Two recent books with transgender characters

GeorgeAlex Gino.  George.  New York: Scholastic, 2015.

This is a fantastic book.  George knows she’s really a girl, even though everyone else sees a boy, and she really wants to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web.  Unfortunately, her teacher says only girls can play that role.  But George’s best friend Kelly comes up with an awesome plan to show everyone who George really is.

I love that the Gino creates characters like Kelly, who so readily support George, reflecting the kind of society we should be, especially in a book targeted at middle grade readers.  At the same time, Gino also portrays the initially resistant characters as relatable human beings rather than just stock antagonists, showing how people can change their initial perspectives.  We need more stories like this.

The one thing I wish the book had done is make clear that not all girls naturally like or dislike certain things — that some girls like shooter games, that girls can be just as strong and fast as boys in gym.  But that’s my only complaint.

See Alex Gino’s post at Gay YA, about the need for more LGBTQIA in middle grade and younger literature:

There is no age at which it is inappropriate to appreciate people for who they are.  And there is no age before we know ourselves.  We may not have fully formed those notions, but each of us is the only person we know inside and out, and each of our challenges includes finding, respecting, and celebrating that self.


Robin Talley. What We Left Behind. Harlequin Teen, 2015.What We Left Behind

Gretchen and Toni fall for each other at first sight, at their junior year Homecoming dance, and quickly become the perfect couple. They never fight, and Gretchen is completely supportive of Toni’s exploration of T’s gender identity. Then, the night before they head off to college, Gretchen drops the bomb that she’s not actually planning to go to Boston with Toni; she’s going to New York instead. Toni tries to pretend everything is ok, but this starts a rift in the relationship that grows as they make friends with different groups of people. Toni’s new friends challenge T’s beliefs about gender pronouns, labels, and where T is on the transgender spectrum, and T doesn’t share all of this with Gretchen the way T used to, and Gretchen is too scared to ask questions in case she says something wrong.

Lezbrarian reviewed this book here, and like her, I liked how Talley portrays various people on the “queer/gender identity spectrum … in a way that feels real and immediate and relatable.” There are characters like Derek and Andy and Eli, who know exactly who and what they are, and there is Toni, who is figuring that out from day to day.  And the book is non-judgmental as it portrays both Toni and Gretchen’s thoughts on these issues.  They’re both figuring out how to be individuals as well as a couple, how to define themselves in relation to other people, how to ask for what they really want out of life instead of just following everyone else’s expectations.


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Don’t say it’s true.

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More Datlow/Windling anthologies

First, my favorite tales from two young adult anthologies: The Green Man – a collection focused on the mythical spirit(s) of the forest – and The Coyote Road – a collection of trickster tales.

Green Man

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. New York: Viking, 2002.

  • “Among the Leaves So Green,” by Tanith Lee. It starts in familiar territory – two sisters are sent into the woods to get eggs from the Widow. One sister is kind, the other cruel, so of course one will have a better time than the other. Only, this story doesn’t stop at the cruel sister’s punishment; rather, the forest offers her mercy and a change of life.
  • “A World Painted by Birds,” by Katherine Vaz. Like her story, “The Kingdom of Melting Glances,” from A Wolf at the Door, this tale is full of beautiful, magical realist imagery. From a town where all kinds of beauty are forbidden, a musician and a maker of beautiful lace patterns escape to the forest, where a revolutionary gardener has created a world of mushroom elephants and paintbrush birds, and stars that are “stretched … into a fleet of eardrums to collect every plot in the General’s house, every whisper in Rio Seco.”
  • “Joshua Tree,” by Emma Bull. After a rave in the California desert, Tabetha gets hopelessly lost in a forest of Joshua trees, and then something really weird happens. Or did it really happen? And for some reason, she only feels comfortable telling the story to Alice, the eccentric new girl at school. And for some reason, Alice actually believes her.

Coyote Road

The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales. New York: Viking, 2007.

