A Tiger in a Woman’s Clothing: The Jane Gilmartin Gilchrist Collection at the Newberry

Cover of the book, Siblings and a Woodman.
Pae, In Yong. Siblings and a Woodman. Pyongyang, DRPK: Kim Song Youth Publishing House, 1989. Wing ZP 965 .K955
Inside page of the book, Siblings and a Woodman.
Inside page of the book, Siblings and a Woodman.

Siblings and a Woodman by In Yong Pae

Does the following story sound familiar to you? A vicious tiger devours the hard-working mother of two children, dons her clothing, and attempts to trick the children into believing he is their mother. He provides excuses for the gruffness of his voice; they believe him. As he enters their house, the two children are able to escape, and when the tiger follows them, a helpful woodsman kills the tiger. The children are chided for their dependency on adults and their general lack of caution.

Have you guessed it? This folktale, titled Siblings and a Woodman, hails from North Korea and is a variant of the Little Red Riding Hood tale made popular by 18th century fairy tale scribe Charles Perrault. Perrault’s tale was the first printed version of the tale, but oral versions date back much before then. Folktales and fairy tales were passed down orally long before they were populated by princesses and happy endings. In fact, most oral tales were gritty stories of caution; the original Red Riding Hood was called The Tale of Grandmother, and it warned young girls to beware of male predators.

This particular version of the tale, published in 1986, stars a tiger rather than a wolf, a mother instead of a grandmother, two children instead of one, and it ends with a lesson rather than a warning. After the woodman saves the children, he scolds them for their lack of initiative: “Even in such a difficult situation, you should have thought of dealing with it for yourselves, not seeking for the help of Heaven or of others. Then you can make away with anything stronger than a tiger.”

The book’s unusual description is what caught my eye as I was skimming our catalog. It reads: “This illustrated story book is picturized from a story which the dear leader Comrade Kim Jong Il told his friends in his young days.” (This statement is taken from the first page of the book). This book belongs to an fascinating collection here at the Newberry. The Jane Gilmartin Gilchrist collection was started by Mrs. Gilchrist whose dream was to have an exhibit at the United Nations of an alphabet book from every country. She collected these books for over twenty years, and we are lucky enough to have the collection, which consists of about 3,000 materials, here at the Newberry. However, the collection extends beyond alphabet books to all kinds of literacy materials for children and adults in over 230 languages and from nearly 200 countries.

The Gilchrist collection serves as a wonderful complement to the Newberry’s current collection of primers, readers, and alphabet books in the Wing collection on the history of printing. The books in Wing are primarily American and European books from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, supplemented by primers and catechisms in multiple languages and dialects in the Bonaparte and Ayer collections from the seventeenth to twentieth century, while Gilchrist is a more modern, international collection, with most of the publishing dates falling in the 1970s - 1990s. Around 600 of the Gilchrist books, such as Siblings and a Woodman, have been cataloged in Wing, but the remaining 2,400 are being cataloged gradually. Readers can access these uncataloged materials by using the Gilchrist checklist found in the General Reading Room.

We hope that you will come explore the Gilchrist collection and see for yourself the wonderful variety of stories and literacy materials it holds.

By Jane Fentress, Children’s Literature Intern.