Folk tales with a twist

Written/Retold by Eric A. Kimmel,  Illustrated By Katya Krenina

On a cold, wintery morning, Katrusya and her grandfather discover something alarming.  Small birds had been caught in an unexpected snowfall and are in danger of freezing to death.  The young girl and her grandfather pick up as many as they can and bring them inside.  So does the rest of her family and her entire village.  Even the priest from the local church invites the birds to come inside and have a safe refuge from the cold.

The little birds brighten the spirits of all the villagers during an especially long winter until they need to fly away in Spring.  Can the villagers let them go?  What will come of this simple act of kindness?  Perhaps an Easter miracle?

This is a beautiful book about how small actions can create big results and transform even the bleakest situation.  Illustrated by Katya Krenina, a native of the Ukraine, this book is charming and uplifting, especially in Spring or before the Easter holidays.


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Written by Teresa Bateman

Illustrated By Kelly Murphy

What would you do if suddenly all the luck in the world disappeared?

This is an enchanted and enchanting story about the wee folk of Ireland and one clever heroine named Fiona. The book tells the tale of a Leprechaun king who decides to hide all the luck in the world away from the humans.  The results are terrible as cows will not give milk, chickens won’t lay eggs and potatoes won’t grow in the fields.  And people simply don’t know what to do.  All except clever Fiona.

How can a human outwit a Leprechaun king and make things right? Pick up this charming book and find out how a good heart and a clever mind can sometimes change even the more dire situations.

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Written by Janice Levy

Have you heard about the Christmas custom in Oaxaca, Mexico called The Night of The Radish (El Noche de Los Rabanos)? As part of the special festivities, people carve large radishes into elaborate scenes – most of which have a Christmas or Nativity theme.  And some are amazing works of art.

In this story, one radish decides that she does not want to become part of this festival and runs away.  A huge chase ensues and a cast of characters chase the radish in a way that resembles the story of the gingerbread man.

Funny, cute and a nice way to talk about how holiday customs differ from place to place, the Runaway Radish is a great book to add a touch of mirth to the holiday season!

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Written By John Steptoe

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters is a Cinderella tale beautifully in Zimbabwe.  Written by John Steptoe, the story was inspired by a folktale of that region published in the late 1800’s and the names of the characters are from the Shona language of Zimbabwe.

The book tells the tale of a village elder and his two daughters whose personalities are as different as night and day. When a King from a nearby town declared his intention to find a wife, the real action of the story begins.  As both girls travel to the main city to meet the King, they encounter obstacles that turn out to be tests of character.  How both girls handle the situations determine who is seen as fit to marry the King.  And there’s another plot twist that will surprise you, but you’ll have to pick up the book to find out what it is.

Although the “Cinderlla story” is well known, this book is so well written and lushly illustrated that you may find yourself lost in the tale or rereading it time and time again.  It’s just that good.


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Retold/Adapted By Jewell Reinhart Coburn

Illustrated By Connie McLennan

Can you imagine a tale of “Cinderella” set in rural Mexico?  This is exactly what you’ll find in the book, Domotila, where the story takes places in the region of Hidalgo, Mexico, complete with adobe houses, colorful villages and young girl so talented she can turn cactus into a delicious treat called nopales.  And, in everything she does, she follows her mother’s wonderful advice: “Do every task with care and always add a generous dash of love!”.

As you probably guessed, the young girl is named Domitila and her family falls upon hard times.  She is forced to travel to the city to cook and work for the governor’s family and there she encounters the “prince”.  Through many twists and turns, the story leads to a satisfying ending where the value of a kind and caring person is seen as real talent and beauty.

Although there’s something magical about any Cinderalla tale – this one truly shines in terms of cultural authenticity and an engaging story. This is a satisfying book to read together with children as well as a great pick for bilingual families or those wishing to learn a bit more Spanish.

And there’s even a recipe for cactus nopales – cook it, if you dare!


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Apr
05

Old Turtle

Written by Douglas Wood, Illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee

Along time ago, when everything on Earth could speak, there was a discussion.  The discussion turned to an argument.  It seemed that all things wanted to perceive God as being very much like themselves.  Can you imagine what came of this?

If you guessed that it created a state of disharmony – you would be right.  But, luckily, the wise Old Turtle stepped in and helped everyone understand how to find God in all things and restore peace.

But the story does not end there.  Just as peace is restored, Old Turtle explains that another type of creature will come to live on the earth – humans.  And they may have to learn the same lesson themselves.  Will they get this important lesson right or struggle with the concept as the animals, plants, trees and rocks all did?

This gentle parable, beautifully illustrated with watercolors by Cheng-Khee Chee, is a moving story for kids and adults alike.  And since it is so cleverly written, it can be read and appreciated by people of any religion as a way to understand the “allness” and the “oneness” of God.


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Retold/Written By Robert D. San Souci, Illustrated by Daniel San Souci

This is a beautiful Cinderella story, retold from an Ojibwa legend and set in the woodlands of the Northern Central United States.  In this story readers meet a small girl who is the youngest daughter of a warrior whose wife has died.  While the father is away, her older sisters are cruel and force her to do all their work.  Since she does all the family’s cooking over a wood fire, they tease her and call her “Sootface”.