  • “The Fiddler of Bayou Teche,” by Delia Sherman. Her adoptive mother, Tante Eulalie, always warned Cadence to stay away from the fiddler Murderes Petitpas. Her friend Ulysse, one of the local loup-garous, also warns Cadence – “’Dres Petitpas is the big bull on the hill, and mean, mean. You stay away from him, you.” But some time after Tante Eulalie’s death, ‘Dres comes knocking on Cadence’s door with a challenge he won’t let her decline.
  • “A Tale for the Short Days,” by Richard Bowes. The God of Thieves is troubled, for the modern world is too bright and full of itself for his taste, and much of this new attitude comes from the Sparkman family, kings of coal. So three times, across generations, the God of Thieves is called to the Sparkman estate at the winter solstice to teach the head of the household a lesson.
  • “Friday Night at St. Cecilia’s,” by Ellen Klages. When her best friend doesn’t show up for their usual game night, Rachel accepts the housekeeper’s challenge. But this kindly old lady isn’t what she seems, and soon Rachel is trapped in a series of life-size board games, playing for her freedom.
  • “The Other Labyrinth,” by Jedediah Berry. Of course I’d like a story about a labyrinth. “No mundane gardens, these, but a tortuous puzzle-place, as beautiful as it is confounding,” made up of many smaller mazes – the maze of white roses, the maze of false mirrors, the obelisk maze… a place that’s as much the trickster as its builder.


Next, as I mentioned in my previous Datlow/Windling post, the following anthologies are of more adult-targeted fairy tales (some very adult indeed), but the stories I like best tend to focus less on the sex and more on the clever twisting of the fairy tale.

Black Thorn White Rose

Black Thorn, White Rose. New York: Avon Books, 1994.

  • “Granny Rumple,” by Jane Yolen. In the town of Ykaterinislav, Ukraine, a moneylender named Shmuel tries to help an unfortunate neighbor whose boasting father risks the wrath of the mayor over stories of flax spun into gold-trimmed clothing. But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished… Like Robin McKinley’s “Marsh-Magic,” this is a very clever re-invention of “Rumplestiltskin,” and I like how Yolen sets it up as a legend from her own family.
  • “Godson,” by Roger Zelazny. David’s godfather Morrie seems like a great person. He visits David every year on his birthday, gets him an enchanted bicycle, helps him become a highly skilled doctor… but the things he expects David to do in return start to seem unjust, and eventually David starts to rebel. Of course, if you’ve guessed the story this is based on, you know how dangerous it is to rebel against such a godfather.
  • “The Black Swan,” by Susan Wade. Sent to live with her aunt, the queen, Ylianna soon realizes she doesn’t conform to the ideals of courtly beauty. But it doesn’t really bother her until she falls for her cousin Sigfried, who sees her as just “some nestling hatched by one of the kitchen hawks: He might be briefly entertained by its antics, but he would never dream of training it to his wrist.” All this is observed by a young footman who offers to help Ylianna better meet the standards of courtly behavior and appearance. But how far will she go to be considered worthy of the prince?

Black Swan White Raven

Black Swan, White Raven. Germantown, MD: Prime Books, 1998.

  • “Rapunzel,” by Anne Bishop. Told from three perspectives – the mother, the witch, and Rapunzel herself – it starts out as the familiar story of desperate lettuce cravings and secret princely visits, but then veers off in a lovely new direction.
  • “True Thomas,” by Bruce Glassco. Thomas the Rhymer can tell the truth about people just by their scent, a Language he learned in his years living with the faeries. But these are a different kind of faery – insect/alien-like creatures who travel between the stars, learning and preserving the Language of different worlds. It’s a dreamy story of alien/fairy abduction.
  • “Godmother Death,” by Jane Yolen. Of course I imagined Yolen’s Death to be the same figure as in the Sandman comics.  She’s pale, with dark hair and a sign worn around her neck, and she likes occasionally to act mortal. The story follows fairly closely the Brothers Grimm tale, “Godfather Death.”

