Archive for the ‘Folk Tales’ Category

Review of Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman
performed by the author

HarperAudio, 2017. 6.5 hours on 6 compact discs. Unabridged.

I could listen to Neil Gaiman read the phone book! Although I ended up finding Norse mythology quite strange and wild – I can’t imagine a better way to hear these stories than read by Neil Gaiman. And written by Neil Gaiman doesn’t hurt, either. He captures the magical and mystical feel of the tales.

There’s an explanation at the beginning about Asgard and Midgard and the Land of the Giants and all the rest – It might have been simpler if I’d had that explanation in print to refer back to. Anyway, this way I was caught up in the stories. Most of them had Loki being a trickster and Thor throwing his hammer around to get his way.

There are many stories in this collection, and many of them have more than one chapter. There’s a dizzying array of characters, though usually Neil Gaiman refers back to where we have seen an obscure character before, so it seems quite coherent.

We do learn how Thor gets his hammer and what powers it has. And we find out about many adventures of the gods and goddesses, which so often start by an action that wasn’t terribly wise. And then there are consequences. And gods and giants try to trick others and are tricked themselves. And most of the stories were not familiar to me like Greek myths, so they were all new adventures.

That review seems a little coherent, but here’s the bottom line: Norse mythology explained and retold by Neil Gaiman, and even read by Neil Gaiman. Now that’s worth listening to!

neilgaiman.com
harperaudio.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/norse_mythology.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver

by Grace Lin

read by Kim Mai Guest

Hachette Audio, 2016. 7.5 hours on 6 CDs. Unabridged.
Starred Review
2016 National Book Award Finalist
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Children’s Fiction

Like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, Grace Lin weaves Chinese fairy tales throughout this story, bringing elements from the various tales into the conclusion at the end. It’s okay if you haven’t read or don’t remember the other two, as this story stands well on its own.

The audiobook includes a pdf file of the illustrations, but I chose to check out a copy of the print book so I could enjoy them as I went. Each day after my commute, I’d look at the pictures as far as I’d gotten in the audiobook. Grace Lin is an illustrator as well as a writer, and this book includes color plates at intervals, and small one-color illustrations at the start of each chapter. This book is a treat to hold in your hands, and would make a wonderful read-aloud.

At the start of the book, the evil emperor comes with his soldiers up the mountain, during a winter that has lasted far too long, and takes away Pinmei’s grandmother, the Storyteller. When the neighbor boy Yishan protests, the emperor tells him that they can have the Storyteller back if they bring the emperor the Luminous Stone that Lights Up the Night.

The soldiers set fire to the hut and leave, but Yishan rescues Pinmei from her hiding place, and the two travel together to try to find a Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s Amah. Their adventures take them to the City of Bright Moonlight and the kingdom of Sea Bottom. Along the way, Pinmei tells stories she’s learned from her Amah – and those stories provide clues to what the emperor is looking for and how to thwart him and get Amah back.

This book has a theme of immortality, the importance of stories, and finding your voice. At the start, Pinmei is too shy to even speak in the presence of others, but by the end, she can speak truth even in front of the emperor.

This book would make a wonderful family or classroom read-aloud. The fairy tales woven throughout give it a timeless appeal for a wide age range.

gracelin.com
HachetteAudio.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/when_the_sea_turned_to_silver.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

The Singing Bones

by Shaun Tan

Foreword by Neil Gaiman
Introduced by Jack Zipes

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016. 185 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Children’s Nonfiction

This is a book of art. But all the art is based on fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. Shaun Tan has created sculptures based on the tales. On each spread, there’s a short excerpt from the featured fairy tale on one page, and a photograph of the sculpture on the other page.

In the Afterword, Shaun Tan tells us about the sculptures:

The main materials I’ve used are papier-maché and air-drying clay, carved back and painted with acrylics, oxidized metal powder, wax, and shoe polish. The resistance of clay in particular at a small scale encourages simplicity, especially where the key tools are blunt fingers and thumbs: Faces and gestures are abbreviated, just like characters in the tales themselves. The concept of a thing also becomes more important than a detailed likeness: A fox need only be a few red triangles, a sleeping man requires no body, and a queen’s face can be eroded away by the force of a single, elemental feeling: jealousy. What matters above all else are the hard bones of the story, and I wanted many of these objects to appear as if they’ve emerged from an imaginary archaeological dig, and then been sparingly illuminated as so many museum objects are, as if a flashlight beam has passed momentarily over some odd objects resting in the dark galleries of our collective subconscious. Like the tales themselves, they might brighten in our imagination without surrendering any of their original enigma.

