2 More-Than-Picture Books For All Ages

The Selfish GiantThe Selfish Giant

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Dan Goeller, Chris Beatrice and Martin Jarvis

Oscar Wilde once said in an interview: “It is the duty of every father to write fairy tales for his children.” Well, I guess I’m falling down on my duty there, but at least I can fall back on this story that Wilde wrote himself. The Selfish Giant is about a giant who built up a big wall around his garden to keep out the kids who loved to play there—but then it became a place of perpetual winter until some children found a hole and sneaked back in. The giant learns his lesson, knocks down the wall and befriends the kids. I should note that the story is partially a Christian allegory and there is a Christ-figure at the end, but the story itself reads like a fable.

The particular version I have is a brand-new edition which will be available March 1 (though it is available for pre-order now at a reduced price). Dan Goeller and Chris Beatrice are both self-professed geek dads who collaborated to bring Wilde’s tale to life using modern digital techniques and methods with a surprisingly old-school result. Beatrice’s illustrations are created entirely digitally, but they have the look of old fairy-tale paintings—in fact, if I hadn’t been told they were digital paintings I probably would have assumed they were oil paintings. One of my favorite scenes is toward the beginning, when the giant returns home from his trip. Seen from a normal person’s point of view, the giant towers above with a castle and stormy gray skies in the background.

Goeller’s contribution is a musical score on the included CD. He uses his computer to compose and prepare the score, and the final score is a combination of recordings of members of the Nashville Symphony (on woodwinds, brass and strings) and digital instrumentation. In addition, the story is narrated over the score by British actor Martin Jarvis.

Reading The Selfish GiantReading The Selfish Giant

My 4-year-old reads The Selfish Giant while listening to the CD. Photo: Jonathan Liu.

I read the book to my kids as a bedtime story one evening. The next day, of her own volition, my four-year-old got out the CD, popped it in the player and sat down with the book. What was interesting to me was that the score is quite a bit longer than the story itself—there will be narration with music for a while, and then the music will continue during a pause in the narration. However, my daughter listened to the whole CD and followed along in the book and really seemed to enjoy it. The score reminded me a little of “Peter and the Wolf,” with different instruments and themes for the children and the giant, and it really added another dimension to the story. The last track of the CD, after the story is over, is a medley of various nursery rhyme songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Pop! Goes the Weasel.” It’s not too long, but fun to listen to and my four-year-old enjoyed naming all the songs as they came up.

I wasn’t familiar with the story of The Selfish Giant before, but I really enjoyed this presentation of it. For more information visit SelfishGiantMusic.com which has clips of the music as well as some more info from Goeller and Beatrice about their creative processes. I especially appreciated Beatrice’s walkthrough of one of his illustrations from thumbnail pencil sketches to completed painting.

Note: Noteworthy Books provided a review copy of The Selfish Giant.

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