Basic Plot Summary: A kind and generous shoemaker falls on hard times and is left with no money to pay his rent and just enough leather for one pair of shoes, which he prepares before he goes to bed. The next morning, the leather has been sewn into beautiful shoes, which are sold to a man who happily pays more than the asking price. The shoemaker buys more leather and once again, he finds new well-made shoes on his bench the next morning. This continues until the shoemaker’s business is thriving. The shoemaker and his wife discover that the shoes are being made by elves who come in during the night. His wife makes clothing for the elves, who are naked, and when the elves receive the clothing, they consider themselves freed and are never seen again.
In the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, this story was the first of three stories about helpful elves and it’s definitely the best of the three, as the others are pretty weird (even by Grimm standards). Some versions that followed the original played up the shoemaker’s good heart, having him donate pairs of shoes to homeless people or charging less money for those down on their luck, thus explaining the elves’ generosity in helping him. All versions of the story seem to end with the shoemaker being very successful and happy. The idea of the elves being free from their servitude when they receive clothing was also used in the Harry Potter book series. My personal favorite versions of this story are the Merrie Melodies animated short, Holiday for Shoestrings and Tex Avery’s Peachy Cobbler.
The Elves and the Shoemaker – This version sticks very closely to the original Brothers Grimm version and used a direct translation as its basis. Paul Galdone illustrated hundreds of books during his career and a large majority of them were fairy tales, fables and other well-known stories. The artwork is presented as double-page spreads, with just enough text to tell the story and the elves are funny little men in long red hats. I’d consider this a textbook version, with nothing particularly special about it. (Houghton Mifflin, 1984)
The Elves and the Shoemaker – Jim LaMarche states that this is one of his favorite stories and that he considered illustrating it in a contemporary setting (with the elves making sneakers), but opted to keep it in its original context. His artwork, in acrylic washes and colored pencil, is absolutely beautiful in its detail and use of color and light. The elves here look more like children and in these pictures, they are rosy-cheeked, pointy-eared and adorable. I loved this one. (Chronicle Books, 2003)
The Elves and the Shoemaker – Author John Cech includes a really interesting note in the back of the book with some history about the story and different cultural beliefs about elves. The illustrations, from Kirill Chelushkin, are intricate and otherworldly, with unusual elements and magical looking creatures in just about every picture. There are tiny faces peering out from around and under objects and a couple of images of hot air balloons in the sky for no apparent reason. It seemed like worlds of other stories waiting to be told in the pictures here, which almost distracts you from the story actually being told. (Sterling Publishing, 2007)
And what did we learn? What I take away from The Elves and the Shoemaker is that when you show kindness to others, you often find that others are quick to show kindness to you.