He achieves this feeling of simple forms, of the bare bones of the stories. As Neil Gaiman says,

Shaun Tan does something else here: something profound. His sculptures suggest, they do not describe. They imply, they do not delineate. They are, in themselves, stories: not the frozen moments in time that a classical illustration needs to be. These are something new, something deeper. They do not look like moments of the stories: instead, they feel like the stories themselves….

Here they gather for you, timeless and perfect, a mixture of darkness and light that manages to capture Grimms’ stories in a way that nobody, to my knowledge, has done before.

Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them. He makes me want to pick them up, inspect them from unusual angles, feel the heft and the weight of them. He makes me wonder what damage I could do with them, how badly I could hurt someone if I hit them with a story.

All of Shaun Tan’s work is eerie, abstract, and creepy. But combining his images with timeless folk tales gives them whole new power.

In short, you really need to see these images. Check out this book and take a look!

shauntan.net
arthuralevinebooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/singing_bones.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Hansel & Gretel, by Neil Gaiman

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

hansel_and_gretel_largeHansel & Gretel

by Neil Gaiman

art by Lorenzo Mattotti

Toon Graphics, 2014. 53 pages.
Starred Review

This book is put out by a publisher of graphic novels and is in the size of a large graphic novel. But there are no speech bubbles here. What you do have are large double-page spreads of black-and-white (mostly black) very dark paintings alternating with double-page spreads of text.

The pictures are dark and sinister, and the story is dark and sinister. Like all fairy tales, it has power. The word painting of Neil Gaiman combined with the art of Lorenzo Mattotti gives this familiar tale new impact.

Here’s the paragraph after the old woman invites Hansel and Gretel into her house:

There was only one room in the little house, with a huge brick oven at one end, and a table laden with all good things: with candied fruits, with cakes and pies and cookies, with breads and with biscuits. There was no meat, though, and the old woman apologized, explaining that she was old, and her eyes were not what they had been when she was young, and she was no longer up to catching the beasts of the forests, as once she had been. Now, she told the children, she baited her snare and she waited, and often no game would come to her trap from one year to another, and what she did catch was too scrawny to eat and needed to be fattened up first.

This story is far too sinister for the very young. Those who read this story will be confronted with evil — and children who triumph over it.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/hansel_and_gretel.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Don’t Say a Word, Mama, by Joe Hayes

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

dont_say_a_word_mama_largeDon’t Say a Word, Mamá

No Digas Nada, Mamá

by Joe Hayes
illustrated by Esau Andrade Valencia

Cinco Puntos Press, 2013. 40 pages.

Here’s a charming story told in both English and Spanish, and one that’s worth telling in either language.

Rosa and Blanca’s mother has always been proud of how good her daughters are to each other. When they grow up and each grow a garden, each wants to share her bounty with her beloved sister.

First, when their tomatoes harvest in abundance, each sister goes to Mamá and tells her plans to share her windfall with her sister.

Of course, Blanca took some of her tomatoes to her old mother too. She told her, “My poor sister Rosa has a husband and three children. There are five to feed in her house. I have only myself. I’m going to give half of my tomatoes to my sister. But it will be a surprise. Don’t say a word, Mamá”

Both sisters have the same idea, and they don’t even notice the other sneaking to their house in the dark. Mamá sees, but she’s sworn to secrecy.

In the morning, when the tomatoes have mysteriously multiplied, each sister decides to give some of the overflowing tomatoes to her mother.

Mamá now had a very big pile of tomatoes in her kitchen. She shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, well,” she said, “you can never have too many tomatoes.”

The same thing happens when the corn is harvested. But when it comes time to harvest the chiles, Mamá decides that she may not say a word, but she will have to put a stop to the silly charade her loving daughters are carrying out. Because what will she do with all those hot chiles?

This has the humor and charm of a tale worth telling, no matter which language you choose to tell it in.

cincopuntos.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/dont_say_a_word_mama.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Shahnameh, retold by Elizabeth Laird

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Shahnameh

The Persian Book of Kings

retold by Elizabeth Laird
illustrated by Shirin Adl

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2012. 135 pages.

I loved fairy tales when I was a child. This book contains stories in the fairy tale style that I’ve never heard before.

This is from the Introduction:

Iran (often known as Persia in the west) is a land of stories. There are so many that they could fill hundreds of books and take years to tell. Some of the best of them are found in the Shahnameh, or “Book of Kings,” a very long poem which was written a thousand years ago by a great Persian poet called Ferdowsi.

People in Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and all over the mountainous lands of Central Asia know the stories of the Shahnameh. They have told and retold them through the centuries, from one generation to the next. Professional storytellers recite Ferdowsi’s verses in tea houses by the roadside. Farmers relate them to each other as they rest in the shade of their fruit trees during the hot months of summer, and mothers and fathers tell them to their children as they huddle indoors round the fire in the cold of winter.

