Mary’s Penny: A Feminist Folk Tale

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Mary’s Penny by Tanya Landman, illustrated by Richard Holland

A feminist retelling of a classic folk tale, this book combines a stylish modern feel with the classic feel and tone of a folk tale.  A farmer needs to decide which of his children he will leave his farm to.  Will it be the brawny Franz or the beefy Hans?  He doesn’t even consider his daughter Mary because she is a girl, though Mary does have something her brothers lack: brains.  The farmer gives each of his sons a single penny.  Their challenge is to purchase something with their one penny that will fill the entire house.  Franz heads to the market and purchases lots and lots of straw, but he cannot manage to fill the entire house.  Hans heads to the market and purchases lots and lots of feathers.  Though he fills the house further than his brother, he too fails.  Now the farmer is in despair until Mary asks to try.  And you will just have to read the book to find out how Mary spends her penny and fills the entire house.

Landman’s text here sets just the right tone.  She plays with the repetition and rhythm of the traditional folk tale, yet injects a modern sensibility about the role of women in society.  Thanks to the traditional features of the book, it is a pleasure to read aloud.  Holland too plays with the traditional and modern.  In his case, he uses sleek modern lines and modern illustration techniques yet still manages to have something vintage in them.  The illustrations have lots of white space and textures and patterns that make them very interesting and unique.  They also have a flatness that hearkens back to traditional folk art. 

A skillful combining of the traditional and the modern, this book should not languish on your folk tale shelves.  Get it into the hands of parents and teachers.  It would also make a great choice when librarians visit elementary classrooms, because its modern edge will draw slightly older children into the story.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Bink & Gollie: By Golly What a Charmer!

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Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo an Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink and Gollie are two girls who are friends but could not be more different.  They live together yet apart, Bink in a cottage below the tree where Gollie’s ultra-modern tree house perches.  The two of them use their roller skates to get around town, but beyond that they agree on very little.  Everything from striped colorful socks to goldfish friends to imaginary mountain treks come between them.  In the end though, their friendship remains strong, bolstered by pancakes shared together.  The book is broken into three chapters each a vignette that is funny, charming and delightful. The book is written for beginning readers who will discover two amazing girls that they will long to share a stack of pancakes with too.

The authors have created two characters who are very different yet read as real people with their own quirks and interests.  Bink is younger, wilder and delightfully mussed.  Gollie is steady, level headed and yet has her own moments of imagination.  The authors did not feel constrained by the vocabulary of most beginning readers, instead they introduce young readers to longer words, taking time to put them in context and even define them.  This is a book that will have new readers stretching at just the right pace.

Fucile’s illustrations help bring the differences and friendship of the girls to life.  From the firecracker hair of Bink to the lean lines of Golllie.  The sleek nature of Gollie’s tree house to Bink’s small homey cottage.  Each detail is perfect to underline their differences and their connection to one another.

I look forward to seeing the next Bink & Gollie book.  I can’t wait to see where this friendship heads next.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

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