Black Heart Ivory Bones

Black Heart, Ivory Bones. New York:  Open Road Media, 2014. Kindle ed. (originally New York: Avon Books, 2000)

  • “Rapunzel,” by Tanith Lee. Another neat Rapunzel story, this one toys with the idea of how the story was invented. For when Prince Urlenn, traveling home from a war, comes upon Rapunzel in the forest, her hair is already cut short and the tower is no prison, there being no witch to guard it. So how did the tale of the long-haired girl in the witch-guarded tower come about?
  • “And Still She Sleeps,” by Greg Costikyan. As Costikyan says in the Afterword, “‘Sleeping Beauty’ is one of the ur-stories that shapes our society’s notion of Romantic love—and thinking about it, and what’s wrong with the image of love it presents, was the proximate cause of the urge to write this piece.” The story takes place in our world, with magic known to exist and studied as a science by scholars like Dr. Alistair Borthwick, whose archaeological team finds an enchantedly sleeping girl while excavating a site in Northumbria. Local legend suggests she can be woken by true love’s kiss. But can anyone really be her true love without knowing her as a person?
  • “You, Little Match-girl,” by Joyce Carol Oates. A woman is driving alone through a blizzard in Maine, desperate to reach the airport, when her car skids off the road. As she wanders the lonely road, hoping someone will drive by and save her, she’s filled with regrets about a life traveling away from her home and family, “intellectually estranged” from them and anyone else who could have loved her. Maybe this accident is giving her a second chance.
  • “The Cats of San Martino,” by Ellen Steiber. This one is based on an Italian fairy tale from the collection of Italo Calvino. Jenny Myford splits from her just-now-become ex-boyfriend on the way to Florence, leaving him to hook up with their traveling partner, Sasha. She wanders alone into the town of San Martino, where she’s instructed to stay at La Casa dei Gatti, the house of the cats. As it turns out, these are wise talking cats who can help Jenny deal with her heartbreak, and also protect her from the apparition she keeps seeing, who looks just like Sasha.
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2015 Favorites

It’s time once again for the year-end review!  Since I’ve been reading a lot of short stories this year, I’ve given them their own section.

Favorite Books –  Click each cover to see my review.

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13112921  True Blue Scouts  Of Course They Do
Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland  Half-Human  Red Ridin' in the Hood
Silver Birch Blood Moon    


Select Favorite Short Stories/Novellas

  • “Forbid the Sea,” by Seanan McGuire (from my “Month of Shorts” post) – Ten years after the Great London Fire, the lonely King of Cats takes an impromptu vacation and meets a traveling selkie named Dylan.  But as we’ve seen throughout the Daye series, relationships with selkies seem fated to end in heartbreak.  It’s stories like these that show the best of McGuire’s style, much more subtle than in the Toby novels (as fun as those are).
  • “Drawing the Moon,” by Janni Lee Simner (from Bruce Coville’s Book of Nightmares) – Everyone believes Andrew’s parents were killed by a mugger, but Andrew knows they were really stolen by the moon, which enters his room every night and taunts him with images of them.  Finally, Andrew traps the moon and insists it give his parents back.  Only, there’s a terrible price.
  • “The Instrument,” by Martha Soukup (from Bruce Coville’s Book of Spine-Tinglers II).  Melanie finds the instrument in the basement of her favorite thrift shop.  It’s missing strings, but just tapping on it creates a perfect sound that hushes all the noise around her.  It seems like a great thing, but just how far will Melanie go to keep that feeling of perfect stillness?
  • “The Shell Box,” by Karawynn Long (from Silver Birch, Blood Moon) – The story intro describes it as “a conflation of various Selkie and Roane stories, some ‘Bluebeard’ tales, with a bit of ‘The Little Mermaid.’” Lonely Merwen is enchanted by a stranger who pays her compliments, and when he asks her to marry him, she readily agrees. Then he turns sullen as his fishing expeditions prove unsuccessful, so Merwen gives him her voice in a special box to keep him company. Suddenly he’s bringing home excellent catches, and seems pleased with Merwen again. But how much has she given up to make him temporarily happy?
  • “Marsh-Magic,” by Robin McKinley (from Silver Birch, Blood Moon) – For twenty generations, the kings named Rustafulus are counseled by their mages to marry a woman of the marsh people, who have their own magic that could bind the land together if they join with the king of the dry land. But the new wife of Rustafulus XX will discover a secret about this tradition, and will not let herself be used the way her predecessors were.


