fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

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

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

img_0401

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. 

img_0402

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.

 

Guest Post

Blog Tour: In The Shadow Of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling

Blog Tour: In The Shadow Of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling

img_8967

About In The Shadow Of Heroes

Emperor Nero has decreed that he shall have The Golden Fleece of Greek mythology, and nothing will stand in his way. 

When scholar Tullus goes missing, his slave Cadmus knows he must go after him. When a girl called Tog turns up with a secret message, the pair set out to help Tullus on a quest which will take them to the edges of the Roman Empire and force them to question what is reality and what is a myth. 

One of my favourite subjects at school was Latin. Both the language itself and the stories we learned about Roman culture. I thought at once of a Classics teacher when I began this story and was delighted to find out that Bowling is a Latin teacher and a classics graduate. His interest in the past and in the myths of those times is all over his work. Cadmus and Tog behave in ways which are realistic for their times and are fully engaging to the modern audience. 

The quest opens up an amazing world where the objects from Greek mythology are up for grabs. I always think it is interesting to imagine how mythological items would be abused by people in power. 

I am delighted to welcome Nicholas Bowling to my blog. He has written a guest piece which explains how Nero (a legendary figure himself) had an interest in mythology. 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR for arranging this opportunity, and to Nicholas for your time. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

The Myth of Nero by Nicholas Bowling. 

In 69 AD, reports spread through Greece and Asia minor that the Roman Emperor Nero had arrived on the island of Kythnos. He had robbed traders, had armed slaves for an insurrection and had ousted the Roman commander. The arrival of the Emperor anywhere in his empire was bound to cause anxiety to the locals, regardless of his behaviour. This instance was particularly troubling, though, because Nero had killed himself the previous year.

In all there were three “Pseudo-Neros” who came out of the woodwork following his death. Oracles and historians alike spoke of the “Nero Redivivus” legend, in which the monster returned from hiding to wage war on the empire he had once ruled. St Augustine and the early Christians foretold his return as late as the 5th century, and went so far as to label him the Antichrist. Such was the cruelty, decadence and downright weirdness of Nero’s reign, he had already become an almost mythical character within his own lifetime; once he was dead, the myth took on a life of its own. Nowadays the name “Nero” is still a byword for tyranny.

Not only did Nero become a myth himself, but he also had a fascinating relationship with myth while he was alive. He was obsessed with Greek culture and art, in particular with poetry and singing. In fact, he fancied himself the greatest singer who had ever lived, Apollo reborn, and – to the great shame of Rome – participated in poetry recitals dressed as the god himself. The famous story of him singing about the fall of Troy while the Great Fire of Rome raged around him is probably apocryphal but still gives an insight into how he was perceived by his subjects. In Nero’s deluded mind, reality and fiction seemed to blur. The historian Suetonius called him “scaenicus imperator” – “the emperor of the stage”, whose whole life seemed to be a story he was enacting.

When it came to writing “In the Shadow of Heroes,” Nero was a gift of a character – in fact, he was the starting point for the whole thing. The book re-examines myths we think we know and asks readers to imagine that those stories really took place, and left real, tangible objects for us to find. As a choice of antagonist, who better than Nero: the mythical bogey-man who couldn’t tell the difference between story and reality?

 

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on twitter @thenickbowling

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

Review: In Focus … Forests by Libby Walden

img_8827

Earth’s forests are magical places full of wilderness, wonders and wildlife. From the Black Forest in Europe to rainforests and American national parks and the kelp forests below the ocean, they are special places which need to be cared for and preserved. 

Libby Walden has created a beautiful book to do them justice. Every double page spread introduces a new subject, then unfolds to reveal a four-page fact file. As well as introducing different types of forest, the book looks at forest mythology, people who live in the forests and the anatomy of different trees. 

This is one of my favourite illustrated non-fiction titles of the year. It has the right balance of beauty and information and offers different ways into the subject. Its multi-subject approach proves yet again that subjects are interrelated. For example, myths and legends often come from attempts to answer big scientific questions. 

The short sections on each spread make it easy to learn new facts while plants and animals the reader might not have seen are clearly illustrated. I love how the illustrations, although informative, remain eye-catching and attractive to their younger audience. 

Something which I noticed immediately was the child-friendly fonts – a clear, sans-serif font for information with headings in the handwriting font used in many primary schools. Younger children are often asked to learn joined-up handwriting, but this is rarely reflected in the books they read. 

