West of the Moon by Margi Preus
Astri lives with her stepmother, stepsisters and younger sister until she is sold to the cruel goat farmer. He takes her to his home, refuses to ever let her bathe, has her do drudge work, and doesn’t let her ever return to see her sister. Then Astri discovers another girl kept locked in a storage shed, who spins wool into yarn all day long. Astri escapes the goat farmer, taking his book of spells and his troll treasure. She heads off with the other girl to find her younger sister and then all three flee, heading to find their father in America. But it is a long trip to get to the sea and an even longer trip from Norway to America. Along the way, the goatman continues to pursue them, they meet both friendly faces and cruel, and the story dances along the well-traveled roads of folk tales. Astri slowly pieces together her own story and then resolutely builds herself a new one with her sister by her side.
An incredible weaving of the gold of folktales with the wool of everyday life, this book is completely riveting. Preus has created a story where there are complicated villains, where dreams are folktales and folktales build dreams, where girls have power and courage, and where both evil and kindness come in many forms. It is a book that is worth lingering over, a place worth staying in from awhile, and a book that you never want to end.
Astri is a superb character. Armed with no education but plenty of guts and decisiveness, she fights back against those who would keep her down and separate her from her sister. As the story progresses and she escapes, she becomes all the more daring and free spirited. Her transformation is both breathtaking and honest. One roots for Astri throughout the story, fights alongside her and like Astri wills things to happen.
A wondrously successful and magical story that is interwoven with folktales, this book is a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.
Gobble You Up! by Sunita, text by Gita Wolf
Based on a Rajasthani folktale, this picture book is a work of art. Jackal’s best friend is Crane, but then one day he was too lazy to hunt for food. Jackal challenged Crane to catch twelve fish all at once. Crane managed to do the feat, and then Jackal quickly gobbled down all twelve fish. Crane protested and then Jackal ate Crane too. Tortoise witnessed this, so Jackal had to eat Tortoise as well. Squirrel dared Jackal to eat him too, and Jackal managed. One by one, more animals get eaten and Jackal’s belly stretches and stretches. The elephant was more difficult to swallow, though Jackal managed. Then Jackal got very thirsty from eating all of those animals one after another. And you will just have to read the book to see how it all ends!
The first thing that you notice about this book is that it feels different in your hands. It has a different weight, a different balance. It smells different. The pages have a texture to them and the ink has body on the page that your fingers can feel. Inside, the story is told rapidly and with wonderful sounds and reactions. This is a story that comes from an oral tradition and you can hear it as you read it aloud. It flows and moves. If you are a librarian who does storytelling, get your hands on this book.
Sunita’s art is the center of the book. Called Mandna, this art form is practiced only by women and taught from mother to daughter. It is used to decorate the mud walls of homes and done without brushes. The art is beautiful, richly detailed and unique. Make sure to read the information at the end of the book for more facts about the art and how the book was made.
Unique and lovely, this is a rich folktale from a region of India that will delight and amaze. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney
Wow. This companion book to Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winning The Lion & the Mouse is another outstanding book. Set in the deserts of the Southwest, the story has all sorts of animals gathered to watch the race, including badgers, lynx, mice, and vultures. All of them wear at least one piece of clothing, from hats to bandanas to pants. As the pages of the book turn, readers will get to see how each of the animals approaches the race, from the frenzy and then sloth of the hare to the steadiness of the tortoise. Readers will get a sense of the slowness also from the words on the page that every so tantalizingly make out phrases as the pages turn.
Told in few words, the book is all about the illustrations which are magnificent. Filled with tiny details to linger over, each illustration is beautifully composed and helps move the story forward. Pinkney stays true to the classic tale, not changing any of the storyline. He manages to take stories that can become overly wordy and with images alone tell their story and make them appropriate and thrilling for a young audience. I will always see his illustrations when I hear this story. That is talent!
Quite simply, this is another masterpiece by Pinkney. A must-have book for every library serving preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Foxy! by Jessica Souhami
This North American version of a universal trickster tale is given a fresh but still classic take in this new picture book. Foxy caught a bee and put it in a sack. He met a woman with a rooster and asked her to look after his sack while he went to visit a friend, but insisted that she not look in the sack. Of course, the woman did look in and the bee flew off. So the Fox demanded her rooster in exchange. This pattern continues with Foxy leaving the sack with another person and exchanging one animal for an even more large and tasty one. Until he finally gets a little boy in his sack and meets up with a woman who understands how to trick a trickster.
