Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What About Little Snow White?

Little Snow White by Yvonne Gilbert

Finding and sourcing Snow White illustrations is a big job - big because it must be one of the most illustrated fairy tales ever (for centuries now!) and no matter how often I look I'm always finding both newly made illustrations and much older works I've been missing all along. What I find interesting is that despite this, it's quite difficult to find more than a handful of Snow White illustrations where Snow is clearly a child, that is, not a teen or even a young teen, but a child of seven, as she was in the Grimm telling.

If you read it a little more closely you realize Snow White is called "Little Snow White" for much of the tale, right up until the end where her coffin is being carried, the apple dislodges and she wakes up. It's at this point the preifx of "Little" is dropped and, although it's not clear how much time has passed (though it's substantial) or how much she's matured she's just "Snow White" when she consents to marriage.

Walt Disney was aware Grimm's Snow White was seven years old but reportedly felt audiences would find that too hard to take so he made a conscious decision to shift the focus instead chose a young woman of fourteen for his first feature heroine (note that she very subtly ages during her time in the coffin to look a bit closer to eighteen when the prince finds her again and swoops her off to get married).

Of all the illustrations I've seen (which numbers in the many hundreds) Trina Schart Hyman's Snow White remains possibly my favorite of all versions everywhere but even her youngest Snow is closer to pre-teen than child. Yvonne Gilbert's lovely drawing at the head of the post clearly shows Snow as a child but unfortunately it's a stand alone piece.

Snow White by Charles Santore
The only picture book example I could find of Snow White as an obviously-young girl for most of the story, as per the Grimm text, is by Charles Santore, published in 1996. Although it's a beautiful, beautiful book (you can see all the illustrations from the book HERE to remind you), it's the only example I've found of a real child in the role instead of a pre-teen or teen and I think it's well overdue that we see another Snow White picture book with a child heroine.

Thinking about a seven year old going through Snow's experiences gives you a whole different way of looking at the tale, and at seven year old girls too. If I knew someone with a daughter approaching seven years old, a "Snow White as child" book is something I'd want her to have, both for herself and to read with her daughter. Growing girls are tricky creatures and mothers of girls, however well meaning, almost always have a tough run of it somewhere along the line. Various cultures around the world would suggest that age seven is a key developmental milestone, a time where all things are about to change for the child (and her parents) and mark the first of her steps toward womanhood. Looking back on my girlhood, I completely understand this not-yet-woman-but-knows-I-will-be-one-someday phase. Looking around me at seven year old girls with this in mind is daunting but also makes me protective of them too. If I had a girl I know I'd want a heads-up from Little Snow White's story. I think all girls, and their mothers, deserve that.
Snow White by Charles Santore
Source for Yvonne Gilbert's illustration HERE.

*Yvonne Gilbert has done a lot of fairy tale illustration. You may be familiar with her gorgeous and highly recommended award winning book "The Wild Swans" among other lovely works which you can see on her portfolio HERE.


  1. As always, thank you for posting such beautiful illustrations. I had no idea Snow White was actually a little girl in the Brothers Grimm tale, so thank you as well for that interesting little tidbit!
    Hats off to you and the blog! It is simply magical.

  2. Hmmm. Probably because of the movie, I've never cottoned on that Snow White was supposed to be a *child* as opposed to a teenager and ready(ish) for marriage. Thanks for that. Maybe I'll read the story differently now.

    Weirdly enough, that's one of my reasons for despising the Disney version, was that she looked and acted so very young and, well, stupid. Okay, maybe naive is a better word for it. But it's definitely hanging off the bottom of my mental Disney ranking.