Folktales are such a wonderful part of children’s literature. There are so many tales that have been passed down through the generations and we have learned so many valuable lessons from them. One of the things that I find especially fascinating is reading folktales from a wide variety of cultures to see how similar situations are handled differently and how each culture tries to educate its children on how they are supposed to behave. The list could go on and on, but here are ten that we have recently read that are completely non-traditional for mainstream western world and quite wonderful.
We have recently started encouraging our daughters to get into the “old fashioned” concept of writing letters to pen-pals. J has started writing to a cousin and some of E’s closest friends will be moving away this summer. With that in mind, finding Josh Funk’s new book, dear Dragon, has been an absolute delight.
The story is that two young boys, George Slair and Blaise Dragomir, go to two different schools and have been assigned to be each other’s pen pals. Their entire classes have teamed up as a class project and their letters have to be written in rhyme as it is also for their poetry project. What they don’t know is that one school is for dragons and one school is for humans. Much hilarity ensues. Continue reading →
“There is a unique kind of magic that comes from hearing a story told. With only the power of a voice, an entire world can be created. Suddenly, the audience becomes the hero, the villain, or the magic djinn commanding the desert sand storm.”
So says Evan Turk in the author’s note to his book The Storyteller. Apparently, it is also an old Moroccan saying that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns.” I thought that sharing this book on Read Across America day was especially important.
There is power in telling a story, especially to an audience. While we now have easy access to books, television, movies and so on, we have historically learned from tales passed down orally from generation to generation. Stories teach us the ways of our cultures and feed our souls. Evan Turk shows that feeling in a literal way through this vivid tale.
Long ago, the kingdom of Morocco was formed on the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of water to quench the thirst of the desert and storytellers to bring the people together. But just like everywhere else, modernity came and people soon forgot their storytellers and the land soon became parched.
As a young boy walks home, searching for water, he is given a brass cups from a water seller in the hopes that he might just be lucky enough to find something. What he finds is an old storyteller who calls out to him, assuring him that his thirst will be quenched if he listens to a story. The storyteller spins a tale of the terrible drought and how one family always had enough water to share. The young boy is enthralled, and by the time the old man has finished speaking, the boy’s cup is miraculously filled with cool water.
Through the power of a magical brass cup and the voice of a storyteller, a young boy once again learned the history of his people and slowly brought water back for his own parched thirst. What he didn’t realize was that not only was he physically thirsty for water, he was spiritually thirsty as well.
At the same time that the storyteller is weaving the story for the young boy, a sandstorm is forming. Just as the boy is quenching his thirst with the power of the story, the sandstorm comes to destroy the city in the form of a djinn. He has the power to destroy the city because the fountains have run dry and the fountains have run dry because the people have stopped listening to the storytellers. The boy, realizing the power that the story holds, tricks the djinn into listening to a story before destroying the land. It takes him multiple days to tell the story, but through the power of his tale and the fact that he is telling it in front of an ever expanding audience, the boy refills the city’s fountains and quenches the physical and metaphysical thirsts making the djinn powerless.
As the author notes, “Morocco, like countries all over the world, including the United States, is at a crossroads where the future threatens to eclipse what is beautiful about the past.” Evan Turk gave us a beautiful reminder to keep the past alive through the power of a good story.
The Storyteller was a beautiful book with haunting illustrations. You can also get a sense of it from the following trailer. May we continue to shine a light on the power of the story.
“Long ago, everything from the changing of the seasons to the passage of the Sun through the sky was an unsolved mystery. So people came up with stories to explain how things came to be. These stories – known as myths or fables – varied from place to place, but all had a shared thread running through them: they set out to explain the inexplicable, to offer a version of the world that made some sense.”
