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

Beastly Bride

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. 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.

‘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?

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.

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

Page: 1 2

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

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.

Two local libraries had displays of picture books retelling folk and fairytales, so of course I had to get on that!

Magic GourdBaba Wagué Diakité.  The Magic Gourd.  New York: Scholastic, 2003.

In a time of drought and famine, Brother Rabbit keeps his spirits up as he searches for food for his family.  When he does a good turn for Chameleon, he’s granted a magic gourd that fills and re-fills with whatever he wants.  He uses it to feed not only his own family, but the neighboring families, and soon a greedy king hears about the gourd…

In the end pages, Diakité talks about the Rabbit tales he learned while growing up in Mali — Rabbit is a popular character with children there.  He also describes the meanings behind the mud cloth patterns he uses as borders throughout the story, and even discusses the “folkloric cousins” of the tale.

Patricia Storace.  Sugar Cane: a Caribbean Rapunzel.  Illus. Raúl Sugar CaneColón.  New York: Hyperion, 2007.

For the first year of her life, Sugar Cane and her family live happily in their rainbow house on the beach.  But her father stole sugar cane from the garden of Madame Fate, and now the masked sorceress comes to collect her price.  Sugar Cane grows up in a magic tower filled with clouds of butterflies, taught by such people as an angel, an epic poet, an African griot, and others Madame Fate conjures up.  But she’s lonely, until one day, a young musician hears her singing.

This is a beautiful re-imagining of “Rapunzel,” matched with rich paintings of the island and characters.  I like how Sugar Cane and King’s relationship grows from their mutual love of music, and the mouthwatering descriptions of sweet foods — sugar cane, custard apples, candied ginger, sugar-baked bananas, spoonfuls of molasses…

Fisherman and his wifeRosemary Wells.  The Fisherman and His Wife.  Illus. Eleanor Hubbard.  New York: Dial, 1998.

Says the jacket flap, “this is the real version” of the Brothers Grimm tale, whispered into Rosemary Wells’ ear by a cat.  Ragnar and Ulla are happy in their cottage by the Torva Fjord in Norway.  Then Ragnar meets a talking fish that grants wishes, and soon Ulla becomes greedy, asking for bigger and bigger houses, wanting to be the queen of IMG_1306Norway, until Ragnar grumbles that she’s been “bitten by the yellow-winged envy bug!”

The illustrations are a bright, cheerful blend of gouache, watercolor, and colored pencil.

Petite Rouge

Mike Artell.  Petite Rouge: a Cajun Red Riding Hood.  Illus. Jim Harris.  New York: Dial, 2001.

Petite Rouge’s mother sends her to visit Grand-mère, who’s come down with the flu.  But on the way there, Petite Rouge is stopped by the gator Claude, who very likely wants some duck girl for lunch.  The story is told in Cajun dialect verse, and the illustrations are funny — especially when Claude tries to disguise himself as a duck in Grand-mère’s house.

Ed Young.  Lon Po Po: a Red-Riding Hood Story From Lon Po PoChina.  New York: Philomel Boooks, 1989.

This is a turned-about Red Riding Hood story in which three sisters stay home while their mother goes to visit their grandmother.  Then there’s a knock at the door, and a voice seemingly their grandmother’s calls to them.  It’s up to the eldest sister to outsmart the wolf before he eats the three of them.

The illustrations are dark and creepy, especially of the wolf.  This was definitely a good story for pre-Halloween season.

WaynettaHelen Ketteman.  Waynetta and the Cornstalk: a Texas Fairy Tale.  Illus. Diane Greenseid.  Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 2007.

“Once a whip of a girl named Waynetta lived with her ma on a ranch in the poorest, scrubbiest part of Texas.  They worked hard as eight-legged mules, but barely scraped by.”  One day, Ma sends Waynetta out to sell the last of their scrawny long-horn cattle, only Waynetta trades him to a stranger for “magic corn” instead.

It’s a funny twist on “Jack and the Beanstalk,” including, instead of a golden goose, a miniature long-horn that poops golden cowpats.  I kid you not.

Tomie dePaola.  Adelita: a Mexican Cinderella Story.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002.Adelita

Adelita’s mother died when she was a baby, and her father waits until Adelita is a young woman to remarry.  But then he dies, and Adelita is stuck with a jealous stepmother and cruel stepsisters.  At least she has Esperanza, who had been with her family since Adelita’s father was a baby.

In this story, it’s Esperanza who acts as the fairy godmother, and the prince figure is a young man Adelita knew as a boy.  Instead of glass slippers, she wears a beautiful embroidered shawl to the fiesta (in an interesting meta moment, some of the characters even comment on there being no glass slippers to identify the mysterious girl when she leaves the party).

