Ħrejjef tas-Sħarijiet tal-Aħwa Grimm (The Enchanted Tales of the Brothers Grimm) were translated by Ġużi Mallia (1917-2004), unanimously known as In-Nannu Peppu by children who grew up with his children's programmes on radio in the fifties and sixties, and published by Lejn ix-Xefaq, edited by Sammy Calleja (1952-1998) for whom they became a labour of love.
I was still a student doing my first degree at the University when Sammy commissioned the illustrations for the first of five books from me, and this was my first large illustration project ... leading eventually to some 50 illustrations, plus covers. The covers of the first three books I separated by hand in two colours, the last two were also separated by hand, but this time in four colours.
The books came out in 1979 and 1980, and there are lots of anecdotes linked to them. Here are two of them.
I remember being quite the perfectionist as I drew the illustrations and Sammy coming over to Qormi (where I lived then) from Mosta by bus every couple of days to take what I had drawn back with him, often having to cajole me out of drawings I was not entirely happy with, but which he loved. One day something came up and he could only make it after three days instead of the usual two, by which time I had destroyed what I had drawn... an extra day of mulling over my drawings meant I could really see every defect and every technical lapse, and I just tore them up. Sammy never missed his every two day appointment from then on. Also, the books were printed at Progress Press in Valletta. Book 3 had just been printed and was in storage at the Press when a huge fire broke out (on October 15, 1979, to be exact), burning quite a large part of the print run.
In 1983, David Bugelli of Pubblikazzjoni Bugelli, decided to publish a sixth book of tales, comprising seven of the longer tales that had been left out of the original five books. He asked me to illustrate them and the book, which I also produced, was published during that year.
In the meantime, books 1 and 2 had gone out of print, and David wished to publish them in a new edition. I also illustrated those, keeping some of the original illustrations and adding new ones. So the books, published respectively in 1990 and 1994, have a mixture of pictures ranging over fifteen years, beginning in 1979.
The covers were wraparound in full, separated colour. In book 1 there was a four page, art paper insert with full-colour illustrations. This time around, unlike in their first edition, I also did the production of the books.
Both David and Ġużi wished me to help them republish books three to five of the series, but unfortunately, other pressing matters derailed me and I could not ... something I feel sorry about, since it seems that that chance has gone forever, given Ġużi's death in 2004 and the fact that David Bugelli retired from business some years ago and a bit later passed away. I got to know that Ġużi was not pleased with my reticence. Another regret.
Many of the original books are still in school and public libraries, and they are still read and enjoyed by thousands.
They are a tribute to the work of Sammy Calleja, who believed in books, and particularly children's books in Maltese, even at a time when publication was very expensive and returns small.
On this page I've reproduced the covers of the first five books (and the back cover of Book 4) and the front and back covers of book 6, and the front covers of the reissue of books 1 and 2. One of the colour illustrations in the reissue of book 1. A sampling of three of the internal black and white, line illustrations can also be found below.
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