December 16, 2018

Battle of the Books: P. J. Lynch/Sonja Danowski Illustrate The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Every year around this time, I like to take out some holiday classics to read over again. One favourite of mine is The Gift of the Magi, a short story by American writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1910) under the pen name O. Henry. First published in 1905, it has been enjoyed and retold for over a century. Selected here are two picture books that I simply adore and while they may not be the most recent, I feel they illustrate this love story in the best way. I cannot decide which I prefer so here goes my first Battle of the Books. In this post category, two books telling the same story will be weighed against each other. Since the text is identical in both books, this part is omitted in the comparison. Things considered are: visual appeal, illustrative impact, quality of print and paper, size and number of illustrations. The check mark () denotes my preference.

Book A
Book B
The Gift of the Magi Book A
The Gift of the Magi Book B
Illustrated by Sonja Danowski
Illustrated by P. J. Lynch
minedition 2013
Candlewick Press 2008
Hardcover 32p -  8.6" x 13"
Hardcover 40p - 7.8" x 9.4"

The cover is very beautiful with this close-up image of Della moping around on the couch staring at the pennies she has saved. I love the detail on the couch and Della's hair. The title above the image is easily noticeable.
B: This cover image is from the ending showing the couple in a loving embrace with a packaged gift on the table. The title is a bit subdued with the script type and little contrast to the background. There is a lot of emotion conveyed on their faces which works better with the story. Tie
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Opening the book displays a lovely art nouveau flower pattern on the endpapers. This rose image is used adjacent each picture; growing taller with every turn of the page. The layout of the book is more structured with text on the left side and picture on the right side of the spread. Script type is used for the text and white space used for overall framing. The illustrations use a muted palette that resemble colourized old photographs; the effect is vintage and elegant. 
B: This book begins with a view from Della's window. The poor neighbourhood is shown by the laundry line drying outside. Della is counting her pennies and looking distraught. The apartment and surroundings are better displayed. Warm browns and golden hues are used and a varied layout consisting of mostly full page images.
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della slumps on a chair while her hair is being examined for purchase. Both figures are wonderfully drawn and the detailed background is superb. 
B: Mme. Sofronie looks much colder here with her pale face and stern look. There is movement and interesting figure placement but the background is a little bare.
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della stares longingly through a store window and again great detailing in the background; this time with the buildings and added figures but Della looks a bit too fashionable for her budget and the illustration is similar to a previous one.
B: Della's joy shows through here by her expression and the busy streets filled with shoppers adds to the excitement of finding Jim's present. 
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della is pictured with her newly cut hair and while I like seeing her use that old fashioned curling iron, the shape of her head seems off. It could be that I too miss seeing Della with her luxurious locks.
B: Della looks at her new hairstyle in the mirror trying to like it. The hopefulness in her eyes says volumes. 
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: The rest of the illustrations follow a similar pattern with great detailing however, some of the figures can look a bit stiff and posed; sometimes looking right at the viewer. This style may not work as well for a story that is written in the third person. Near the end, the couple is shown in an embrace and Della looking slightly happier.
B: There are more illustrations showing Della and Jim's interaction here. The exchange of gifts, the surprise looks and the emotional realization, all add significant support to the story. The facial expressions are lively and real with figures that carry natural body language. The book ends with a view of the cold winter night with the happy couple shown through a small lit window. 

The Gift of the Magi Covers P.J. Lynch Sonja DanowskiA: Tall format with twelve large illustrations on medium weight stock. Spot varnish for the title with decorative title page and end papers. A stylish and elegant looking book. My favourite illustration is the one selected for the cover.
B: Wide format with twenty illustrations of varying sizes. Embossed title on cover and medium weight stock. I don't have a favourite illustration for this book, they all carry the same weight but I do enjoy the city scenes; it adds to the coldness of the environment, making Della and Jim's love burn a little bit brighter and warmer. 
Do you agree with these comparisons?

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