A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!  


Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, LGBTQIA, picture books, selkies, short stories, year-end review | Leave a comment

Fairy tale anthologies by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately, haven’t I? Most recently, I’ve been going through the anthologies of re-imagined folk and fairy tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. These are my favorite stories:

Beastly Bride

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People. New York: Viking, 2010.

  • “The Selkie Speaks,” by Delia Sherman. Sherman’s poem features a rare lasting marriage between a selkie and a human – and rarer still, a marriage not based on a stolen skin.
  • “Bear’s Bride,” by Johanna Sinisalo. Trans. Liisa Rantalaiko. In an ancient Finnish tribe, the women who commune with bears gain power over animals. Now it is Kataya’s turn to spend several months shadowing a bear to strengthen her own tsirnika. This story reminded me of Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear, especially the way the tribe avoids the word “bear,” using terms like “Bruin” and “Honeypaws” instead.

Wolf at the door

A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000.

  • “The Months of Manhattan,” by Delia Sherman, is a retelling of “The Twelve Months.” While trying to complete a school assignment in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Liz finds a painting of Rockefeller Center, with twelve people who come to life. Afterwards, it seems like luck is always on her side, and her stepsister Beth grows jealous.
  • “The Kingdom of Melting Glances,” by Katherine Vaz. Based on two Portuguese folktales, this story is full of beautiful imagery. After Rosa’s parents melt out of love for each other, she’s left with her cruel sisters who taunt Rosa because of the lily-shaped mark on her face. When the sisters injure and frighten away her only friend, a hummingbird, Rosa seeks him in the moon’s face, on the wind’s path, and in the golden palace of the sun.

Swan Sister

Swan Sister. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003.

  • “Awake,” by Tanith Lee. In Lee’s Sleeping Beauty tale, the thirteenth fairy’s spell is much more beautiful: “‘The Spinning Wheel of Time shall stop […] because this child, by then sixteen years old, shall grasp the Spindle that holds the thread time is always weaving. Then she shall gain a hundred years of freedom before she becomes only your daughter, and wife to the prince you approve for her.’”
  • “Inventing Aladdin,” by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s poem muses on how Scheherazade came up with her stories each night.

She does not know where any tale waits
before it’s told. (No more do I.)
But forty thieves sounds good, so forty
thieves it is. She prays she’s bought another
                                  clutch of days.

 We save our lives in such unlikely ways.

Silver Birch Blood Moon

Silver Birch, Blood Moon. New York: Avon Books, 1999.

This and several other Datlow/Windling anthologies are collections of adult fairy tales – stories “that remold our most cherished childhood fables into things darker and sexier, more resonant and appealing to grown-up tastes and sensibilities.”*

  • “Precious,” by Nalo Hopkinson. At the end of “Diamonds and Toads,” the fortunate gem-tongued daughter is, of course, picked up by a prince and expected to live happily ever after. But her husband is only interested in her riches, and uses any means to force them out of her. But in the end, it’s she who has the final say.
  • “The Sea Hag,” by Melissa Lee Shaw. Who is the sea witch, really, and why is she willing to grant the mermaids’ wishes, even the one that seems too foolish? All I can say without spoiling is that it’s a lovely retelling of “The Little Mermaid.”
  • “The Shell Box,” by Karawynn Long. The story intro describes it as “a conflation of various Selkie and Roane stories, some ‘Bluebeard’ tales, with a bit of ‘The Little Mermaid.’” Lonely Merwen is enchanted by a stranger who pays her compliments, and when he asks her to marry him, she readily agrees. Then he turns sullen as his fishing expeditions prove unsuccessful, so Merwen gives him her voice in a special box to keep him company. Suddenly he’s bringing home excellent catches, and seems pleased with Merwen again. But how much has she given up to make him temporarily happy?

