fairytales

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless And Free by Lari Don. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon.

Blog Tour: Fierce, Fearless And Free by Lari Don. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon.

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Meet Inanna who conquered a mountain. Bridget who rid her house of witches. Kandek who outsmarted a wearwolf. These heroines are fearless, bold, quick-thinking and smart, and their stories make for excellent reading. 

Folk stories have been important to me since I was small. It began with music. Songs I heard as my Dad worked through his collection of LPs, cassettes and CDs. Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention – the stories they sang weren’t always fully comprehensible to my young mind but I got the jist enough to know that they were a little more exciting than the limited cannon of fairytales that was read on a regular basis to children. Later, I found a collection of folk tales retold by Kevin Crossley Holland and my interest in folklore really took hold. How stories grow out of human experiences. How time and place shapes the retelling, until each culture has its own canon of best-known tales. 

This collection includes tales from different cultures. It reflects the fact that stories are told and retold all around the world. 

My favourites included The Lace Dragon, the story of a girl who outsmarts the Emperor demanding her hand in marriage by drawing on her magic as a lacemaker, and Goddess VS Mountain, which is the story of a girl up aganist the might of the land itself. The stories have such different themes and settings that the collection remains engaging. As an adult reader, it reminded me of the magic of being a child and begging for just one more story. 

The way these stories are written lends itself to speaking aloud. It is an art in itself to write with such clarity and yet in a way that draws the reader in and keeps them hooked. 

As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware that the notions we form about gender begin early and restrict our ideas about our identities. Countering stereotypes is important if we are to offer the next generation a wider range of ideas about who they might become. The fact that this collection shows girls being clever and active, angry and proactive and energetic will make it  popular with teachers, librarians and parents looking to counter narrow ideas about what it means to be a girl. 

It turns out happy ever after can come in all kinds of ways. These tales are well written, timeless and filled with strong female role models. 

 

Thanks to Faye Rogers PR and Bloomsbury Education for my copy of Fierce, Fearless And Free. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

Review: North Child by Edith Pattou.

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Extract:

Then the white bear was at the door. And before any of us could move, Rose had crossed to him. She reached behind a large wooden trunk that stood by the door and drew out a small knapsack. She must have hidden it earlier.

 ‘I will go with you,’ Rose said to the bear, and I watched, unbelieving, as the animal’s great paw flashed and Rose was suddenly astride the bear’s back as if he were some enormous horse.

(North Child by Edith Pattou. P91.)

 

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Synopsis:

No matter how hard her mother tried to deny it, Rose was born facing North. And just like the old stories about North-born children say, she longs to venture far from home.

When her sister gets dangerously ill, and the family is in danger of losing its home, Rose makes a pact with a mysterious white bear. In exchange for her sister’s survival and her family’s prosperity, Rose follows the bear to a strange palace where she remains with him, uncertain why he called on her.

Rose spends her days exploring the palace and weaving in the sewing room. At night somebody sleeps beside her, but she never quite sees this person’s face. The more Rose sees of the palace, and the more she comes to like the bear, the more curious she gets.

Can she unravel the secret of the palace without ruining her own destiny?

 

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Review:

It has been some time since I got so thoroughly immersed in a book. This is a story told in multiple voices, often in short chapters, but the plot is so satisfying and the language so beautiful that I lost myself within its pages. Reading it was like sinking into a dream and I spent my days waiting for the chance to pick the book up again.

Inspired by the fairy tale East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, North Child is mainly about two characters: Rose, the adventurous girl who was always destined to leave her family, and the mysterious white bear. We also hear from the Troll Queen, our antagonist, and her story of desire and greed and heartless cruelty interweaves with those of the main characters.

Rose’s mother, father and brother Neddy are also given narrative voices. This may seem unusual at first, but Pattou pulls it off with great skill and the result is that we get a rounded picture of Rose. We learn about her home life and the people she loves even when she is miles away from them.

It seems no coincidence that weaving and threads are motifs within this narrative. The writing itself is like many richly coloured threads worked together into a tapestry.

There are so many memorable imagines within this story. Rose working at a loom to create herself a cloak fit for adventure. The White Bear carrying Rose over a frozen landscape. Rose and the Bear playing music in their many hours together in the palace. This is a very visual, very detailed story that remains in the mind in vignettes much like a fairy tale.