One day the village’s daily life is interrupted by a remarkable announcement.  A nearby young medicine man I looking for a bride.   Handsome and powerful, this young warrior can even make himself invisible.  Only the woman who can see him and can answer a riddle about his bow and arrows will prove she is pure in heart and can share his life.  The rest of the story unfolds perfectly, accompanied by lovely illustrations with an eye to authentically portraying the details of clothing, shelter and other aspects of Ojibwa life.

A wonderful tale of how remaining true to one’s self eventually becomes it’s own meaningful reward.


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Retold/Written and Illustrated by Ed Young

It’s interesting how some story themes find their way all around the world.

Lon Po Po is very much like the story known as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. In this story, a loving mom must leave her three smart and clever daughters – Shang, Tao, and Paotze – to visit their grandmother on her birthday.  She gives them instructions on how to be safe, but the wolf nearby is clever.

He knocks at the door and declares that he is Grandma.  Then he blows the candle out and tries to find other ways to get close enough to harm the girls.  But the three sisters are not fooled – they outwit the wolf at every turn with brilliant and clever moves – overcoming evil with a sharp mind and a good heart.

Although the cover of the book and some illustrations can appear a bit scary for youngest readers, the book is uplifting and has a happy ending.  It’s great to see young girls in strong roles – ready, willing and able to overcome evil with the power of their mind and their heart.


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Written and Illustrated By Patricia Polacco

Set in busy Union City, a kindly and portly janitor at an elementary school befriends a young boy who is being teased for being overweight.  Young Welcome Comfort is also a foster child and finally finds a special place in the hearts of Mr. Hamp and his wife who live next door to the school.  But something odd happens every Christmas as his two loving friends go away. And then there was that vivid Christmas Dream.  Telling any more about the plot will surely give away this lovely holiday story that shares a sense of kindness and compassion that are truly worthy of Christmas.

This is my favorite “Santa Claus” book because it tells such an endearing story and focuses less on the aspect of material gift-giving and more on the aspect of a St. Nick’s love and care for children. Just beautiful!


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Written By and Illustrated by Ivan Gantschev, Translation by J. Allison James

Bulgarian born author and artist, Ivan Gantshev weaves a wonderful winter tale about a rabbit and a bear.  The story takes place on Christmas Eve as two hunters make their way into the forest and come upon a little bunny.  Fleeing the hunters, she takes refuge in a cave and awakens a bear who is having the most marvelous dream.  In her dream, the little bear is in a far-off country and she sees a couple looking for shelter so their baby can be born.  The dream unfolds a breath-taking description of the birth of Christ and the bear is in awe.  The rabbit helps to explain Christmas and a nearby owl shares a prophesy that the baby from the dream will help protect the poor and the weak.

Does the rabbit remain safe and secure on Christmas Eve?  What will the hungry bear do before she settles down for the rest of her winter sleep?  Check out this book and be transported into the quiet setting of a wintery woods where miracles create the most beautiful and inspiring of stories.


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Written by Jean Richardson, Illustrated By Alice Englander

Set in a medieval court, this book creates a beautiful story around the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas”.  The book centers around a little page named Stephen during the time of the Feast of Stephen, the second day of Christmas (December 26th).  The young page is smaller then the others and often teased, so he wonders why he’s being called before the king.  Instead of a scolding, the King asks him to join him on a Christmas trek through the blinding snow to help one of his poorest subjects who lives deep in the woods.

As you might guess, little Stephen sets out on this journey cold, angry and resentful to miss the Christmas festivities at the castle.  However, he returns delighted, happy and transformed for having experienced the real meaning of Christmas love and charity.  A beautiful book for children and adults, especially for reading aloud!


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Nov
11

Rainbow Crow

Retold By Nancy Van Laan
Illustrations by Beatriz Vidal

There are many wonderful Native American stories of how the world began and how things we know got to be that way.  This is the legend of the courageous crow, as retold from Lenape (Leni Lenape) folk legends.  The books begins as all the woodland creatures find themselves engulfed in an enormous snowstorm.  Someone must step forward and help.  They must fly to the sun and bring back fire.  Who will take on this daunting task and what will happen to them in their quest?

This book is beautiful, exciting and a wonderful lesson about how courage and service to those you love can truly save the day!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR THIS BOOK

Have you ever done something that required great courage?  What was it?

Was Crow a hero?  Why?

Do you think Crow was afraid when he set out on his journey?  If so, why did he continue?

If you were one of the other woodland creatures, could you come up with another way to save your family and friends?  Tell the story or write your own legend about it.

Suggested Reading Level – 4 and up (or preschool and up)


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Written by John Steptoe
This is a beautiful, Cinderella–style tale set in a rural village Africa.  A respected elder in the tribe has two beautiful daughters – one with a kind and loving personality and the other …not so much so.   And there is a handsome prince seeking a bride.  The story unfolds with glorious illustrations and a timeless message about being who you are and how goodness finds a gentle way to prevail. An exciting story and a beautiful book!
Reading Level: Preschool – Grade 3

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Written by Arlene Laverde
What would happen if the Three Little Pigs story was set in the cold climate of Alaska?  Instead of a wolf, the little piggies are trying to outwit a grizzley bear as they go about their life in the land if the midnight sun.  This is a fun way to share a classic story with a new twist.
Reading Level: Preschool – Grade 3

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