I recently discovered a new Children’s book, Princess April Morning Glory, that was actually first penned in the late 1930’s. A fairy tale written and illustrated by Letitia Fairbanks, it was originally created as a stand alone work of art. Following the pattern of the day, one page featured India inked calligraphy text and the subsequent facing page was a water color illustration. It took all this time for technology to catch up so that the book could be mass produced for the public to enjoy.
Letitia was the niece of silent film stars Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and his wife, Mary Pickford. She began work on her book around the time her famous uncle, whom she adored, passed away. Her intent was to capture the magical feeling of her uncle and aunt’s estate, Pickfair, while at the same time creating a story that had morals and a purpose. The main narrative focuses around the brave and courageous Princess April who must first transcend darkness and evil before she can realize her true potential. She leaves the familiarity of her home in Fairyland and sets forth on an adventure in to the unknown. In order to return home, Princess April must perform three good deeds which turns out to be a difficult task to complete.
It took Letitia 13 months to write the book and complete the artwork. Before doing the calligraphy, she first typed out her entire manuscript. Her characters were modeled after friends and family. Her cousin, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., was the source for the prince and the actor, John Barrymore, was the inspiration for the wicked king. The calligraphy was done using a single hair brush. Every stroke was outlined first and then filled in with a thicker brush. The water color pictures, as well as the writing, were done on water color paper.
She finished the project on her 26th birthday in 1941. Unable to get it printed because of its delicate nature, the book remained within the family until Letitia’s death in 1992. After Letitia passed away, her step daughter, Kelly Smoot Garrett, decided to embark on getting Princess April Morning Glory published. Over time, the ink had bled on the pages, making the book unprintable. Kelly enlisted artist (and future husband) Danny Garrett to do the laborious work of restoring the artwork. Once that was completed, digital technology (aka Photoshop) was used to enhance the artwork. Each page had to be individually scanned and digitally manipulated down to the pixel level to achieve the best quality. Finally, after 21 years, Kelly had her step-mother’s beloved story ready for publishing.
The book launch for Princess April Morning Glory was held February 16, 2013, at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California. It was exactly 72 years to the day that Letitia first shared her story with Viking Press at that very same location. With its messages of courage, persistence, and helping others, this lost treasure from the golden age of Hollywood, is bound to inspire children and adults alike. I have added it to my shelf of favorite children’s stories and can’t wait to share it with my grandson.
What is one of your favorite children’s stories?