Archive for the ‘Folk Tales’ Category

Review of One Grain of Rice, by Demi

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

One Grain of Rice

A Mathematical Folktale

by Demi

Scholastic Press, 1997. 36 pages.
Review written May 7, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
Mathical Hall of Fame

One Grain of Rice was recently chosen for the Mathical Books Hall of Fame, so I thought I should catch up – I missed this one when it was published. Yes, I’ve heard the tale in different versions, so I knew what to expect: a lowly person outwitting an autocrat with the power of exponential growth, asking for one grain of rice the first day, twice as much the next day, and doubling each day for thirty days.

This version has Demi’s exquisite artwork. The lowly person in this story is a clever peasant girl named Rani who devises a plan to feed hungry people. I also like the way the tyrant hoarding rice reforms and everybody’s happy at the end. It’s a picture book, after all.

As for the math – there’s a chart at the back that shows how many grains of rice Rani gets on each of the thirty days, so kids can see the exponential growth. I like the way the story doesn’t pretend that someone counts out each grain (couldn’t be done in a day!), but shows progressively bigger baskets transporting the rice. On the final day, two hundred and fifty-six elephants show up on a giant fold-out page bringing the contents of four royal storehouses.

I’m afraid during a pandemic is an especially good time for kids to have a basic understanding of how exponential growth works. It starts out very small, but can grow to very big if you keep on doubling. This classic book makes the ideas memorable, understandable, and beautiful.

scholastic.com

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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 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.

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Review of Dark Hedges, Wizard Island, and Other Magical Places That Really Exist, by L. Rader Crandall

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

Dark Hedges, Wizard Island, and Other Magical Places That Really Exist

by L. Rader Crandall

Running Press Kids (Hachette), Philadephia, 2020. 122 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book

What a fun idea! This book tells about thirty-seven places in the world that have legends about them. The author tells the legends as if they actually happened, and who’s to say they didn’t? With each place, there’s at least one photograph.

I was hooked because the book begins with the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, one of my favorite places I ever visited during ten years living in Europe. I’ve only been to four of the other places, but it certainly expanded my list of places I’d like to go.

Here’s an excerpt from the author’s note to the reader at the front of the book:

Take a stroll among the shelves of your local bookshop, search your favorite websites, or download the latest app and you’re bound to discover a trove of helpful travel guides. They will lead you to the finest hotels, tell you which dishes to order in restaurants far and wide, and explain which shops sell the most authentic souvenirs. You’ll find lists of museums acclaimed for their exhibits, maps of city blocks renowned for their architecture, and suggestions of venues famous for their concerts and sports matches. They are all very useful, ideal for the practical traveler.

This is not that sort of book.

Herein lies a guide to our world for fans of the fantastic. On these pages, you’ll find places that seem the stuff of dreams – a remote island where dragons roam, distant shores where giants have battled, ancient castles enchanted by fairies – but that are, in fact, very real. They are places you can actually travel to, destinations you can explore, if only you know the way. Many are steeped in myths and legends from long ago that have been passed down over the centuries, while others have histories more fascinating than fairy tales.

This book may be responsible for giving imaginative kids the travel bug.

runningpress.com/rpkids

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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.

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Review of Sugar in Milk, by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Sugar in Milk

by Thrity Umrigar
illustrated by Khoa Le

RP Kids, Philadelphia, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written January 9, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Capitol Choices selection, age 7-10.

This gorgeously illustrated and lyrical picture book contains a story-within-a-story.

It begins with a spread of a girl alone in a snowy city, pulling a suitcase behind her.

When I first came to this country,
I felt so alone.

Although the girl knows her aunt and uncle are happy to have her and try to be welcoming, she misses her parents and her family and even her cats, Kulfi and Baklava.

Then her Auntie tells her a story, and that part is set off with decorated borders that get gradually more elaborate. The story tells of a group people long ago who had to leave their home and travel to a distant land.

But the local king did not want to let them in.
“Our land is too crowded,” he grumbled,
“with no room for others.
Besides, these visitors look foreign
and speak a strange and different language
I do not understand.”

But when the travelers don’t understand him (because they speak a strange and different language), he shows them they have no room, by filling a royal cup with milk, all the way to the brim.

But a wise man among the travelers took out a spoon and mixed sugar into the milk. And I won’t spoil the lovely way the lesson is presented, but it’s done lyrically, fittingly accompanying the beautiful pictures.