I like that dePaola intersperses Spanish phrases throughout the story, to teach children new vocabulary.

CindersJan Brett.  Cinders: a Chicken Cinderella.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013.

Every night, little Tasha feeds her family’s chickens in an old tower.  One night, there’s a blizzard blowing outside, so Tasha falls asleep by the warm stove.  While she sleeps, the haughty hen Largessa and her daughters, Pecky and Bossy, crow over an invitation to Prince Cockerel’s ball, while poor Cinders is left behind.  Until, of course, a magical Silkie hen appears and transforms Cinders into the perfect sparkling princess.

The story is set in an eighteenth-century Russian winter, and the illustrations beautifully evoke that style, complete with pull-out pages showing the dancers at the prince’s Ice Palace.

Two from the bayou

I recently read alibrarymama’s review of Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, which she suggests pairing with Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.  So that’s just what I did.  Both books take place in the Deep South — the former on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and the latter in southeastern Texas — and both do an excellent job evoking the swampland/bayou setting.  Rhodes uses the first person present tense to slow the pace of the action in a way that matches the pace of life in Bayou Bon Temps, while Appelt uses her unique conversational voice to engage readers with the people and creatures of Sugar Man Swamp.

They also both make my mouth water with their wonderful food descriptions – dewberry syrup, griddle cakes, jambalaya, fried sugar pies…

Bayou MagicJewell Parker Rhodes.  Bayou Magic.  New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

Madison Isabelle Lavalier Johnson is the youngest of five sisters, and it’s her turn to spend a summer with Grandmère in Bayou Bon Temps. At first she’s scared; her sisters warn her about Grandmère’s strange ways and the boringness of a house with no TV. But the bayou turns out to be a wonderful place with fireflies, mermaids, and evening dance parties. And Maddy herself has a certain magic here. But she also has a growing feeling that something awful is going to happen, and the fate of Bayou Bon Temps will be up to her.

I like how Rhodes incorporates Mami Wata, the African water spirit, into Maddy’s family history and the history of the bayou. And I like the message about figuring out who you are and what’s important to you, as well as the environmental discussion. There’s definitely a lean to it, but the story does at least acknowledge that the situation isn’t all black and white.

Bailey grunts as Bear goes.
“Do you hate it?”
“Do and don’t. It’s complicated. Drilling is dangerous. But necessary. If I don’t do it, someone else will. Folks need jobs. World needs oil.” [1]

Kathi Appelt.  The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.  New York: Atheneum, 2013.True Blue Scouts

This is the story of twelve-year-old Chaparral Brayburn and his determination to keep his home, the Sugar Man Swamp, from becoming the Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park. It’s also the story of Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers also tasked with protecting the swamp from invaders. And of course there’s the Sugar Man himself, a mythical being from the deepest, darkest part of the swamp, a being on whose bad side you don’t want to be. Nosirree.

I’ve reviewed two other books by Appelt — Keeper and The Underneath — and just like with them, one of my favorite things about True Blue Scouts was the narrative voice:

Well, for one thing, we’re talking about a swamp here, not a greeny-green pasture with gently rolling hills and frolicking lambs. We’re talking about stinging pricker vines and high-pitched clouds of mosquitoes, of thick, humid air that settles around your neck like a shawl; we’re talking alligators and water moccasins, carnivorous pitcher plants and primeval possums with their primeval possum babies. In short, we’re <i>not</i> talking about Central Park. Nosirree. [2]

It’s a classic tale of small business vs. big industrialist schemes, pretty predictable, but in a good way. You know who’s going to win, but it’s still fun to watch exactly how that happens.


[1] Jewell Parker Rhodes. Bayou Magic. Pgs. 184-185.

[2] Kathi Appelt. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Pgs. 43-44.

Granddaddy's TurnMichael S. Bandy and Eric Stein.  Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box.  Illus. James E. Ransome.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015.

It’s interesting how timely this story still is, with voting rights being discussed in Congress and in the 2016 presidential campaign.  The book shows how difficult it could be, despite federal laws, to fulfill one’s right to vote if local officials considered the voter “undesirable.”  The final message is that justice does eventually reward the patient.  Now, not everyone will agree that one has to just be passive and patient with injustice; while the afterword discusses the civil rights movement, the story itself doesn’t address the need to fight for laws to change.  Still, the overall tone is hopeful, if also bittersweet.

The Death of the Hat: a Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects.  Selected by Paul B. Death of the HatJaneczko.  Illus. Chris Raschka.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015.

From the Early Middle Ages to the Postmodern and Contemporary periods, from Rumi to Basho to Wheatley to Plath, Janeczko gathers together poems about candles and cobwebs, sticks and snowflakes and street lanterns, complemented by Chris Raschka’s fun, vivid watercolor images.  And Janeczko’s Introduction offers a helpful overview of the literary eras included, even acknowledging the collection’s limitations (like the much greater concentration of male and Western voices).