I would’ve liked those Selkie and Roane elements to be more explicit, but the hints made me happy enough.

  • “Arabian Phoenix,” by India Edghill. What really happens to the wives of King Haroun al-Raschid, who only seem to last a week each before he’s single again? Shahrazad has a theory, and a plan for her own future. This is a clever twist on The Arabian Nights, set in modern times.
  • “Marsh-Magic,” by Robin McKinley. For twenty generations, the kings named Rustafulus are counseled by their mages to marry a woman of the marsh people, who have their own magic that could bind the land together if they join with the king of the dry land. But the new wife of Rustafulus XX will discover a secret about this tradition, and will not let herself be used the way her predecessors were.

The story intro dubs this a tale inspired by “Rumpelstiltskin”…”But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that ‘Marsh-Magic’ is based on ‘Rumpelstiltskin’,” says McKinley. “It’s more like one of the bigger turnips that went in the pot.”


* So says the front jacket flap for Black Thorn, White Rose. New York: Avon Books, 1994.

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, mermaids, selkies, short stories | 1 Comment

Haunted dolls and other ghostly, spine-tingling nightmares

‘Tis the season for reading spooky stories, so in addition to Holly Black’s Doll Bones, I’ve also been reading some of Bruce Coville’s anthologies — namely, his Books of Ghosts, Nightmares, and Spine Tinglers.

Doll BonesHolly Black.  Doll Bones.  New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013.

Poppy, Zach, and Alice have spent years playing an elaborate make-believe game involving pirates, mermaids, and the Great Queen — a bone china doll kept always in a glass cabinet in Poppy’s house.  Poppy and Alice don’t seem to care about any teasing they attract for playing with dolls, but Zach is feeling more and more pressure from his father, who wants Zach to focus on playing basketball instead.  Then Zach’s dad does something drastic, and Zach feels forced to quit the game.  Too ashamed to tell Poppy and Alice the real reason, he pretends he’s suddenly lost interest.

But that’s when the game takes a serious turn.  Poppy claims the Queen came to life one night as the ghost of a real girl, demanding her body — the doll — be properly buried.  Could this just be Poppy’s way of forcing Zach and Alice to keep playing, or is there actually something supernatural about the doll?

BookRiot included this book in their list of books to terrify children (note that the review could be considered a tad spoilery), and while I personally didn’t find the book that scary, I can see how it would be to some readers.  The things Zach, Poppy, and Alice learn about the doll during their quest are pretty creepy.

You know what else is scary?  The thought of how Poppy’s mother will react when she finds out what the kids did to her antique doll that she wanted to sell on TV.  Yikes!

The Bruce Coville anthologies.

Ghosts  Nightmares
Spine Tinglers  Spine Tinglers 2

My favorite stories:

Bruce Coville, ed.  Bruce Coville’s Book of Ghosts.  New York: Scholastic, 1994.

  • “Not From Detroit,” by Joe R. Lansdale.  Margie and Alex have been married over fifty years, and one stormy night they find themselves discussing their mortality.  That very night, Death drives up to collect, but Alex won’t let him get away so easily.
  • “The Ghost in the Summer Kitchen,” by Mary Frances Zambreno.  Lately, the ghost of a little girl has been visiting Rose in the detached kitchen.  There must be something she wants or needs to do before moving on, and Rose is determined to figure out what.  As it turns out, there’s something Rose needs from the girl, too.

Bruce Coville’s Book of Nightmares.  New York: Scholastic, 1995.

  • “Drawing the Moon,” by Janni Lee Simner.  Everyone believes Andrew’s parents were killed by a mugger, but Andrew knows they were really stolen by the moon, which enters his room every night and taunts him with images of them.  Finally, Andrew traps the moon and insists it give his parents back.  Only, there’s a terrible price.
  • “The Hand,” by Eugene M. Gagliano.  What’s creepier than being woken up by a blood-dripping disembodied hand?

