I just got Best-Loved Folktales of the World at the San Leandro public library sale. I have only read three tales so far – two African-American and one Southern one – but I can already tell I’m going to love reading this book to my 9-year-old. This 780-page book contains 200 tales from all over the world (though there are none from Argentina). The tales are, of necessity, pretty short but they’re very nicely written. The three tales I read were written in the style/language in which they would have originally been told. It was a bit hard for me to read them outloud – no, I cannot do a southern country accent -, but it was pretty fun. The stories in the book are not without controversy, however. One of them comes from Uncle Remus (that one I couldn’t read outloud, I tried but my daughter couldn’t understand me) and another contains the word “nigger” in it. Still, that gave me the opportunity to talk to my daughter about the word, which thankfully she never had encountered before.
The three stories I read were very good, and my daughter enjoyed them. “People who could fly” is a story about an African with doctor, captured and brought to America as a slave, who helps the other slaves in his plantation escape by giving them wings. It’s a story of hope and very touching. Beware that its description of slavery is pretty overt.
“Baby in the Crib” is merely half a page, and it’s perhaps a joke more than a story, but it is really funny and well told.
Finally, “The Two Old Women’s Bet” was just hilarious. It’s about two women who bet about who has the most foolish husband. One – in the style of “The Emperor has no Clothes” – convinces her husband she’s made him a suit he cannot see. The other, tricks her husband into thinking that he’s ill, and then that he’s dead. Mika laughed and laughed and laughed. You can see one version of the story online, but the one in the book is told much better.
I am looking forward to reading the rest of the stories to Mika. The language in the stories is complicated enough that I don’t think my 6-year-old would grasp it, but I’m sure one day I’ll read them to her as well.
Family Treasury of Myths from Around the World is a beautiful hardcover book which retells 10 classic myths. The myths come from 8 religious traditions grouped into 4 categories: The Wraths of the Gods, The foolishness of the Animals, the Epics of Heroes and the Sun Gods. The stories are beautifully illustrated in a style inspired by the art of the culture that created the myth, and are told in a lyrical, not quite poetic, but definitely literary manner. Still, the language is very approachable to a child 8 years or older. Indeed, when I was reading my 9-year-old the African story of the Sparrows and the Hen, my daughter was happy to correct my pronunciation of “baobab tree,” she had learned about them in school. The beauty and power of the language is quite surprising given that this is a translation from the French (the book was published in Belgium).
We’ve read more than half of the myths by now, most of us were familiar to us but four of them (from Africa, Japan and India)were completely new. Those that we did know are retold in a different light in this book, which is helpful for making the point that myths have come down to us in a variety of versions. Bear in mind that the myths can be quite violent. In all, it’s another wonderful book I have Paperback Swap to thank for.
Yet again, I am “reviewing” a book series that I haven’t read. But Mika (9 yo) is through the second book of the series and she LOVES it. I think she even loves it more than the Theodossia books (though not quite as much as Harry Potter).
The Gilda Joyce series is about a 13-year old girl who solves supernatural mysteries. Mika says the books can be scary at time, but good scary. The series has 5 books (the last one to be published in June) and it’s recommended for girls in 5th-9th grades, though Mika is in 3rd grade and has not had any problems with it. Then again, this is a girl who reads A LOT.
If you are looking for more book recommendations for girls (and I always am), there is a great list here.
The Cow of No Color: Riddle Stories and Justice Tales from Around the World is another wonderful kids’ book I got from Paperback Swap. It includes 23 very short stories from around the world. These are basically parables presented in the form of riddles. For example the titled story features a wise woman who is made to prove her wisdom by finding a cow that is neither white or brown or black, or spotted or striped, a cow that has no color. What does the woman do? The answer is not a practical one, not one that we would necessarily (at least from our cultural context) arrive to, so it is both surprising and delightful.
These stories are made to make you think and initiate a discussion with your children, but I would recommend that you read them to yourself first as some suggest moral teachings that might be different from your own. For example (and here is a spoiler about one of the stories) in the story Ximen Bao and the River Spirit a local priestess and elders force villagers to throw their daughters into the river to appease the “river spirit” who would otherwise cause floods. The “what to do” riddle is solved by throwing the witch and the elders into the river. In the book this is presented to illustrate poetic justice, but ultimately this “eye for an eye” philosophy, while amusing, goes against modern day (and daresay Christian) ethical thinking.
Still, the book as a whole is highly recommended.