So begins the book the Usborne Illustrated Fables from Around the World. This beautiful book offers 18 wonderful myths and fables from around the world that at one point helped people try to understand the world around them. Continue reading →
We are a household with a deep love for princesses. My younger daughter loves all things princessy and frilly, although her favorite Disney princesses are Tianna and Mulan. I love those choices since they are two “princesses” who are incredibly strong and independent. They don’t need a handsome prince to come and rescue them. They also both work hard to get what they want. In the world of princesses, however, that is not always the case, which is why I love finding books that also showcase the fact that a princess can be anything.
My older daughter has taken a real liking to Shannon Hale’s books. Ms. Hale definitely sees princesses through different eyes. J has utterly fallen in love with the Ever After High series. I wasn’t sure about this series, as I’m not a fan of the whole Monster High phenomenon, but it is a wonderful series. The concept is that the children of famous fairy tale characters all go to Ever After High to learn skills necessary to fulfill their destinies as “the next” in their line. When Raven Queen, daughter of the evil queen from Snow White, comes back the year that she is supposed to sign the book of legacies, she questions the whole concept of destinies, instead wanting to choose her own. All of the princesses and other fairy tale characters not only consider if their intended “happily ever after” is what they want, but they also work together when other challenges come up. The television series that goes along is nice, but we have really enjoyed the three books that have been published.
The book that inspired me to write this post is Hale’s The Princess in Black. This is a perfect early chapter book for emerging readers who are ready for a new challenge. It is full of colorful pictures and feels longer due to the number of pages, a sure way to boost a new reader’s confidence. In this tale, a young princess is known for being perfect, frilly and dainty – everything that we have come to expect of a perfect princess. Princess Magnolia, however, has a secret…she is also the Princess in Black, a super-hero who stops the monsters from doing bad things, like eating goats. It is nice to see a princes who can be princessy and badass, although it would have been even better if she wasn’t hiding her fighting persona, but that following the lead of male superheroes. Definitely a book that thinks outside of the proverbial princess box.
Shannon Hale also wrote the Princess Academy series. The fabulous website A Mighty Girl actually just had a Facebook post about this book saying: “The story follows Miri who is sent with the other girls from her village to a special academy to learn the social graces required of a princess. Miri thrives in her new environment but not necessarily in the intended way — for the first time, she discovers the power of her voice and other unique gifts and, when bandits strike the academy, it’s Miri who rallies the girls to save themselves.” We have this on our list of books to read as it is supposed to be a great series for middle-grade girls.
A book that fits this category perfectly that I’ve been meaning to blog about for some time is Dealing with Dragons. In this book, Princess Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart – and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon – and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for. We absolutely loved this book and how fun Cimorene was.
Last year we also read Tuesdays At the Castle, a wonderful book of magic and mayhem. The story focuses on Celie, the youngest princess at the Castle Gower, which just so happens to have a mind of its own. Strong female main character, a family working together, and proof that respecting things around us pays off. We really loved this book, although we were not quite as enamored with the sequel.
I know that I’ve written about these books before (here and here), but my three year old has decided that she simply loves Isabella. That being the case, I couldn’t help but get my hands on the one book in the series that we hadn’t yet read. Now that we’ve read them all, I thought they deserved their own post.
The Isabella books are about a little girl with a marvelous imagination who pretends to be women in history, traveling to extraordinary places, and within the pages of classic stories. Her parents fantastically go along with all of her adventures and encourage her creative thinking.
In the first book of the series, My Name is Not Isabella, Isabella explores amazing women in history. From Sally Ride to Rosa Parks and even Marie Curie, Isabella explores some super strong women and knows that she can be anything she wants to be if she dares to dream big. Younger children won’t know who many, if not all, of these women are, but the books allow room to open up that dialogue to explain things. After the story, we learn more about each of these super women so that older children have room to grow with the book.
The second book in the series, which is the one we just got, is Isabella: Girl on the Go. In this installation, Isabella is spending the day with her father. Rather than being someone famous, here she pretends that she is in amazing destinations with various careers. There is nothing that she can’t imagine doing from archeologist to artist, warrior to queen. By pretending that her sandbox is an archeological site in Egypt to her garden being in the heart of Paris, she escapes her surroundings and the whole world becomes her playground. As with all of the Isabella books, after the story ends are 2 pages that go into detail about the locations with a quick blurb explaining each job.
