Tag Archives: folk tales

Double Review: Fairy Tales

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The Talking Eggs
by Robert San Souci; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

At book club last month, we each were tasked with bringing in a favorite folk tale or fairy tale. (I brought Clever Beatrice, because it features a strong female protagonist outwitting a giant, and also because it comes from my native Michigan.) One reason I love my book club so much is that I’m constantly learning new things just listening to them talk, and this month was no exception. While I did know some of the grim originals behind the Grimm tales, I was all ears as they talked about doing folk/fairy tales in storytime. Two debated which was better: A Story A Story (because you can get them making Spider-man noises) or The Talking Eggs. The first librarian attempted to prove her case by treating us to an impromptu storytime, but I had to do my own research on the second book.

The Talking Eggs is a sort of version of Cinderella, but only vaguely. Rose is the mean sister, along with the mother (notice they are not step-family), and Blanche is the kind sister who is treated as their servant. One day she runs away and finds an old woman whom she helps; in return the woman takes her to her own magical house for the night. Stew comes from one old bone and rice from one small grain; sweet milk from the two-headed cow in the morning – all because Blanche is kind and also keeps her promise not to laugh at anything. Also for her kindness, the old woman lets Blanche take any of the eggs that say “take me!”, warning her against the ones that say “don’t take me!” It is tempting to disobey since the ones yelling “don’t take me” are the pretty, bejeweled ones, and the others are plain, but Blanche keeps her word and sets off with the plain eggs. As instructed, she tosses the eggs over her shoulder as she walks and is rewarded with beautiful clothes and jewels and even a carriage. When she arrives home with her new possessions, her mother and sister are so jealous that they scheme to get their own eggs. However, Rose is so greedy she takes the fancy eggs that turn into wolves and snakes and chase her and her mother, and Blanche starts a new life in the city with her riches.

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Snow White and Rose Red
retold by Kallie George; illustrated by Kelly Vivanco
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I was likewise unfamiliar with this story, having assumed that it was just some version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It’s not! Snow White and Rose Red are perfect, loving sisters, making it one of the few fairy tales where siblings are not pitted against each other (Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters; Cinderella). They and their (equally perfect and loving) mother help a talking bear, and in return he rescues the daughters from a mean, rude dwarf and then turns into a prince who had been bewitched by the dwarf. Snow White marries the prince and Rose Red marries his brother and they all live happily ever after.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant

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by Marika McCoola
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I’m not overly familiar with Baba Yaga stories in particular, though by virtue of being a children’s librarian I am now familiar with the concept. It seems there are people who grew up with these stories the way I grew up with Grimm fairy tales, and this book is probably a lot more fun for them than for me as it involves a teenage girl who is part witch herself meeting the famous Baba Yaga of the stories and becoming her apprentice. McCoola does a good job of explaining how Masha’s knowledge of the stories helps her solve the witch’s puzzles, and Masha’s own backstory adds interesting depth to it. Masha’s mother has died and her father suddenly announces that he’s going to marry the woman he’s been seeing, so already there is a stepmother/stepsister element present in so many fairy tales. When Masha learns that her father has been spending time with his new fiancee and her daughter instead of with her, her sense of betrayal is palpable and wrenching. She understandably runs away to be with the witch instead, only to find that the bratty stepsister is destined to become Baba Yaga’s dinner. The book ends with Masha and Baba Yaga reunited and setting off on more adventures, so maybe there will be more? I would read another, but I’m not dying to.

Echo

by Pam Munoz Ryan
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This story opens with a bit of fairy tale enchantment and then dives right into the first of three stories about a harmonica, which takes place in Nazi Germany. I almost didn’t want to continue, having no great fondness for Holocaust / World War II stories, and at one point it almost got too scary/suspenseful for me to read at bedtime (also having just read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; I’m also just a lightweight when it comes to scary stuff, but I digress). However, it seemed like a new take on the WWII theme, so I stuck with it: Friedrich is singled out for sterilization due to a birthmark marring his face. Ryan has a way of dropping the reader into each story seamlessly, and then plucking you out of it just when things look worst for the hero – she does this with Friedrich, and again with Mike, an orphan in the 1930s in Pennsylvania, and again with Ivy in the 1940s in California. Part four brings each of them together again, though, and [SPOILER ALERT] you find out everything turned out okay.

As I was reading, I realized this would make a fantastic movie. Ryan really knows how to describe a scene so beautifully, and the story is so musical that would lend itself well to flashback scenes. Many songs got stuck in my head while reading. Each of the three protagonists is musically gifted, which plays a huge role in each of their lives. This book was a refreshing take on World War II stories, deftly exploring such often-ignored themes as: groups other than the Jews who were persecuted; life under the rise of the Third Reich before WWII started; the effects of the Great Depression in the United States; Japanese internment camps; and more – immigration, the underlying humanity in all people and, above all, how music knows no boundaries. In short, this book is incredible. Go read it already – and get ready for Newbery buzz about it!

Far Far Away

by Tom McNeal

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

My “Adults Who Read Kids’ Books” book club loved this one. Jeremy can already talk to the ghost of Jacob Grimm (yup, that Jacob Grimm). Then things get even weirder in his already-weird small town – kids are disappearing, a girl seems to be inexplicably in love with him, and then Jeremy’s life turns into a real Grimm fairy tale that it seems even the ghost of Jacob Grimm can’t help him out of. The story starts out benignly enough but then strange things happen that all come together in the end. I will say that it has a happy ending, and though you have to go to some pretty dark places with Jeremy to get there, it’s totally worth it.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

by Grace Lin
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a sweet tale filled with lessons and stories. It reminded me strongly of Three Stories of My Father’s Dragon in the once-upon-a-timeyness of Minli’s adventure. I loved how the characters changed over the course of the story, and how the ending tied it all together: Minli thinks she is going to find the Old Man of the Moon to ask him to change her family’s fortune, but discovers that her actions along the way, and the actions of her family, have made the changes. It’s a story about one of the fundamental truths of life: that the importance is in how you make the journey, not what happens once you get to the end.

Retold by James Vance Marshall
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Mythology

Personal Evaluation: I have always been fascinated by aboriginal culture and stories and learned as much as I could while living abroad in Australia. However, I had not heard most of these stories before, but it was really cool to know the places and animals they were talking about and how the Aborigines say they were formed.

What might interest children: The illustrations are very different and may not appeal to them, but the stories are well-told and there is a page of explanation after each one. It is very much geared toward a non-Australian audience, which is helpful for American kids to understand the context of the stories.

The Serpent Slayer: and other stories of strong women

by: Katrin Tchana
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Folk Tale

Personal Evaluation: I came across this as I was considering books to get for my 7-year-old cousin, whose mother is a feminist. She is very into dragons and fairies and things and even though she is not allowed to have Barbies, she could still use a few more strong female role models!

What might interest children: The stories in this collection are great stories in general, and even more so for girls because of all the commanding women. They are also from different cultures, which is cool for comparison.