Souhami incorporates rhythm and repetition into her story in a way that makes it a pleasure to read aloud. Each new animal is gained in the much the same way with the structure carrying through from one to the next. The result is a story that dances along with the wily fox, the readers able to settle into the traditional feel of the tale.
This would make a great choice for turning into storytelling, though it would be a shame to lose the bright and vibrant cut-paper illustrations seen here. They have a great crispness to them that translates well to a group.
Perfection for reading aloud, this story is designed to be shared. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer
Nasreddine and his father head to market together with his father riding the donkey along with a large basket of dates and Nasreddine walking behind. When some men criticize them for letting a boy walk in the mud, Nasreddine heads back home while his father calmly continues on. The next week, Nasreddine pretends to twist his ankle so that he can ride and his father walks. But onlookers once again make comments and Nasreddine heads home. The next time they head to market, the two of them both ride the donkey, but that doesn’t stop the comments either. Then they both walk and let the donkey just carry the items for market, but the criticisms are still made. Nasreddine makes one final try at fixing things: the two of them will carry the donkey!
The book ends with a note about the stories of Nasreddine which are told throughout the Middle East. This story like the others about him are a perfect mix of humor and wisdom. Here Nasreddine learns the hard way not to listen to the criticism of others. The way that his father deals with it is patient and an attempt to invoke Nasreddine’s common sense and let him learn it on his own. This adds to the merriment of the storyline as well as making for a very readable tale.
Dautremer’s illustrations have the feel of a folktale with a modern edge. The setting is clearly historical but the angles of the illustrations and their neat perspectives add lots of interest as well. Nasreddine himself is a beautiful little boy, his round face and red tunic making him stand out in any setting.
Perfect for sharing aloud, this book is a friendly and funny introduction to Nasreddine. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Grandma and the Great Gourd retold by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters
This picture book is a retelling of a Bengali folktale. Grandma was invited by her daughter to visit her on the other side of the jungle. Before Grandma traveled there, she left the responsibility for her garden and home with her two loyal dogs. On her way across the jungle, Grandma met a series of hungry animals: a fox, a bear and a tiger. To each, she explained that she is very thin now, but will be plumper when she returns from seeing her daughter, so they let her go. Grandma had a good time at her daughter’s home, eating lots of food and visiting. But eventually, she had to return home to her dogs and her garden. But how was she to get back? That’s where the giant gourds in her daughter’s garden came in, and you will just have to read the book to find out how.
Divakaruni has taken a traditional folktale and left it wonderfully traditional. The story reads like an oral tradition, filled with repetition, small descriptions, and a story that just keeps on rolling forward like a gourd. She includes noises in the story as well, the khash-khash of lizards slithering over dry leaves, the thup-thup-thup of elephants lumbering on forest paths, and the dhip-dhip of her heartbeat.
Waters’ illustrations are lush and colorful. She uses texture and pattern to create a jungle. The colors range from earthy browns to deep oranges and hot pinks. The cut paper collages have strong clean lines and add a perfect organic feel to the story.
A great choice for library folk tale collections, this is a story that reads aloud well and has just the right mix of repetition, sound and inventiveness. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Mother of Monsters: A Story from South Africa by Fran Parnell, illustrated by Sophie Fatus
This second in a series of monster tales features a story from South Africa retold for young readers. It is the story of Ntombi, the mischievous and brave daughter of the chief, who is determined to see the dangerous Ilulange River with her own eyes. Her father allows her the trip to the river as long as she takes the other girls along with her. When they finally reached the legendary river, the girls are disappointed. Instead of danger, they have found a river that looks perfect for swimming. Leaving their clothes on the bank, the girls splash in the water. Then they discover that their clothes are missing. It could have been the Mother of Monsters who took them! One-by-one the girls pled with the monster to return their things, and the monster does. But Ntombi is not willing to beg for her clothing, so the monster swallows her whole. But that is not the end of the story! You must read this book to find out how Ntombi survives the Mother of Monsters.
Parnell has broken the story into chapters, making it all the more pleasant for beginning readers who can take the story a bite at a time. The chapters are short and filled with action. The star of the book, Ntombi, is both brave and foolish, often at the same time. Throughout the story, she learns about humility but also about love. The book is clearly from another culture, which makes it all the more interesting to read.
