The Glass Mountain – book review

The Glass Mountain: Tales from Poland

By Jan Pienkowski

Published by Walker Books Ltd  ISBN: 978-1-4063-4865-1

Review by Jennifer Leem-Bruggen

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Inspired by the captivating stories from ‘the lady next door’ Pani Kobuszewska, Jan Pienkowski’s ‘The Glass Mountain’, a retelling by David Walser, revives a collection of eight enchanting traditional Polish fairy tales. Jan’s introduction sets the historical backdrop for the book, giving us insight to his childhood in 1940s Poland. Turnover and a list of ‘How to Say It’ Polish words and their English meaning adds a piece of educational entertainment and a humorous lesson in pronunciation.

The collection of stories range from wagers with the devil, a Princess banished to a castle guarded by a fearsome dragon to a Prince finding a frog for a bride.

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Using a traditional form of Polish folk art, introduced to him as a boy, Jan’s signature silhouette paper-cut illustrations bring to life a magical world of castles, mythical creatures, wicked devils, evil villains and heroism. Intricate silhouette cut outs in a vibrant array of bold colours and textures placed on predominantly white backgrounds stand out, whilst the frenzied battle scenes and swooping creatures command the full breadth of the double page framing the text. Rough, jagged lines portray the demonic nature of the villainous characters and use of cleverly constructed layers of colour creates interesting shadows and depth.

Fast-paced narrative of sorrow and triumph, betrayal and trickery engages immediately. Fluent and strong compositional elements of energetic illustrations and text throughout do not leave the eye to rest. Slanting angles and text hugging around the illustrations intensifies the theatrical nature of these fables. Large decorative initials opening each story again pay homage to the traditional fairy tale history.

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Children and adults alike can appreciate Pienkowski’s revival of his childhood Polish fairy tales with comical illustrations complementing the moral undertones of each fable. ‘The Glass Mountain’ encapsulates Jan’s imaginative youth married with effortless illustrative skill in charming us with captivating images.

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