OrpheusYvan Pommaux.  Orpheus in the Underworld.  Trans. Richard Kutner.  New York: TOON Books, 2015 (orig. text 2009).

A semi-comics-style adaptation of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.  It includes  pronunciation footnotes throughout the story, and at the end is a trading-card-style guide to the major characters, plus an annotated index with even more info on the characters, as well as the places mentioned in the story.  So far, the Toon Graphic Mythologies series includes this book, and Theseus and the Minotaur.

Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol.  Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Of Course They DoAnything.  Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2009.

Roger and Sol offer a fantastic rebuttal to gender stereotypes, matching their text with photos of boys dancing and cooking, girls playing sports and working with cars, and more.  I love the cheeky, conversational tone (“Boys don’t dance … What? Of course they do!”) that challenges readers to change their way of thinking about what boys and girls are capable of.

Grandma Lives in a Perfume VillageFang Suzhen and Sonja Danowski.  Grandma Lives In a Perfume Village.  Trans. Huang Xiumin.  New York: NorthSouth Books, 2015 (orig. text 2014).

This is a sad, sweet story that might help children dealing with the death of a loved one.  Xiao Le spends a day helping his grandmother when she is sick.  When she dies, he helps his mother feel better by imagining what Grandma is doing in heaven:

…whenever Xiao Le took a walk with his mom and saw the golden setting sun, a big smile would come onto his face.
“Look, Mom, Grandma is frying an egg in heaven!”
When the moon rose, Xiao Le would exclaim happily, “Look, Mom, Grandma has turned on the light! It’s evening in heaven, too!”

One Wide River To Cross

Barbara Emberley.  One Wide River To Cross.  Illus. Ed Emberley.  Los Angeles: AMMO Books, 2014 (orig. text 1966).

Ed Emberley’s woodcut illustrations match the words of this old folk song, which counts the animals filing into Noah’s Ark (“The animals came in four by four, The hippopotamus blocked the door…”).  There are various versions of the song; the one I grew up with was Raffi’s “Who Built the Ark?”

Abukacha's ShoesTamar Tessler.  Abukacha’s Shoes.  Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books, 2015.

Tessler’s aunt used to tell her this folktale about a man named Abukacha, who tries again and again to get rid of his old, worn out shoes.  But somehow the shoes keep coming back!  I love how Tessler mixes in her family’s old photos with her illustrations, creating a humorous effect to match the goofy story.

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.  Illus. Elizabeth Zunon.  New York: Dial Books The Boy Who Harnessed the WindFor Young Readers, 2012.

This is the true story of Kamkwamba, who, when he was fourteen, built an electricity-generating windmill from items found in a junk yard.  The windmill was meant to help irrigate his family’s maize fields when there wasn’t enough rain.  This is one of those stories that makes me think, I will never complain about anything again… because here’s a guy who didn’t just give up when a severe drought decimated his family’s income and he was forced to drop out of school.  He went to the library and taught himself how to build something to fix the problem.

Kamkwamba appeared at a TED conference in 2007, and was interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show in 2009.

Ladybug Girl and BingoDavid Soman and Jacky Davis.  Ladybug Girl and Bingo.  New York: Dial Books For Young Readers, 2012.

Lulu the Ladybug Girl and her trusty sidekick, Bingo, are on a camping trip with their family.  In the woods, they discover such wonders as a “gnarly old wizard,” a “galloping giant turtle,” lake mermaids and buttercup fairies.  It’s an adorable story about a girl with a big imagination and persevering attitude when things don’t go exactly right.

Last week, my mom, my brother, and I flew to San Francisco for five days.  Now, this post is not going to be about high-brow literary tourism; it’s about my own most recent reading experiences, and to me, San Francisco is home of books like Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series and Sarah Porter’s The Twice Lost.

Lost Voices3  Golden Gate1

One of the places I definitely wanted to check out was the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park, where Toby visits her friend Lily the undine.

Tea Gardens  Koi

The Moon Bridge is the gateway into Lily's knowe.

The Moon Bridge is the gateway into Lily’s knowe.

On Saturday, we met up with my cousin Daiva, who drove us to Half Moon Bay, home of Connor and Elizabeth’s selkie clan.

Half Moon Bay  Half Moon Bay2

Ok, so I did also visit the famous City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Cafe/bar, frequent haunt of Beat Generation poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

City LightsVesuvio CafeVesuvio4

From the former, I got myself Patricia Monaghan’s Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines.  From the latter, a Pyrat Punch.  This was a fantastic week.

Goddesses & Heroines