It is a pity that through the years fairy tales tend to lose something in the translation -- their rich ethnic origins and sometimes somber tones are often sanitized into sugary versions considered more palatable for young readers.
These two books, based on European legends, manage, without being archaic, to preserve the flavor and charm that made the tales classics in the first place.
Tomie de Paola's "The Prince of the Dolomites" is a retelling of an old Italian folk tale embellished by the author's own expressive illustrations. Done in dazzling ice blues and pinks, the pictures do justice to the majestic Italian mountain range they illustrate.
The story begins with a group of children, living in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy, crowded around Zio Narratore (Uncle Storyteller) to hear the legend that explains how the mountains got to be so bright. Zio Narratore takes it from there -- explaining how the mountains, which had once been gloomy, were transformed when the prince of the region fell in love with a princess of the moon. Because the moon princess could not adjust to the darker environment, glittering moonbeams were cast over the mountains to make them resemble her home.
"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is an equally lovely tale, this time based on a French legend: It begins with a poor farm boy following a rainbow westward to find his heart's desire. It leads him to a kingdom of 12 beautiful but vain princesses who mysteriously disappear from their castle each evening and dance all night. Their dismayed father has offered the hand of the fairest daughter in marriage to the man who discovers where they go dancing.
The resourceful farm boy, using a good deal of wit and cunning, is able to discover the secret and live happily ever after with the fairest princess. The concise and highly readable text by Janet Lunn is accompanied by Laszlo Gal's glorious paintings, each spread over two pages for greater impact.