Two local libraries had displays of picture books retelling folk and fairytales, so of course I had to get on that!
Baba 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 Colón. 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…
Rosemary 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 Norway, 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.
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 China. 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.
Helen 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’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.
Jan 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.