given me a better appreciation of von Olfers' work! ( )
1 vote AbigailAdams26 | Apr 7, 2013 |
The Story of the Root Children, with the original artwork of Sibylle von Olfers.

My first exposure to this classic German children's book was through Jack Zipes' poetic translation, Mother Earth and Her Children, with quilted illustrations done by Sieglinde Schoen-Smith, in the style of Sibylle von Olfers. I have since discovered that there are two other English-language adaptations available: Audrey Wood's When The Root Children Wake Up, with illustrations done by Ned Bittinger, and Helen Dean Fish' similarly titled When the Root Children Wake Up, with von Olfers' own original artwork. This edition, The Story of the Root Children, published by the UK-based Floris Books, is a significantly expanded prose version of von Olfers' original poem, together with her artwork.

The view of Nature here is very anthropomorphic, in a way that I imagine will be appealing for some, and less so for others. For my part, I really appreciated it as an example of the other strain of classic German children's literature: the kinder, gentler strain, especially when compared to such terrifying tales as Der Struwwelpeter. So many people with whom I speak (having read all of one book) tend to reduce German children's literature to the latter, so it will be helpful to have a title toward which to point them, in arguing otherwise.

Addendum: having now had the opportunity to read the German original of this tale, Etwas von den Wurzelkindern, I can see how significant the expansion of von Olfers' text is in this edition! I'm not sure, all things considered, that this Floris Books title should even really be considered a translation, as it in no way resembles the rhyming poem found in the original. It's disturbing to me that no translator is listed, and that there is no acknowledgment that the text has been so dramatically altered. Given that von Olfers' name is the only one appearing on the book, English-language readers could be forgiven for thinking that this was a fairly faithful rendition.

Those looking for the English language version of this story closest to the original text should pick up Jack Zipes' translation, in Mother Earth and Her Children: A Quilted Fairy Tale, which, although not perfect, retains the original rhyming poetic form. Those looking for a prose retelling of the tale, one that acknowledges what it is doing, should look to Helen Dean Fish's When the Root Children Wake Up, which (like this edition) contains von Olfers' original artwork, but which (unlike this edition) is frank about the fact that it is an adaptation, rather than a translation. ( )
1 vote AbigailAdams26 | Apr 7, 2013 |
Sibylle von Olfers' Etwas von den Wurzelkindern is one of my all-time favourite picture books. I loved this book as a child (and have fond memories of both of my grandmothers reading it to me), and I still love both the simple, poetic text and the luminous "Jugendstil" illustrations. Sibylle von Olfers' masterpiece represents a glowing, loving homage to spring, youth, rebirth, joy, and the loving care Mother Earth gives to all. For a picture book originally published in 1906, Etwas von den Wurzelkindern remains remarkably fresh and current, a perennial favourite and bestseller in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It is soul-nourishment for both children and adults (I can actually recite most of the original German text from memory, that is how much I adore this delightful picture book). ( )
  gundulabaehre | Mar 31, 2013 |
After being rather disappointed with the text (the adapted translation) of The Story of the Root-Children, I am happy to have been quite pleasantly surprised with and by both the text and the quilted illustrations of Mother Earth and Her Children: A Quilted Fairy Tale. I have to admit that while the original illustrations by Sibylle von Olfers will always remain a personal favourite, I was and continue to be wowed and impressed by Sieglinde Schoen-Smith's quiltwork and touched by the backstory of the quilt (how creating this lovely masterpiece, celebrating the seasons, celebrating joy, life and rebirth helped Sieglinde Schoen-Smith come to terms with the death of her son, how working on the quilt brought her peace). As someone with basically no sewing skills whatsoever, I remain in complete awe at Sieglinde Schoen-Smith's accomplishment and the fact that she has managed to so successfully portray Sibylle von Olfers' glorious, life-affirming Jugendstil illustrations as a quilt, as a work of exquisite craftsmanship.

The accompanying text by renowned folklore expert Jack Zipes is also impressive, as he has actually managed to successfully capture both the poetry and general rhythm of Sibylle von Olfers original text (as presented in Etwas von den Wurzelkindern), no mean feat when translating poetry. My LT friend Abigail has pointed out that Zack Zipes' text is somewhat shortened, and not as complete as the original (and should therefore perhaps be considered more of an adaptation rather than a translation). However, I believe that this was/is likely in response to the fact that the quilt does not depict all of Sibylle von Olfers' original illustrations. For example, Sieglinde Schoen-Smith's quilt does not contain the scene where the root children are playing near and on the creek, and it would have been strange and problematic if Jack Zipes had included translated text for images not present in the illustrations (the quilt); that really would not have worked well at all. Zipes' text for Mother Earth and Her Children: A Quilted Fairy Tale is very authentic-sounding, capturing the poetry, the exuberant joy of springtime, the beauty (the child-friendly, life-affirming atmosphere) of both Sibylle von Olfers' original text and Sieglinde Schoen-Smith's quilted illustrations.

As to the illustrator's and translator's notes at the back of the book, what can I say, but that they are both informative and impressive. Sieglinde Schoen-Smith's backstory about her childhood in post WWII Germany (how she was allowed to peruse her older sister's books, but had none of her own) and how the making of the quilt helped her cope with the tragic death of her son are both informative and emotionally wrenching. And I think it might be eye-opening for modern American and Canadian children to realise that after WWII, many European children did not have books and toys. My own parents tell very similar stories, that after the war, toys and books were not of prime importance for many families, who were often struggling to simply provide their children with adequate food and clothing.

Jack Zipes' notes on Sibylle von Olfers' life and work are likely a bit too advanced and textually dense for most children. However, for me, they provided and continue to provide a welcome source of academically interesting material, although I do wish that Zipes had provided a bibliographical list with suggestions for further reading. Be that as it may, there is still more than enough information included in the notes for additional, independent research, and I do appreciate what Zipes has provided, as I had never before read any secondary or biographical material on Sibylle von Olfers; all I knew was that she was the author and illustrator of one of my all time favourite picture books (a book I must have read at least a hundred times as a child). ( )
  gundulabaehre | Mar 31, 2013 |
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The root children spend the winter asleep deep underground under the care of their wise Mother Earth. When spring comes they wake up, sew new gowns and caps, and go forth into the world.
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Summary: All through the winter the Root Children sleep under the ground, but when spring comes Mother Nature wakes them up. Then the children are kept busy, sewing new gowns and capes, cleaning and painting the beetles and bugs. When summer comes they play in the fields, ponds and meadows, then in autumn they return to their underground home.… (more)

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