Iranians love to hear about what happened at the beginning of time, how the first kings ruled in glory, how the great age of heroes dawned, how champions like Sam, Zal and Rustam rode out on their fiery horses to fight wicked demons, and how brave women, like Rudabeh and Gordafarid, conquered the heroes’ hearts.

And that’s what you’ll find in this volume, tales of kings and heroes, battles, tricks, and love stories.

I’m not crazy about the art, but the simple flat style suits the subject matter, having a look of primitive art from ancient times, as well as plenty of floral decorations.

This book tells American children about folktales they may not have heard before.

franceslincoln.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/shahnameh.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Whiskers, Tails, and Wings, by Judy Goldman

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Whiskers, Tails & Wings

Animal Folktales from Mexico

by Judy Goldman
illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck

Charlesbridge, 2013. 58 pages.

This is a nice collection of folktales most children won’t have heard before. Each one comes from a specific region and a specific indigenous people group of Mexico.

After each tale, the people group who tells that tale is described, along with some facts about the region and the featured animals. Spanish and native words are woven seamlessly into the tales, but in case you didn’t catch every detail, there’s a glossary after each story.

As most animal folktales, the ones chosen have an element of playfulness and delight. As the author asks in the Conclusion:

Where else in the world will you find a clever cricket who defeats a puma, a patient turtle who helps create the world, a brave opossum who gives mankind a wonderful gift, a flea who saves humanity, and a frog who, just in time, keeps his heart in his chest?

Only in Mexico!

Yet every culture in the world has tales that are important to its people. Like the stories in this book, all fairy tales and folktales allow people to pass along traditions and knowledge not only among their own community, but also to the world. Through stories we come to understand ourselves as well as the world around us. Perhaps the tales in Whiskers, Tails & Wings will encourage you to share your own stories, discover new tales, and maybe even create your own!

judygoldman.blogspot.com
charlesbridge.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/whiskers_tails_wings.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Grandma and the Great Gourd, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Susy Pilgrim Waters

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Grandma and the Great Gourd

A Bengali Folktale

retold by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2013. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a wonderful folktale, marvelously told. The pictures are exquisite, giving the flavor of India. The story is sprinkled with sound effects that aren’t ones native English speakers would naturally use. There’s the repetition of a folktale, and a lovely predictability — with a twist.

This is a book for school age kids, with the text on the long side for preschoolers. With that in mind, the telling is sure to engage their interest.

Here’s how it begins:

Once upon a time, in a little village in India, there lived an old woman whom everyone called Grandma. She loved gardening and had the best vegetable patch in the village.

Grandma lived by herself in a little hut at the edge of the village, next to a deep, dark jungle. At times she could hear herds of elephants lumbering on forest paths, thup-thup-thup, or giant lizards slithering over dry leaves, khash-khash.

She didn’t mind because she had two loyal dogs, Kalu and Bhulu, to protect her. They also helped her with garden chores.

When Grandma crosses the deep, dark forest to visit her daughter, she encounters three fierce animals who want to eat her up. But this is how that goes:

Grandma’s heart went dhip-dhip, but she didn’t let the fox see how scared she was.

“If you’re planning to have me for breakfast,” she said, “that’s a terrible idea. See how skinny I am? I’ll be a lot plumper on my way back from my daughter’s house because she’s such a good cook. You can eat me then, if you like.”

“That sounds good!” said the fox, and he let her go.

Of course, to get home after visiting her daughter, and indeed growing plump, Grandma must outwit the tiger, the bear, and the fox. Her plan works on the tiger and the bear, but the fox is more clever and confronts her. However, there’s a lovely satisfying ending, for which the groundwork was laid at the very start.

This has all that’s good about a folktale, including being one you’ll want to tell again and again.

mackids.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/grandma_and_the_great_gourd.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Jack and the Baked Beanstalk, by Colin Stimpson

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk

by Colin Stimpson

Templar Books (Candlewick Press), 2012. 36 pages.

Here’s a cinematic retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk set in what looks like 1930s America. Jack and his mom run a diner, but when a huge overpass is built, all their business goes away, and they’re down to their last few pennies. Jack’s mother sends him to buy some coffee beans, but then Jack meets a guy who looks like a bum under a city bridge who offers to sell him a can of magic baked beans.

Now Jack had read enough fairy tales to know that you don’t turn down an offer like that. Also, baked beans were his favorite food in the whole world, so he couldn’t resist tasting some magic ones. Thanking the man, Jack exchanged his last pennies for the beans and ran home.

You know how the story goes. This vine, instead of growing regular beans, grows cans of baked beans as it stretches high into the sky.