And the girl’s Auntie doesn’t have to tell her the moral of the story, but it changes everything for her.

I began to smile at the people we passed,
and they returned my smile.
Everybody I said hello to said hello back to me.
Even the dogs seemed friendlier
and wagged their tails faster.

I love the way this book tells a simple story that’s so rich with application – but leaves the application to the children who hear the story. It’s a good story for someone who’s lonely as well as for someone who’s not but who needs to have compassion on those who are.

And the artistry of this book is lovely for the eyes and fingers both. And for the ears, it’s written in the musical language of legends.

Umrigar.com
runningpress.com/rpkids

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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.

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Review of The Fabled Life of Aesop, by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

The Fabled Life of Aesop

by Ian Lendler
illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 64 pages.
Review written March 24, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-outs:
#2 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

This is a collection of Aesop’s fables that stands out for two important reasons.

The first outstanding thing about it is the stunning illustrations by Caldecott-Honor-winning artist Pamela Zagarenski. Every page of this book is beautiful to look at. The illustrations feel otherworldly, adding to the universal nature of the fables.

The second outstanding feature is that the author presents the life of Aesop before and after presenting most of the fables. I knew, I think, that Aesop had been a slave, but very little else. Ian Lendler tells about his different owners and how he won his freedom with his wisdom.

He also explains why fables were important for slaves – a way to tell the truth indirectly and thus not get into trouble. He imagines situations for Aesop to tell several of his fables in the story of his life, thus avoiding trouble while sharing wisdom. I like that the author clearly shows – with one of Aesop’s fables – that freedom was the greatest treasure he could win.

There’s an author’s note at the back that explains what we know and don’t know about Aesop. But that the idea of a slave who won his freedom with his wisdom was attached to the fables for more than 2,000 years.

This book gave me a whole new appreciation for these fables that I’ve heard over and over again. Children being introduced to them this way will find them magical.

ianlendler.com
pzagarenski.com
hmhbooks.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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.

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Review of Brave Red, Smart Frog, by Emily Jenkins

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Brave Red, Smart Frog

A New Book of Old Tales

by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

Candlewick Press, 2017. 94 pages.
Starred Review

I have always loved fairy tales. My grandma owned several of the various-colored fairy tale books by Andrew Lang, and I remember sitting in her big comfy chair and reading them when I was quite young.

This is a 2017 book, but our library purchased it in 2018. When my hold came in, I saw the copyright and was going to turn it right back in – I’m reading for the Newbery, and I don’t have time for anything else. However, intrigued by the title and the look of the book, I opened to a random page. The tone and spirit of the tales captivated me quickly. I brought them home, figuring that reading one little story each day wouldn’t hurt anything.

And I really did get it read that way (which is surprising right there). At the end I cheated a little and read two stories in one night.

These are mostly Grimm tales, and I’m very familiar with all of them – but I love these fresh retellings. I like the new names she gives to characters, the explanations of their motivations, and that frozen and cold forest that shows up in almost all the tales. There’s even a place where a character in one story shows up in another! (Hint: There’s a huntsman in both “Snow White” and “Red Riding Hood.”)

Here’s an example paragraph right at the start that gives you the friendly and refreshing tone used throughout the book:

On one side of this frozen forest stood a castle. In it lived a queen who was unhappy. She was a warm person, a bright person. Her husband was chilly and dull. It had been a mistake to marry him. When their first and only daughter was born, the king named the baby Snow White. The queen would have preferred a name like Tulip or Sunshine.

An Author’s Note at the back gives her philosophy of retelling these stories. She wasn’t trying to be accurate to originals or entirely reinvent the tales.

What I’m doing instead is telling these stories largely faithfully, but without adhering to versions made famous by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and others. I wrote them simply as I myself want to tell them, using the storytelling techniques I have at my disposal. After all, before people began writing them down, these tales were passed down orally. They changed a bit with each new teller. I wrote to bring out what’s most meaningful to me in the stories, and in that way I believe I am part of a tradition that goes back to the earliest tellers of these tales.

The result is delightful. These would be fun to read aloud at bedtime to a child or after lunch to a classroom.

Now, some kisses break enchantments.

And other kisses begin them.

You’re going to find both kinds of kisses in these tales.

candlewick.com

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.