Tag: folktales

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

vassa-in-the-night-by-sarah-porter

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (InfoSoup)

When the nights in Brooklyn seem to be getting longer and longer, lasting almost entire days, Vassa finds herself looking forward to school just not to be home any longer. Part of it is her stepmother and stepsisters and part is pure boredom. It doesn’t help that Erg, the wooden doll that Vassa’s mother gave her before she died, is stealing things from her stepsisters which are then blamed on Vassa. So when one of her stepsisters basically dares Vassa to head to the dangerous local convenience store, Vassa accepts the challenge. She heads to Babs Yagg’s store, the one that dances on chicken legs and that you have to sing down. She makes sure that Erg is with her, as always, and knows that she is in for an unusual experience. What Vassa doesn’t realize is that she is headed straight into her dangerous destiny and will discover an entire magical world that she never knew existed: one with bleeding swans, a dark motorcyclist, severed hands, and beheaded teens.

Inspired by the Russian folktale, Vassilissa the Beautiful, this novel for teens embraces all of the strange and bizarre in that story and takes it even further. Baba Yaga’s home on chicken feet becomes an amazing convenience store filled with some treats that are tempting and others that seem odd and still others that nauseate. The modern Babs Yagg is still very much a witch, and one that toys with her prey in haunting and excruciating ways. There are impossible tasks, the need for plenty of bravery, and real loss and death threatened at every turn.

This is a mesmerizing book, one that is filled with gorgeous writing that stays out of its own way and then rises beautifully to create new moods. Throughout the book the story turns briefly away and into other perspectives like those of the swans themselves or of the attorneys who are after Babs. The language changes and weaves new patterns, creating completely different worlds and experiences and then gently carrying the reader back to the main story. It’s a powerful magic all its own.

Beautifully written, this twist on a folktale is bizarre, wild and extraordinary. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Tor Teen.

 

 

Review: The Turnip by Jan Brett

The Turnip by Jan Brett

The Turnip by Jan Brett (InfoSoup)

Badger girl was weeding the garden when she noticed something odd. It was a huge turnip! She tried to pull it out, but it would not budge. Soon their whole family of badgers were trying to pull the turnip out with no success. Hedgie tried to use his prickles to get it out, Mr. Ram tried using his horns, and Vanya the horse hitched up and pulled too. Nothing worked. Then Rooster strutted up and insisted that he try all by himself. Meanwhile, down in the cave below a family of bears had also discovered the turnip and pushed hard to get it out of their bedroom. The turnip sailed into the air with a triumphant Rooster flying along too. Then it was turnip pancakes for everyone!

Brett excels at retelling folktales, enlivening them with her animal characters. This is a traditional cumulative tale that sticks very close to the original. The family of bears living under the turnip is a great addition that allows strutting Rooster to claim victory over the stubborn turnip. The pacing of the tale works well, each new attempt has a longer and longer line of animals trying to help and also dreaming of what delicious things could be made out of the turnip.

As always, Brett’s illustrations are filled with fine details. She again uses her framing on each double-page spread, showing the next animal to arrive before they come in. Readers will notice the bear family on these panels too, a subtle introduction prior to them taking center stage. The illustrations show that this is Russia where the badgers and bears live. They wear traditional Russian clothing and the frames on the illustrations show a similar influence.

Another winner from Brett, this picture book will make a crowd pleaser of a read aloud, but with Brett’s detailed illustrations it’s also a winner of a lap read. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Review: On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher

On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher

On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher, illustrated by James Nelson (InfoSoup)

Based on a traditional Inuit folktale, this picture book shows what happens when a massive giant takes an interest in a small human. Inukpak was big even for a giant. When he walked across the land, he could easily step over rivers and wade the deepest lakes. He could cross the Arctic on foot in only a few days, fishing for whales along the coasts. Then one day he met a hunter, whom he mistook for a little child. Before the hunter knew what has happening, Inukpak had adoped him as a son and placed him on his shoulder. In just a few steps, they were so far from the hunter’s home that he didn’t know how to return. As Inukpak got them dinner in the form of a huge whale, he almost drowned the hunter just from the huge waves that splashed as he walked in the water. When a polar bear attacks the hunter, Inukpak just laughs and tosses it away. In time, the two became good friends, the giant and the hunter.

The stage is set very nicely for this story with an introduction that explains what stories the book is based on and how the author came to know so much about Arctic folklore. The pages after the story expand the topic of Arctic giants even further with explanations of different kinds of giants. The storyline is not as linear as European tales, allowing readers to get a sense of the giant and a different rhythm of storytelling at the same time. The huge and kind giant is full of appeal thanks to his huge sense of humor and the merry way he approaches life in the Arctic.

Nelson’s illustrations are playful and jolly as well. They show the various areas of the Arctic from the seashore to the more inland areas. The size difference between the giant and the human is kept fairly consistent throughout the book, This giant is much larger than most and that adds to the appeal as well. The natural landscapes of the book are thoughtfully done as are the various animals. The lifelike depictions of these elements make the giant all the more believable.

One huge giant and one little man create a great story together and one that can nicely be shared aloud. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: P. Zonka Lays an Egg by Julie Paschkis

p zonka lays an egg

P. Zonka Lays an Egg by Julie Paschkis

P. Zonka isn’t like the other chickens on the farm. The other chickens lay eggs each and every day, but P. Zonka never lays a single egg. She’s busy walking around the farm noticing nature and the beauty of flowers and moss. The other hens call her lazy, but she doesn’t pay them any mind. Finally, after they cluck at her for a long time, P. Zonka agrees to try laying an egg. After clucking and delays, she lays an egg that isn’t anything like the brown and white eggs the other hens lay. P. Zonka’s egg is spectacular and shows in colors and design all of the beautiful things she has been seeing in nature. P. Zonka’s eggs are art, pure and simple.

Paschkis takes her inspiration from Ukrainian eggs designed with bright colors and intricate designs. A Ukrainian decorated egg is called a pysanka, giving P. Zonka her unique name. The story is written with the rhythm and structure of a traditional folktale. The complaining hens and rooster create the chorus of the book, the repetitive feature. This more formal structure contrasts wonderfully with P. Zonka’s daydreaming and wandering. Those parts of the book are filled with her descriptive words and the pacing shifts and changes.

Paschkis carries her Ukrainian inspiration directly into the art in the book, filling it with the colors and shapes of traditional art. The bright yellows, deep reds, clear blues and crisp greens echo the traditional art as do the sweeping lines and free flowing plants. Yet this is distinctly modern too with the lines having a looser feel and the animals feeling more life like.

This book is a winning blend of traditional and modern, folktale and new story. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: West of the Moon by Margi Preus

west of the moon

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.

Review: Gobble You Up! by Sunita

gobble you up

 

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.

Review: The Tortoise & the Hare by Jerry Pinkney

tortoise and the hare

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.