Filled with bright colors, the paintings by Fatus have an intriguing folk quality to them. The scenes of the girls without clothing are handled with skillfully placed leaves, hands and flowers. The illustrations have humor to them, which makes the book very playful, something that is welcome with a monster devouring people.
A welcome addition to folktales, this is a story I had never heard before and really enjoyed. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Barefoot Books.
A Donkey Reads by Muriel Mandell, illustrated by Andre Letria
This adaptation of a Turkish folktale features Nasreddin Hoca, a 13th-century teacher, judge and imam whose writings are well known in the Middle East. This is the story of a village in Anatolia that was conquered by the Mongols. The Mongol leader demanded that every family pay tribute, but one family had only a worthless donkey to offer the leader. When the Mongol leader reacts with fury at the tribute, Nasreddin speaks up and tells the him that the donkey is worth something, in fact Nasreddin will teach the donkey to read. Everyone is shocked, but Nasreddin is calm and confident that it will happen. The ending will have reader giggling at the humor and courage of Nasreddin’s solution.
Mandell has adapted this tale with a great feel for storytelling. Her pacing is adept and her wording easy to share aloud. The tale is universal in its appeal, thanks in particular to the humor that pervades it. The end of the book has a page where the story of Nasreddin is shared with the reader. It’s a trickster tale with only a donkey as an animal.
Letria’s art is filled with textures and colors. The pages have backgrounds that are rough with brushstrokes, peeling and colors. They add a feeling of age to the book, giving it a strong organic quality as well. The characters pop on the page, especially Nasreddin with his towering headwear. The illustrations add a great appeal to the story.
A window into another world of folktales that many of us have not experienced, this book offers plenty of humor and an appealing package. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by Planet Esme.
Fandango Stew by David Davis, illustrated by Ben Galbraith
A wild west version of Stone Soup, this book will have you singing the praises of Fandago Stew too. Luis and his grandfather, Slim, come to the town of Skinflint with their stomachs already rumbling with hunger. But they also have a plan, Fandango Stew. Unfortunately, the local sheriff is not happy to have them in town and tries to run them out. But he agrees that Luis and Slim can boil water and throw in their bean. Slim and Luis break into song “Chili’s good, so is barbecue, but nothing’s finer than Fandango Stew!” One-by-one the people of Skinflint begin to contribute, shamed into it when Slim and Luis talk about the Fandango Stew they made in other towns and the generosity shown there. Well, Skinflint may be frugal, but no one calls them stingy! As each new component is added, Slim and Luis reprise their song, adding new harmony parts. In the end, you know the story of delicious stew created by a community but this time it has some western seasoning added too.
Davis has created a fun and stylized version of the traditional tale. The incorporation of the western setting is well developed and adds an interesting dimension to the story. As the story and the stew develops, the inclusion of the entire community and their pride and willingness to turn it into a party make for a jubilant read. The use of the song after each addition to the stew adds a strong structure to the book as well.
Galbraith’s illustrations are filled with texture and color. Everything from the ropes to the boards of the houses to the corrugated roofs add to the rich feel. As the book progresses, the illustrations move from a sepia toned sparse color to richer colors.
A rootin’ tootin’ good recipe for a book! Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by BooksForKidsBlog.
Jack and the Beanstalk by Nina Crews
A fresh, modern take on the traditional tale, here Jack lives in a city and is paid the beans for a job he has done. When he plants the beans, they grow into the huge beanstalk. He climbs the beanstalk to discover giants living in the clouds. Giants who have a hen who lays golden eggs and plenty of jobs for Jack to do for them. But Jack escapes down the beanstalk with the hen. The giants chase after him, and then the ending takes a pleasant twist from the traditional story. A new look at an old story, this book will be most enjoyed by children who are familiar with the traditional tale and can spot the differences.
Crews is known for her innovative illustrations that use collages of photographs to create modern, vibrant stories. Here she uses the technique to great effect with beanstalk in particular. She also captures the feel of an urban setting very nicely and subtly. The entire book feels modern and interesting.
The story does have surprising twists and turns from the original. This too adds the feeling of freshness. The story moves along faster than the original and reads aloud very nicely. The bellows of the giants, the rhythm of the writing, and the bright illustrations make for a book that is perfect for sharing.
Ideal for comparing and contrasting with more traditional versions of the story, this book also reads aloud well on its own. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.