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The Old Widow and Her Daughters, A Norwegian Folktale

Updated on March 7, 2020
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As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.

O is for the Old Widow and Her Daughters, a Norwegian Folktale
O is for the Old Widow and Her Daughters, a Norwegian Folktale | Source

My Children’s Alphabet Book

If you follow me, you probably have heard about my creation of a children’s alphabet book using fairy tales for each letter of the alphabet. I could have concentrated on all the old favorites but I decided to make it a book with fairy tales and folk tales from all over the world. This particular story is a charming story about sisters and how the little sister comes to the rescue.

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Thumbnail sketch 1Thumbnail sketch 2
Thumbnail sketch 1
Thumbnail sketch 1 | Source
Thumbnail sketch 2
Thumbnail sketch 2 | Source

Global Fairytales

When it came to me to be more global I had already created the pages for R is for Little Red Riding Hood and J is for Jack and the Beanstalk. The research for the global fairy tales and folk tales from all over the world certainly added to my workload but in the end, it became very satisfying. This story is a folktale from Norway.

Have you heard this fairy tale before?

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The Old Widow and Her Daughters, A Norwegian Folktale

There once was an old widow with three daughters and one hen. One day the hen went missing and the widow sent her eldest daughter to find it. When the girl didn’t come back, the widow sent out the second daughter. She didn’t come back either, so the widow reluctantly sends the youngest.

The girl tracked her sisters to a big hill and while investigating footprints, she fell down a trap door. She quietly did some exploring and found her sisters in a cellar looking like stone. A hideous troll lived there and he came out and told her to cook the hen. “I can cook far better things for you than this stringy old hen.” So she pretended to be his cook while searching for a way to free her sisters.

The troll gave her fine clothing and anything she desired as long as she cooked for him. One day a goat fell into the hill, and the troll turned it to stone so she could cook it for him.

“What a shame,” the girl complained. “This goat could have kept me company when you are out at night. It’s too late now. Nothing can be done once it is stone.”

Then the troll took a jar from the wall and brought it back to life with the contents. Now she knew the secret so she waited for her chance. One day she said she worried about her mother, who must be hungry and lonely, with no one to help her. The troll said if she wanted, she could fill a sack with food, which he would carry to her mother at night. The wise girl put her revived oldest sister inside a sack along with gold and a little food on top to hide it all. To keep the troll from investigating the contents of the sack, she told him not to look inside or she would know. After a while, he was tempted to look, but he heard a voice saying, “I see what you are doing.” The voice actually came from the sister he was carrying in the sack but he thought it was the girl back in his cave.

Next, she used the jar to restore her middle sister also. Concealing the revived sister inside another sack, with food on top along with some gold and precious jewels, the girl begged the troll to carry that sack to her mother as well. Again she made him promise never to peek inside. When the troll had gone a short way, he put the sack down to have a look when he heard a voice shout, "I see you!" The baffled troll answered, "You've got good eyes."

For her own getaway, the girl pretended to be sick and went to bed. Later when the troll was expected to come home, she stuffed straw into her clothes, propping them up beside the hearth, to make them look like she was cooking. She then ran home with the hen and one of the magic jars that made things invisible. With it, she made her mother’s house invisible.

When the troll came home, he demanded his supper. But the straw-cook did not answer, so he struck it and realized she had fooled him. He checked his dungeon and discovered the girl’s sisters were gone as well. Raging, he came after them but he could not find the invisible house. He searched for hours, losing track of time. Unexpectedly, the sun rose turning him to stone.

Value sketch
Value sketch | Source

Collage Illustrations

I didn’t want my book to be just one more “A is for Apple” alphabet book and since I love fairy tales, why not use them instead? After deciding that, I was told I should use my collage method instead of the usual watercolor illustrations that I had originally desired. The collage took much longer but in the end, it made for a very unique book.

I hope you enjoy my process here showing the start with thumbnail sketches, then value sketch, color composition and finally, the collage. I made a video of part of this illustration. I already had created the little girl collage of my granddaughter, Ivy. Instead of recreating the girl, I collaged the old widow and used Photoshop to put the girl on top.

Color Composition
Color Composition | Source

Published with Lulu

This fairy tale has been shortened to fit into my book along with all the other letters of the alphabet. If you would like to read the full version, you can Google the title and find the story under several names. I thought the name Old Widow fit better but the original was Old Dame and Her Hen. To me, the daughters were more important to the story than the hen so I called it the Old Widow and Her Daughters.

My book, The FairyTale Alphabet Book, Fairy Tales and Folk Tales from Around the World, was self-published last year with because Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing) refused to allow illustrations that spanned the central gutter of the page. They demanded at least a half-inch margin around the outside, which I could have done, and a half-inch margin through the center margin, which would destroy the look and cohesiveness of the double-page illustrations. I had to find a different publisher who would allow the illustrations the way I wanted them. KDP obviously does not understand illustrated children’s picture books. If you are interested in purchasing the book, go to the Lulu website and put my name or the name of the book in the search.

The collage of Ivy and her hen I did earlier.
The collage of Ivy and her hen I did earlier. | Source

Did You Notice

In my collages, I use paper from magazines, old wall calendars, catalogs, and circulars. Often I will add things into a collage you can't see unless you are looking for it. I didn't hide as many "fun" images in this one as I do in some of them. The hidden images have to match the value and tone, and for this one, I didn't really find some to work.

Final Thoughts

I hope you like my story and my fairy tale alphabet book idea. I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.


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