The sort of book which makes learning feel more like an adventure than a task. This is one to treasure. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of In Focus … Forests. Opinions my own.

blog tour

Blog Tour: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

shadowfoxbanner

shadowofthefox

Blog Tour: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow Of The Fox is one of my favourite YA reads this year, and it is your new YA fantasy addiction. Set in a world of demons and tree-spirits, ghosts and shapeshifters, it follows a girl on her quest to prevent a terrible power from falling into the wrong hands. 

I was delighted to be invited on to the blog tour and I particularly wanted to hear how Japanese mythology had shaped the book. My friend Christina has lived and worked in Japan and knows the language and culture well. When I visited her in October, she introduced me to a whole landscape which I had never known before. Shadow Of The Fox took me further into this landscape and made me hungry for more fantasy inspired by world mythology. 

A big thank-you to Julie Kagawa for taking the time to tell us how mythology shaped your story. birdbreak

About Shadow Of The Fox and Japanese mythology – Julie Kagawa. 

Shadow of the fox’s main protagonist is Yumeko, a girl who is also half-kitsune.  Kitsune are the magical, shapeshifting foxes of Japanese legend, and one of their most beloved creatures of myth.  Kitsune appear everywhere in Japan: in anime and manga, folktales, toys and video games, even in food.  Kitsune udon (noodles) and Inari zushi (tofu sushi) are tied to foxes, as both have a sweet fried tofu pouch that is said to be a kitsune’s favorite food.  Fox statues can be found at Japanese shrines, particularly the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, as kitsune are also messengers of Inari, the god of rice.    

In Shadow of the Fox, Yumeko struggles with the two sides of herself.  She wants to be a good human, but she is also mischievous and loves playing pranks due to her kitsune nature.  Having lived in an isolated temple all her life, she is very innocent and naive to the world, but she has a fox’s intelligence and learns quickly.  Which will come in handy when she flees her home and runs into all manner of Japanese monsters and yokai.  Yumeko isn’t a warrior, but she is kitsune, and will have to use all of her cunning, magic and fox talents if she wants to survive.

Literary Fiction Reviews · Uncategorized

Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

img_6675

Extract:

I was handed over to Odysseus like a package of meat, A package of meat in a wrapping of gold, mind you. A sort of gilded blood-pudding. But perhaps that is too crude a similie for you. Let me add that meat was highly valued among us – the aristocracy at lots of it … 

(The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. P39.) birdSynopsis:

Everyone knows the story of Odysseus the hero. Odysseus the bold adventurer who sailed the seas. His wife is remembered for her devotion. Although Odysseus disappeared for many years, Penelope refused to marry one of the suitors who begged for her hand. She wove a shroud, refusing to marry until it was done, and unpicked her work every night to keep the suitors at bay. This is her role in the Odyssey.

Now Penelope wanders the underworld she is free to tell her own story. Her version of events is quite different. It begins with the father who tried to drown her at birth, moves to the husband who disappeared for twenty years and then to the son who grew to assert his dominance over his mother.

 birdReview:

Penelope. Immortalised as the devoted wife of Odysseus, Penelope is best remembered for weaving and unpicking and reweaving a shroud as she awaited her husband’s return. Margaret Atwood gives Penelope her own voice. As Penelope wanders the underworld she tells her own story, freed for the first time from the shadow of men.

Good retellings should bring something new to existing stories. Make us see something in a new light. The Penelopiad is fearless and feminist. It shows us what life was like for Penelope and how little value a woman’s life had in Ancient Greece.

Poetic and lyrical, Penelope’s story is woven around regular songs from the hanged maids. While Odysseus was away – looting and pillaging and having affairs – Penelope’s home was overrun by men seeking her hand in marriage. The twelve maids were hanged for their affairs with these suitors. The way in which the songs interrupt the narrative is haunting, precisely what Atwood seems to have been aiming for, as the voices are meant to haunt the men who think they can get away with rape and murder. Odysseus, who killed the girls for the shame of their crimes, was free enough in his affairs with other women.

Penelope recounts her life in relation to men – the father who tried to drown her before he realises the material worth of marrying a daughter, the husband who left her for years to conduct affairs with other women and the son who grew up to believe his voice was the most important in the household. The maids’ songs remind us that Penelope was lucky – a noblewoman was safer because her life had material worth.

These themes are not all retrospective. The trial at the end of the novel reminds us that the same issues are still present in the world today. This is an extraordinary work because it not only brings a female voice to the myth but a female agenda. Poetic and bold and one of my favourite retellings.  

 

Thank you to Canongate Books for my copy of The Penelopiad. Opinions my own. The Canongate Myths – new takes on old myths by leading authors – are available now.