Bruce Coville’s Book of Spine Tinglers.  New York: Scholastic, 1996.

  • “The Thing in Auntie Alma’s Pond,” by Bruce Coville.  Margaret is scared of water, but something in the pond is calling to her, begging her to come in.  And when she wakes in the morning, she finds water on the floor, as though the pond is reaching out to her.
  • “Those Three Wishes,” by Judith Gorog.  Cruel Melinda Alice reluctantly spares a snail in her path, and is granted three wishes.  At first it’s thrilling, but soon Melinda gets careless and says something she shouldn’t have.
  • “Past Sunset,” by Vivian Vande Velde.  In the village, there’s a certain street that no one sets foot on after sunset, for fear of meeting the ghostly lady.  “Never look at her eyes,” the grandmothers warn, “for there [is] no looking away.”

Bruce Coville’s Book of Spine Tinglers II.  New York: Scholastic, 1997.

  • “Same Time Next Year,” by Neal Schusterman.  Another one of those Be Careful What You Wish For stories.  Marla Nixbok believes she’s totally “ahead of her time,” so she’s thrilled at the chance to explore Buford Planct’s basement, where a creepy professor disappeared seven years ago.  Because the basement is full of futuristic experiments and gadgets, and one of those gadgets turns out to be a time machine.  But of course, the machine doesn’t work exactly as she expects.
  • “The Instrument,” by Martha Soukup.  Melanie finds the instrument in the basement of her favorite thrift shop.  It’s missing strings, but just tapping on it creates a perfect sound that hushes all the noise around her.  It seems like a great thing, but just how far will Melanie go to keep that feeling of perfect stillness?
Posted in family, fantasy, short stories, spooky | 1 Comment

Red Ridin’ In the Hood and Fairy Tale Feasts

Red Ridin' in the HoodPatricia Santos Marcantonio. Red Ridin’ In the Hood and Other Cuentos. Illus. Renato Alarcão. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005.

This collection was a neat idea by Marcantonio, who wrote it as an “answer to her childhood desire to see Latino culture embodied in the stories she cherished.”* Her Roja (Red) lives in a Hispanic neighborhood in the city, taking a shortcut down Forest Street to her abuela’s apartment. “El Día de los Muertos,” an Orpheus and Eurydice story, takes place in the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. The Beauty in “Belleza y La Bestia” is the daughter of a Mexican revolutionary.

My favorite stories were “Jaime and Gabriela,” a re-imagined “Hansel and Gretel” set in a desert where the witch lives in a house made of pan dulce and tamales, and “The Piper of Harmonía,” about a town infested by lizards and the ungrateful citizens who cheat their savior. I also liked how Marcantonio reworked “Sleeping Beauty” with a sympathetic witch and a twist at the end.

My least favorite story was “Emperador’s New Clothes”; Veronica’s plan to teach the vain Emperador a lesson comes together too easily, and his sudden change of heart is too unrealistic. I know these are fairy tales, but when a story is given a more modern setting, I expect it to follow more modern narrative logic as well. I also would’ve liked it better if the “wolf” in the title story was more creatively re-interpreted as a human villain instead of a literal wolf.

Otherwise, these are fantastic examples of re-imagined fairy tales.


I recently started a new job as a library shelver, and as I was returning books to the children’s cookbook section, I discovered these two gems by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple:

Fairy Tale Feasts Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts

Food and stories are a time-honored pair, according to Yolen and Stemple.

