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Fantastical folklore

The following works of folklore — a new Grimm like you’ve never seen, a Norwegian folk story in silly/creepy graphic novel form, a pourquoi tale done in Duncan Tonatiuh’s unmistakable visual style, and two classic reissues — feature fabulous and fantastical folk.

tan_singing-bonesIn the hands of creative teachers, librarians, and parents, Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales will find its way to a broad age range of kids through riveting art and tantalizing story-bites. Each of seventy-five double-page spreads comprises a quote from one of the Grimms’ tales and a full-page photograph by Tan of a sculpture he has created to power-drive the story, inspired by and stylistically reflective of “Inuit stone carvings and pre-Columbian clay figurines.” Show the pictures to viewers, read the quotes aloud, and then have them create their own images; or suggest some Grimms’ tales to read for selecting and illustrating quotes, a stimulating way to focus on both verbal and visual language. (Scholastic/Levine, 9–13 years)

torseter_heartless-trollThe Heartless Troll, Øyvind Torseter’s contemporary graphic-novel retelling of the Norwegian folktale “The Troll with No Heart in His Body,” opens with a full page of text containing the beginning of the story (“There once was a king who had seven sons…”). Those who skip the intro will pick up the story just fine — dialogue and illustrations fill in the background as Prince Fred sets off to rescue his six older brothers and their wives, all turned to stone by a troll. An imprisoned princess helps Fred defeat the troll and rescue his brothers; cool as a cucumber, she acts as though she could probably have freed herself but simply hasn’t bothered. Shades of brown, orange, red, and yellow add a sinister vibe to the black line drawings in which the women are human, the brothers are horned creatures in trench coats, and Fred is a hoodie-wearing large-nosed animal of some kind. (Enchanted Lion, 9–13 years)

tonatiuh_princess-and-the-warriorIn The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes, Duncan Tonatiuh adapts a pourquoi story that explains the origins of two volcanoes in Mexico: Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. Izta is a kind and beautiful princess; “suitors traveled from distant lands to woo her.” But it’s the honest young warrior Popoca who captures her heart. Izta’s father, the emperor, sends Popoca off to fight and defeat rival ruler Jaguar Claw, at which point Popoca will earn Izta’s hand in marriage. A tragic turn of events leads to the formation of the two volcanoes—and the legend itself. In Tonatiuh’s mixed-media art, an homage to the Mixtec codices, the textured backgrounds are boldly colored, and the compositions convey a feeling of great motion throughout. Included in the excellent back matter are an author’s note, a glossary of the Nahuatl terms found sprinkled throughout the text, and a bibliography. (Abrams, 7–10 years)

janisch_merry-pranks-of-till-eulenspiegeldaulaire_book-of-norwegian-folktalesTwo folklore reissues are also of interest. The d’Aulaires’ 1938 classic East of the Sun and West of the Moon has a new name — D’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales (University of Minnesota Press, 7–10 years) — but includes the same twenty-one thoughtfully collected folk stories. Many star the clever Espen Cinderlad, and each is accompanied by an oversized textured (sometimes dramatic, sometimes cheeky) black-and-white illustration, in the style for which the couple is known. The Merry Pranks of Till Eulenspiegel (Minedition, 7–10 years) by Heinz Janisch, first published in 1990, is as fresh and bracing as ever. In this collection of eleven stories about the fourteenth-century German peasant trickster Till Eulenspiegel, we see him outwit thieves, kings, and scholars: he’s an equal-opportunity mischief-maker. Lisbeth Zwerger’s accompanying illustrations capture each tale’s essence in a rich, bright palette.

From the October 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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