The third book is currently E’s favorite of the series – Isabella: Star of the Story. This is a book shining a loving spotlight on books and the library. Mom and Dad are taking Isabella to the local library and as soon as she gets inside she heads “second star to the right and straight on to the children’s room.” Through the pages of the story, Isabella jumps into various books as she decides what she wants to check out. This is a great way to show of a love of great books, many of which are familiar to children.
We have been highly impressed with this series and both girls can get something different from the books. The tagline of the series is “Just how far can a little girl dream” and the answer is that there is a whole world of possibilities out there.
Children are creatures of habit. They find something that they like and they stick with it. When J was really little, it was Dora everything. When she first found the Magic Treehouse and Rainbow Magic series, we went through them as if there were no other books out there. E, my 3 year old, is currently in love with Disney princesses, but she has less of the obsessive personality that J does. Each time either girl moves on to something else, I’m so excited. Lately, J has 2 big loves – Harry Potter and The Land of Stories.
I’ve mentioned HP before, but she keeps begging me to write more about it. In her words, “Harry Potter is so extremely magical that I felt that I could hold my breath for a million years.” She is part way through book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, but I think they are getting a bit darker so we do seem to be slowing down and she has been enjoying the lighter side of The Land of Stories.
Harry Potter is a great series. I held off having her read it for a long time because even though her reading level is high, I always have to keep in mind that she is only 6. Like a child her age, she finds herself falling into books. When I asked her why she liked HP so much she said that “I really did feel that I was a part of the story. The magic that they were using excited me and sometimes in the books there are clues” about things coming up. Even though she initially didn’t like Hermione and didn’t believe me that she was an awesome character, she now loves her and felt like “she was me and I was her.” There are already plans for her to be Hermione for Halloween, but who knows.
Then the other day she heard a little bit of the audiobook I was listening to – The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns. She must have heard one of the princesses names and started asking me questions. I filled her in a bit on what the story was about, explaining more about book 1, The Wishing Spell. That piqued her interest and she started begging me to check the audiobook or digital book from the library. Of course, nothing was available. A friend had recently been telling me about how she and her daughter were reading it together, but her daughter is in 3rd grade. Still, I had a feeling that this would be one of those books that she would really enjoy and one she would probably want to read over and over. I was right and I’m really glad that I decided to buy her the book so she can read it over and over again. Even though she found the beginning slow (it is), she is loving it and wanting to read it all the time.
The basic synopsis is as follows: The story itself is of two twins, Alex and Connor, who find themselves inside “the land of stories.” In order to get out, they attempt to find 8 objects necessary to complete the wishing spell. Those objects include things like a lock of Rapunzel’s hair, Cinderella’s glass slipper and a piece of Red Riding Hood’s original basket. While going through the land of fairy tales, they meet a wide cast of characters and see how their stories have played out. All didn’t turn out perfectly for Sleeping Beauty when her kingdom awoke from it’s 100 year sleep; the Wolves from Red Riding Hood are out for revenge; and the evil queen from Snow White has escaped from prison. The evil queen plays a large role in the story and by the end gets to tell her side of what happened. The point made with her story is that “a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”
We still read picture books (look for a review of Greek mythology coming up), but she wants to spend all day reading The Land of Stories even going as far as taking it to the park the other day. Encouraging new picture books was always easy, getting her to be entranced by longer chapter books is definitely more of a challenge, but the response is well worth it.
Maybe a month ago, I picked up a book at the local library for J that I had heard about from a friend. It was the second book in a series, but the only one that was available. The book? Whatever After – If the Shoe Fits. We starting reading the beginning of the together and J instantly loved it. Even I thought it was pretty fun. We wanted to read the rest of the series, but the libraries here only have book #2 and none of the bookstores carry the series. I was going to buy them all through Amazon, but thanks to the Scholastic book club, they will all be in our hands in a week or so at a great price.