From the earliest days of stories, when hunters came home from the hunt to tell of their exploits around the campfire while gnawing on a leg of beast, to the era of kings in castles listening to the storyteller at the royal dinner feast, to the time of TV dinners when whole families gathered to eat and watch movies together, stories and eating have been close companions.
     So it is not unusual that folk stories are often about food: Jack’s milk cow traded for beans, Snow White given a poisoned apple, a pancake running away from those who would eat it.**

And so, these two unique cookbooks match fairy and folk tales with fitting recipes – “Cinderella” and pumpkin tartlets, “The Little Mermaid” and seaweed stuffed shells, “The Loaves In the Ark” and challah bread. In the margins or after each story, Yolen includes information about the story’s origins and variants, and the recipes are enriched with facts about the main ingredients – like the history of apples in ancient Greece and Rome, or the origin and varieties of beans.  One recipe I definitely want to try is the one for pomegranate couscous in Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts. Yum!


* from the back jacket flap

** from the Introduction to Fairy Tale Feasts: a Literary Cookbook For Young Readers & Eaters.  Tales retold by Jane Yolen.  Recipes by Heidi E.Y. Stemple.  Illus. Philippe Béha. Northampton, MA: Crocodile Books, 2006.

The other book is Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: a Literary Cookbook.  Illus. Sima Elizabeth Shefrin.  Northampton, MA: Crocodile Books, 2013.

Posted in folklore/fairy tales, short stories | 1 Comment

Guess the fable by the contemporary song title

Fable Comics

Chris Duffy, ed.  Fable Comics.  New York: First Second, 2015.

Another fun assortment of folktales retold in comics form.  They’re mostly Aesop’s fables, with a few examples from other sources like the Indian Bidpai.  For this game, I chose fourteen of the twenty eight fables (honestly, I couldn’t find song titles for all 28 ^_^; ), and song titles from 2010 to the present.

Answers here.

1. “Believe Me,” by Lil Wayne feat. Drake

2.  “Best Song Ever,” by One Direction

3.  “Demons,” by Imagine Dragons

4.  “Talking Bodies,” by Tove Lo

5.  “Blown Away,” by Carrie Underwood

6.  “I Knew You Were Trouble,” by Taylor Swift

7.  “Work Hard, Play Hard,” by Wiz Khalifa

8.  “Live Like We’re Dying,” by Kris Allen

9.  “The Other Side,” by Jason Derulo

10.  “I Won’t Give Up,” by Jason Mraz

11.  “Best Thing I Never Had,” by Beyonce

12.  “Runnin’ (Lose It All),” by Naughty Boy feat. Beyonce & Arrow Benjamin

13.  “Heroes (We Could Be),” by Alesso feat. Tove Lo

14.  “Just Can’t Get Enough,” by Black Eyed Peas

Posted in comics, folklore/fairy tales, music | 2 Comments

Return of a plucky girl to Fairyland

Girl Who Fell Beneath FairylandCatherynne M. Valente.  The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.  Illus. Ana Juan.  New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2012.

Well, this turned out to be even better than the first book! September returns to Fairyland, which is in trouble again. Folks are losing their shadows and magic to Fairyland-Below, where September’s own shadow reigns as Halloween, the Hollow Queen. Of course September wants to fix things, but the shadows are very happy with their new freedom.

There are just as many wacky and lovely things about Fairyland-Below as its Topside counterpart. Things like this happen:

But tears did not come—instead, she wept black pearls that shivered into luna moths as they fell, their long wings brushing the heads of every Reveling shadow and leaving licorice blossoms in their hair. September’s laughter rippled and echoed, spooling out into a bolt of sunshine-colored silk that flapped its seams like wings and spun around twice before winking out in a little swirl of light. [1]

And clever meta conversations like this:

“Just as there are different types of stars—red and white and brown and blue and dwarf and giant and all that lot—there are different types of Quests, and if we determine what type you face, we shall have a much easier time managing the whole business. We’re doing very well. Already we know that Prince Myrrh is an Endgame Object Type W—that’s Wonderful, since we have yet to see if he will be any Use in governing. He sleeps suspended in a Theseus-type narrative matrix, however he does seem to have some gravitational pull on events, which is unusual for a T-Type. …” [2]

And there are plenty of other mentions of/allusions to folklore, like the random spool of “Anansi’s No-Weight Silk Yarn” and a bottle of “Erishkegal’s Black Label Whiskey.” And there are reindeer that shed their skins just like selkies (September even thinks explicitly about selkies when she meets them). And a marvelous samovar-shaped tea/coffee house run by the Duke of Teatime, the Vicereine of Coffee, and their children—Darjeeling, Matcha, Kona, Peaberry, and the Littlest Earl.

