I lied again. I have more than one illustration from today’s book. I’m also bending the rules a bit: Today’s book, I must clarify, is not officially a holiday title. It’s about elves, though, and I’m sorry, but these elves make me think of Christmas. They just do.
The Helpful Elves, based on a poem by 19th-century German poet and painter August Kopisch and illustrated by Beatrice Braun-Fock, was originally published in German as Die Heinzelmännchen. The story comes from an old German tale (Cologne) about little house gnomes, or the Heinzelmännchen, who do chores for the folks in Cologne while they sleep at night. A 2011 English version was brought to us by Floris Books in September. Again, not a holiday book, but I feel like featuring these handy elves anyway. Please just humor me here.
The lazy people of Cologne never see the elves, who show up at night to scrub, pluck, groom, clean, and polish. They even build houses, bake bread, make the wine, and more. The tailor’s wife gets curious and hatches a plan to discover—well, catch—the little helpers. And I won’t give away the ending, except to say … DUDE, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. (There’s no heavy-handed moralizing in this book, thank goodness. That’s just me exclaiming there. In fact, I love what the Publishers Weekly reviewer writes: “Although it’s probably too brisk and unsentimental for some, one can imagine a niche audience for this curious work—surely there are children out there with a taste for Germanic astringency, especially when a moral of ‘So there’ is served up as the chaser.”)
This book is a retro delight. Braun-Fock lived from 1898–1973, and I’m not sure what year she created these illustrations, but as the aforementioned review writes, they’re “droll, mid-century style illustrations.” Lined up at the top of each page is a seated elf (in the form of cut-out tabs of sorts), staring impishly at either us, the readers, or one another; at the opening of the book, they are all lined up there, ready for us to read. As you keep reading and turning pages, they leave. It’s a delight for the youngest of children (and, ahem, nearly-40-year-olds).
Here’s some more art. Enjoy.
And before long, the whole house had been built.”
the shop was full of fresh bread.”
THE HELPFUL ELVES. © 2011 by August Kopisch. Illustrations © 2011 by Beatrice Braun-Fock. Published by Floris Books, Edinburgh. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.