An epic tale about love and possessive desire told by a great storyteller. If you love fairy tale adaptations or simply good writing, this one is for you. The perfect story for long Wintery nights.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing for sending a proof copy of North Child. Opinions my own.

fairytales · Feminist/Gender Equality

Review: Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls (various authors and illustrators).

Review: Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls (various authors and illustrators).

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Fairy tales fire our imaginations and they shape our understanding and expectations for our lives. So says Kate Pankhurst in her introduction, which explains how some fairy tales were told less often than others, and so became lesser-known or forgotten. As stories die, Pankhurst says, so do their messages. And why should there only be one version of a tale, when braver, bolder characters can tell us the things which make sense in our lives? 

It is a fantastic foreword to a book that aims to change the narrative on female heroines. Why should the princesses sit around waiting to be rescued when they could ride out into the night and take on the darkness themselves? 

This image, incidentally, comes from my favourite fairy tale. In Tam Lin, included here as Fearless Fiona And The Spellbound Knight, the heroine rides out at midnight to confront an evil faerie queen and prevent a young man from being given as tribute to hell. I came to this story through folk music and something about it felt different from the same-old-same-old stories which I knew from repeated tellings. There was something about Tam Lin which, even in my teens, I was unable to explain. 

And of course, that image says it all. The heroine was brave. Not the wimpy, waiting around without complaint brave, but the kind where she took things into her own hands, faced her fears and remained resolute in her position. She had guts. She had authority as a character. 

Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls offers young readers this very thing. Girls need to see themselves at the centre of the action from an early age to believe that their strength and intelligence is equal to that of a boy.

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The stories are retold in a way that is suitable for younger readers. The writing is strong and rich in detail and the book could very definitely grow with the reader and remain a favourite. In fact, these would be lovely to read aloud as a group or to reenact together. Tales included are English, Scottish and European but vary from the best-known stories. This would be a lovely book to help readers think more broadly about fairy tales and folklore and to give them a hunger for more tales. 

The illustrations are bold and colourful and bring the stories to life. I especially love the towering, waving nettles in the illustrations of The Nettle Princess, and the picture of Tam Lin with his armour wrapped in flowers. 

It is always encouraging to see anthologies which aim to challenge outdated narratives. A lovely introduction to the diversity and richness which stories can offer. 

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing and Rontaler Events for my copy. Opinions my own.

fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Magical Myths And Legends. Chosen by Michael Morpurgo.

Review: Magical Myths And Legends. Chosen by Michael Morpurgo.

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Every tale in this book is centuries old. So explains the introduction by Michael Morpurgo which explains that even before we had books, we had stories. 

Regular readers of my blog know that I have a passion for folk tales and legends. They are the stuff on which our dreams are built. They are the place from which other forms of storytelling evolved. It is lovely to see this collection of ten tales about well-known figures like Icarus and Robin Hood. 

This is the perfect introductory book to myths and legends. It looks a challenging size, but the text is large and the illustrations take up most of the page, so it is actually limited to one or two paragraphs per page. This makes it brilliant for less-confident readers, or for sharing aloud in shorter time-spaces, such as bedtime or the gap between lessons and play. 

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It also has a good range of origins – Greek Myths, and English folk tales, and Viking legends among them – and the stories are told and illustrated by different creators. I was particularly charmed, as a Millenial, that many of these the storytellers of my childhood. It felt like something I might have picked up in my childhood library (albeit in the fresher, prettier publishing style of today). Perhaps myths and folk-tales feel like this anyway, but reading words by Tony Bradman and Jeanne Willis added to this effect. These are some of the most established and practiced children’s authors working today. 

The range of illustration styles makes each story feel distinctive. Readers will soon have their favourites, and it is impossible to pick this up without flicking through to pick. 

I am impressed with this as an early collection of folk tales, and as stories that can be shared between people of all ages. This is the perfect book for reading out loud. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Magical Myths And Legends. Opinions my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Lost Fairytales by Isabel Otter and Ana Sender.

Review: The Lost Fairytales by Isabel Otter and Ana Sender.