And September and Saturday are a sweet couple, but it’s not a big deal; it doesn’t sidetrack the story from its main goal, or keep September from acting independently in service of that goal. And Ana Juan’s chapter heading illustrations are brilliant.

This one is definitely going on my Favorites page.


[1] Pg. 122

[2] Pg. 141

Posted in fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, meta | Leave a comment

Triple Creature Feature

Unnatural Creatures   Poison Eaters   Half-Human

Two of these story collections were recommended by Eric Smith of BookRiot as creepy collections perfect for Halloween. To me, though, Halloween is about more than just the fear factor. Like Bruce Coville,* I associate Halloween with magic. With transformation. In these three books, many of the stories are about humans transformed into something other (or, in some cases, something other transformed to human), whether via sealskin or vampire bite or enchanted flower or faerie magic or the laugh of a Cockatoucan, or even Death.  And in Gaiman and Coville’s collections, the stories are matched with excellent illustrations; I especially like the eerie photo-manipulated half-human beings in the latter.

My favorite stories:

Neil Gaiman, ed. Unnatural Creatures. New York: Harper, 2013.

  • “Ozioma the Wicked,” by Nnedi Okorafor. Everyone in Ozioma’s village considers her an evil witch because she can speak with snakes. And then one day, a venom-spitting cobra slithers from the sky into the villagers’ meeting tree, and guess who they want to save them.
  • “The Compleat Werewolf,” by Anthony Boucher. Wolfe Wolf is getting very drunk to cope with a rejected marriage proposal when he’s approached by a magician named Ozymandias, who claims that Wolf is actually a werewolf. What starts with an enjoyable lesson in shape-shifting ends up getting Wolf entangled with Nazi spies.
  • “The Smile on the Face,” by Nalo Hopkinson. Gilla swallows a cherry pit on the way to a party, and something fierce begins to take root inside her. I liked the body-positive message in the story, but didn’t like the negativity against gay people – one character calls another a “faggot,” and the other’s response is basically, “It takes one to know one.”

Holly Black. The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Easthampton, MA: Big Mouth House, 2010.

  • “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.” For fifty-one days, Matilda has been keeping herself drunk to keep the virus at bay, a virus that would turn her into a monster. Only, to save a friend, she may have to give in after all.
  • “The Dog King.” In the land of Arn, the wolves are dangerously clever. They empty whole towns every winter, and yet the king of the town of Dunbardain keeps a wolf companion, along with a strange boy with mysterious origins.
  • “The Coat of Stars.”   I like this one because it incorporates the fairy tale motif of trying three times to wake your beloved from a powerful/enchanted sleep. And I like how Black incorporates gay and bisexual characters into this, as well as two other stories.  I can’t say much else without spoiling.

Bruce Coville, ed. Half-Human. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

  • “Linnea,” by D.J. Malcolm. A creature half-shark, half-man transforms Linnea into a mermaid and claims her as his own. But Linnea fights back, even though doing so could get not only herself, but also her father, killed.
  • “Water’s Edge,” by Janni Lee Simner. When Laura visits her grandparents’ house on Long Island, she discovers something in the attic that her grandfather has been keeping from her grandmother for years. Something magical that Laura is tempted to use for herself.
  • “Elder Brother,” by Tamora Pierce. Because of a wizard’s spell half a world away, an apple tree transforms into a human, something it finds extremely difficult to deal with. Other humans treat him as a threat, until he meets a fellow wanderer who shows him kindness.


* He expresses this in his introduction to Bruce Coville’s Book of Magic.

Posted in fantasy, LGBTQIA, mermaids, selkies, short stories, spooky | 2 Comments