Warwick Hutton

I've just rediscovered the work of Warwick Hutton, a British author and illustrator of retellings--mythological, biblical, folk and fairy tales of all sorts. Hutton's illustrations are rendered in delicate pen-and-ink and watercolor wash and characterized by spacious sea and landscapes; oversized yet oddly graceful figures, of both people and animals; and lots of interesting compositional elements. We own only one of his books, a retelling by Susan Cooper of The Silver Cow: A Welsh Tale (Atheneum, 1985), in which the Tylwyth Teg reward a farmer's son for his playing of the harp with a beautiful, bountiful silver cow--until the greedy farmer goes a bit too far, and loses her and all the silver cows that had been born to her: the treasures of his herd. (Hutton also illustrated Cooper's retelling of The Selkie Girl; I don't like selkie stories, so I haven't read that one.)

I especially like Hutton's own retellings of Greek myths, though; these include Theseus and the Minotaur (my favorite), Perseus, and Persephone, as well as the Homeric stories of The Trojan Horse and Odysseus and the Cyclops. All of these are, sadly, out of print. Hutton himself, who was also a painter and, like his father John, a glass engraver, died in 1994 at the age of 45. I've added his books to my "must buy if I see them at the used book sale" list. They are really lovely.

Captain Cat and the Count of Monte Cristo

There are lots of cats at sea this year, many of them on board the Carlotta in Captain Cat by Inga Moore (Candlewick, 2013). This is a rambling retelling (I mean that in the best possible way--I like a little rambling) of an Italian tale about a trader who arrives on an island overrun by rats only to be richly rewarded for his cargo of cats. Other traders follow, expecting more of the same, but in turn they are rewarded...with kittens! Moore's illustrations of captain and cats of all colors are charming, although I could have done without the neat rows of rat corpses lined up on the Royal Palace floor.

This is one of my favorite folktales: I first ran across it in The Thread of Life: Twelve Old Italian Tales retold by Domenico Vittorini and illustrated by Mary GrandPre (Running Press Kids, 1995). I was working on my own retelling, since abandoned, when Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss retold it as Priceless Gifts (illustrated by John Kanzler; August House, 2007). I wish everyone had better source notes for it, though (Hamilton and Weiss cite Vittorini, and Moore doesn't cite anyone at all). Apparently, islands overrun by rats are quite common in folktales.

And in real life, too: recently the island of Montecristo (see: Count of), in the Tuscan Archipelago, attempted to eradicate its population of black rats. Only now they use rat poison.

 It looks a lot like the rocky, remote island in Captain Cat, actually!