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Once upon a time, there was a girl at the centre of the story who didn’t need rescuing … 

If you’ve ever fancied a fairy tale with a strong heroine, look no further. This anthology contains 20. Better than that, these stories haven’t been rewritten to change the roles of the characters. They always featured strong females. 

The range of stories is brilliant, with tales from different cultures around the world. I loved seeing the range of influences, and also similarities between the tales – bold eagles, special presents and magic wells recur in stories from all over the world. 

IMG_E9890It also contains an old favourite of mine. Tam Lin, here known as The Company Of Elves, is about a girl called Janet who rides out at Halloween to prevent her love Tam Lin from being paid as a tithe to hell. She’s up against another strong woman, the Fairy Queen. And we’re not talking innocent fairies here. This Queen turns Tam into a series of animals which turn on Janet, but she holds tight. I’ve heard this in folk music many times, but rarely see it included in fairytale anthologies. 

A section at the back contains some thinking points about each story. These are designed to motivate young readers and to encourage readers to think about what makes the heroines so strong. There are also some useful summaries to each story which explain its background and origins. 

The book is illustrated in a way which makes it irresistible. I particularly love how details and colours are used to give an impression of the different landscapes, and how the page colours coordinate with the illustrations. This apparently tiny thing makes each tale feel unique and separate from the others. 

This beautiful anthology stands out for its range of world fiction, and for the heroines who prove that there are different ways to be strong and brave. It would make a lovely addition to any bookshelf and is going on my list of Christmas gift recommendations. 

 

Thanks to Caterpillar Books for my gifted copy of The Lost Fairytales. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

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Extract:

‘Until the rains arrive,’ Granny Uma said, ‘you must come home before the Switching Hour. No one is safe from Badeko the Dream Eater at night, no matter how fast you think you can run.’ 

(The Switching Hour by Damaris Young. P15.)

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Synopsis:

Everyone knows about Badeko. He creeps into house and steals away children to devour their dreams. When he has finished feasting on them, the memory of their existence disappears from their loved ones, who then suffer from terrible grief known as The Sorrow Sickness.

Amaya knows the rules. Every night she locks the door to protect herself and her little brother from the sorrow sickness. Then one day she loses her temper and in the aftermath, she forgets to lock the door.

Her small brother is taken, except Amaya determines to bring him back. With the help of her pet goat Tau and new friend Mally, Amaya sets out to find the Badeko’s nest.

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Review:

When a talented storyteller begins a tale, it creates a feeling in the reader. Something like a shiver, except they are so hooked that they sit still. This is the feeling I had whilst reading The Switching Hour. I knew from the first page that I was in the hands of a talented author.

The story also centres around climate issues, which have never been more relevant given the climate emergency which threatens life on our planet. Amaya lives in an extreme climate, and the terrible creature which steals children from their homes was awoken by drought. The community desperately awaits the rains which will send Badeko back to sleep. This is the first time I have seen a tale about a creature awoken by climate crisis, and yet it felt like something I knew inside my heart. As if the story is already playing out around us and the author told it in the very best way.

On a personal note, Amaya’s grief for her mother was told in a real and beautiful way. As a twenty-something who has just undergone the same loss, I related to much of what Amaya felt. That desperate fear that I will forget details about my mother, and that I am not doing as she would want in any given situation. Bereavement and loss is not only a thing that happened at some point in time. It shapes a person’s reactions and thoughts and emotions ever after. The Switching Hour shows this to perfection.

The story feels like a folk tale not only because of the forest and the fantastical creature but because it tells a story of our times and poses a question: do we want this to happen?

The Switching Hour is not only a strong concept, it is told with language so beautiful it gets under the skin. This is storytelling. This is what a good book looks like.  

A haunting and memorable debut.

 

Thanks to Scholastic Children’s Books for my gifted copy of The Switching Hour. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Red And The City by Marie Voigt

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Review: Red And The City by Marie Voigt

Red’s Mum asks her to take a cake to Grandma in the city. She tells Red to follow the heart flowers and stay on the path. The city has many distractions – shops to browse and food to eat, adverts to read and people to talk to. Red finds herself swallowed up by the temptations of the city. 

A timely narrative about modern life and a fresh take on a traditional tale. 