But this story has all the unkind and unethical bits taken out.

“We have visitors,” boomed the giant.

“So I see,” squawked the chicken.

“And we know just what to do with visitors, don’t we?” said the giant. “Now you STAY THERE. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” And with that the giant grabbed a handful of the chicken’s eggs and marched off to his kitchen. Soon the sound of clattering pots and pans was making the table tremble.

“Is he going to eat us, Chicken?” squeaked Jack.

“Don’t be silly!” cackled the chicken. “He just wants to make you some lunch. He hasn’t cooked for someone new in a long, long time.”

You see, it’s all good-hearted and ever so friendly. No nasty running off with the harp or stealing the goose that lays the golden eggs. (And instead of a harp, it’s a magic radio. Instead of eggs of gold, the chicken lays eggs that taste good.)

I wasn’t surprised to read at the back that Colin Stimpson has been an art director and production designer for Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney Feature Animation, because these paintings look like stills from an excellent animated feature film. He uses light to highlight the action. He has incredibly detailed three-dimensional-looking backgrounds. This would work well as a cartoon short.

But mostly, it’s just plain fun. The nice giant helps good-hearted Jack and his mother (and his ever-present dog) feed plain working folk. And everybody ends up happy. Did I mention the book is beautiful to look at? This book will leave you smiling.

candlewick.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/jack_and_the_baked_beanstalk.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Writing Reviews, Posting Reviews

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

I have a problem. It’s a good problem. I am way behind on reviews I have written but haven’t posted. Right now there are 97 of them.

Partly, this problem came from the solution to an earlier problem: I was way behind on books I’d read but hadn’t reviewed. I decided to solve that problem by spending 30 minutes per day writing reviews. Some time ago, I’d tried and succeeded — for an entire year — to write 30 minutes a day on my book. For now, I’m putting my book-writing on hold. I went to the William Morris Seminar in January to learn about ALSC’s Book Evaluation Committees. It’s seen as conflict of interest to have a book being published when you are evaluating books for a committee (like the Newbery), so I decided I haven’t gotten published in all this time, why not wait a little longer and see if I can get on a committee first? Surely I can write in the meantime — just not try to find a publisher. Well, I decided that, and then got more and more lazy about my 30 minutes per day goal. When I saw how behind I was on books to be reviewed, I decided to let myself spend that time on review writing. And I’ve caught up!

Or, I’ve sort of caught up. There’s a problem. If I write one review per day but don’t post one review per day, I will never catch up. The fact is, I need to be much, much more choosy about which books I review. Right now I’ve got four books sitting here that I liked very much and want to recommend, but I think I will discipline myself and not review them.

Or, how about this: I’ll give a mini-review here and now, but won’t make a full-on page with links on my main site.

Here are four excellent books. First two picture books.

Rabbit’s Snow Dance, as told by James and Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Jeff Newman, tells a folk tale about how rabbit got his short tail. The book would make a wonderful read-aloud, with chants like “I will make it snow, AZIKANAPO!” and a longer chant in a circle that begs for the listeners to act out. Rabbit has a nice comeuppance at the end, or, well, comedownance, and that’s how he loses his long tail. Joseph and James Bruchac are storytellers, and this story definitely wants to be told.

Sleep Like a Tiger, by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, is one I got fresh appreciation for when I heard people talk about it at Capitol Choices. This is a deceptively simple bedtime story. A little girl is not sleepy at bedtime, and her parents tell her she doesn’t have to go to sleep, but she does have to put on her pajamas… and so on. Along the way, they talk about how different animals sleep. The pictures show the animals, like a tiger, in their habitat, while in alternate spreads the little girl settles into her bed with her stuffed animals and toys. In the end, she settles down like the animals do. This is a cozy and lovely bedtime book.

Then, two books of children’s nonfiction, both about birds:

Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird, by Stephanie Spinner, illustrated by Meilo So, is another picture book, but tells a true story. It includes short chapters, but there is no table of contents and this is definitely suitable for younger kids. The story is about an African Grey Parrot and his owner, Irene Pepperberg. She used Alex to show that parrots possess true intelligence. The book talks about Alex’s progress and how he was tested and matched three-year-old children.

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, by Phillip Hoose, is much longer. It covers science, nature, the environment and what you can do to help. Moonbird tells the story of a rufa red knot banded with the number B95 in the year 1995 who has been spotted since. These birds are some of the greatest distance travelers on earth, and B95 is the oldest known such bird. The book goes into detail about what physiological changes and athletic feats go into his journey. The author interviewed many scientists all interested in helping the red knots and other shorebirds continue to survive.

So there you have it — Four more excellent books. Some day, I will catch up…. Meanwhile, keep reading!