For those of you who missed the University of Minnesota’s Book Week presentations, here are the books I recommended as outstanding folktales published in 2013:
Busy-Busy Little Chick by Janice N. Harrington and illustrated by Brian Pinkney is like a Little Red Hen turned upside down and set in Central Africa. Here it is the littlest chick that ends up doing all the work while the mama gets distracted. What I loved so much was the strong sense of oral storytelling with repetition of words in a sing songy way like this: “Peo-peo,” the chicks cry. “We’re chilly-cold.” Mama Nsoso promises to build them a new house but is waylaid by “crunchy-munchy, sweety-meaty, big fat worms” and numerous other treats. Meanwhile, Little Chick stays focused and gathers grass and twigs “tee-tee-tee.” In the end he builds a house that makes his siblings happy and his Mama proud! The artwork by Brian Pinkney speaks for itself. It is bouncy and filled with golden colors. I loved this story so much that it has the distinction of being the first folktale I bought for my five week old grandson!!
The Girl With a Brave Heart, a tale from Teheran by Rita Jahanfouruz and illustrated by Vali Mintzi is an Iranian version of the classic tale of a stepmother who burdens her stepdaughter with loads of work and spoils her own daughter. One day Shiraz, that’s her name, drops her ball of yarn and it lands in the garden of a strange, scary old crone. When she tries to retrieve it, the old crone asks her to perform odd tasks—break all my dishes, cut off my hair, destroy my garden. Although she is a little frightened, Shiraz sees that the crone has kind eyes. “She looks scary but I expect she has just forgotten how to look after herself properly,” Shiraz decides and does the opposite of what she is requested to do. Her reward is, as you already can guess, fabulous and when she returns home the sister wants the same. She, however, follows the instructions to the letter with disastrous results. This is a wonderful story with lots of meat on it. Read it and compare it with other versions of the tale such as Diamonds and Toads or Mother Holle. It has interesting twists, wonderful cultural details and it is the only one where the heroine needs to see beyond appearances in order to know what to do.
Masha and the Bear is a story from Russia by Lari Don and illustrated by Melanie Williamson. This is an example of Barefoot Books’ genius in using folktales. First of all, the story is totally charming. When Masha gets lost in the forest, she meets a bear who agrees to take her home. But he tricks her and takes her to his home instead because he wants her to bake and cook for him. Masha, however, tricks the bear right back and is reunited with her family. The illustrations are fantastic—bold, colorful with a childlike whimsy and quirky characters that leap off the page.
As if that is not enough to recommend it, it has been adapted to the early reading format. This book is actually the 4th in a series of early readers where folktales from around the world are written in clear, simple language and organized as chapter books so that a young reader can take breaks, put down a book and then pick it up to continue the next chapter just like the grown ups do. Pure genius! Get the series. Book number 1 is The Tortoise’s Gift, number 2 is Never Trust a Tiger, and number 3 is The Hungry Wolf. Did I mention they are paperback and perfectly sized for beginning readers who want to look sophisticated??? I bought them all.