I moved from London to the countryside, and find this story extremely relatable. Even on the edge of London, even with a forest practically on my doorstep, I strayed too often into the shops. Even when I had no money, even when I had better things to do. If I went looking for one thing, I popped into other places along the way. I can’t imagine living that way now. Now I walk under an open sky and use my time to get a bit more writing done. 

img_8238Does this book criticise the city? Not at all. The ending makes that very clear when Red and Gran talk about all the lovely things they might do together in the city. Cities have museums and galleries, libraries and theatres, and you know what? Even shops. If your intention is to spend half a day shopping, that’s all good. This book is about how many distractions we meet along the way. It challenges us to stick to our original intentions. 

As well as being a brilliant story about city life, it could be used as a metaphor for online behaviour. How often do we come online to look up one thing, or to do a specific job, and end up scrolling? Or flicking through our regular pages? 

The Red Riding Hood narrative is echoed in the choice of language (‘Oh city, what shiny toys you have …’) and also in the illustrations. The wolf is everywhere, hiding behind every distraction. He is disguised as an advert and a bus stop and a fast-food restaurant. 

The colour palette of greys, black and white is so dystopian and the effect is stunning. It isn’t scary, but like a fairy-tale, there is a hint of darkness at the edges. Little Red, in her bright coat, is in danger of being lost to the enormity of the city. 

A clever take on the traditional tale and a narrative which needs to be told. This will be popular in classrooms and libraries, and it would also make a wonderful bedtime story to open a discussion about the activities which are really important to us. 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Red And The City. Opinions my own.

fairytales

Review: Through The Water Curtain & Other Tales From Around the World. Selected by Cornelia Funke.

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Fairytales can get a bit same-old. The handsome prince rescues the girl in the tower, who is glad to become his wife. There is a place in the world for every kind of story, and if you dig a little deeper there are stories of all kinds of people in all kinds of places. Stories with endings you may not know or expect. 

Through The Water Curtain takes thirteen stories from around the world and looks a little deeper into their origins. Insightful commentary at the end of each tale helps us to think about how stories come to be written in the first place. 

Cornelia Funke, bestselling author of series such as Inkheart and Dragon Rider, is the perfect person to edit a collection of fairytales. Over the course of her career, she has travelled the globe in search of stories, something which she refers to in this collection. Her commentaries offer insight both into the stories themselves and into Funke’s experience as a storyteller. 

These stories certainly aren’t Disneyfied. Character meet brutal endings, such as the girls in Kotura, Lord Of The Winds who freeze to death when they fail to heed instructions. They remind us that fairy tales can be dark and unknowable. 

The book is beautifully desinged. The cover demands that you pick it up and I love the detailed design of the pictures. Each story has a title page with an illustration like those on the front cover. 

If you are looking to treat yourself to a fairytale collection, this is a beautiful and insightful introduction. It is also a lovely size to read and reread until the tales are known by heart. 

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of Through The Water Curtain. Opinions my own.

Feminist/Gender Equality · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls

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Review: Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls

Stories retold by – Julia Bruce 

Illustrators – Olga Baumert, Molley May, Kerry Hyndman, Hannah Tolson, Hannah Peck and Holly Hatam, 

 

Once upon a time there was a girl … 

Join six girls from around the world, in six separate stories, as they set off on an adventure and use their courage, strength, and intelligence to return safely home. 

This collection of bedtime stories features familiar tales, such as the Snow Queen, but the stories are told with a difference. Every story has a girl at the centre. Hansel and Gretel? Try Gretel and Hansel. It was Gretel who pushed the witch in the oven and saved her brother. Without spelling it out, the stories show readers that girls can be intelligent, brave and resourceful. 

It also features girls from around the world. It is so important for young readers to see that people from different cultures can encounter the same feelings and demonstrate the same skills. 

The book is a beautiful collection of fairy tales. It would make a lovely present for a younger child or a less-confident reader – the stories are short enough that nobody will lose patience and there is a full-colour illustration on every other page. 

A different illustrator was chosen to work on each story. This adds to the experience because without reading a single word each story has a unique feel. Every story has a decorative title spread and beautiful full-page illustrations. 

Not only is this a wonderful collection of fairy tales, it puts girls at the centre and shows how much they can do. This would be a wonderful book to keep on a bedside table or to share with a class in KS1/Lower KS2. 

 

Thanks to Ladybird Books for my copy of Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls. Opinions my own.