The premise of the series is that 10 year old Abby and her 7 year old brother Jonah get magically transported inside fairy tales through a magic mirror in their basement. In the first book, they apparently stop Snow White from eating the poisoned apple but then realize that without that, she never meets her prince, never falls in love and doesn’t live happily ever after. So with book #2, when they wind up in Cinderella’s story, they vow to not keep her from meeting and marrying the prince. However, just by being in the story, they have altered it and have to work to keep the ending correct. Book #3 takes place in The Little Mermaid and book #4 is Sleeping Beauty. Book 4 technically doesn’t come out until the end of November, but the Scholastic website doesn’t mention that, so who knows when we’ll see that one.
Scholastic has these marked as for grades 3-5. I don’t get it. J loved this book and is drooling over the other 3. Every day she asks when they are getting here. They are slightly longer at about 176 pages, but the stories are still pretty light. Plus, we heard about them from a friend whose daughter has just started 2nd grade and she and her friends read them for their own book club. There has been some talk about why we need to separate books so much by grade and reading level. Either kids like the book or they don’t. Either they can read it, or it is too hard for them.
Anyway, I would highly recommend this series for young girls. Below is also the book trailer, the newest craze in the book world.
The Wizard of Oz is one of those stories that I hold near and dear to my heart. J has had a strong love of the story for a few years now, even going as far as having a Wizard of Oz themed birthday party when she turned 5. But her love of the story and the characters did not start with the movie, it started with the books.
When J was about 4 1/2 I had to take her to the doctor’s office one night. I happened to bring an illustrated version of the story that I had picked up at a used book store. I wasn’t sure is J was old enough to enjoy the story, but she instantly took to it. She read that book multiple times over the next few days.
Somewhere around this time we also had a 6 hour car ride ahead of us and I let her watch the film for the first time (which had been a gift to me when I left NYC for Kansas). I thought that she might be afraid of certain scenes, but again, no problem. She LOVED it.
The wonderful thing about the Wizard of Oz is that there are marvelous renditions of the story that are appropriate for developing readers. The version that we first read is 48 pages. It has lush illustrations but a lot of text.
The story stays very true to the original – silver shoes instead of ruby, Dorothy is protected by a kiss from the Good Witch of the North, there is a whole lot more traveling that needs to be done to get to Emerald City, they had to wear green glasses within Emerald City, and she has to travel to meet Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in order to return to Kansas and meets additional people on the way.
We have also read and re-read a wonderful version that is part of the series “Great Illustrated Classics.” The book is 240 pages and yet J has checked this out of the library more times that I can remember.
This story is timeless. Both J and her 2 1/2 year old sister sing the songs to the movie at the top of their lungs. We have actually put on the play in our living room and just this past weekend while on vacation in the mountains. I even started her love of Michael Jackson with getting her hooked on the music from “The Wiz.”
As a mom, I love some of the messages that are subtly told through this story. Dorothy always had the power to take herself home. You might think that you aren’t smart or courageous, but you have more strength within then you know. The love of family is a bond that cannot be broken. And trusting in your friends and friendship itself can make all of the difference in the world.
I grew up loving all of the other books in the series and even saw the not very good “Return to Oz” a number of times. I’m not sure when I will introduce the other books, I honestly want to take a look at them first.
Who doesn’t love Oz?
When I was a kid, I LOVED the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series. I have no concept of when I read them, but recall thinking that the concept was so much fun. In these books, you are part of the story. The stories are written in the second person and the reader gets to take on a role in the book. As you read through the book, you follow directions at the bottom of each page about where to go next and from time to time you make a decision based on two choices.
Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about them for my own little reader. I somehow assumed that the old books would still be out there, but hadn’t checked into it yet. As it turns out, in 2005 one of the authors of many of the books, R.A. Montgomery, started his own publishing company to reprint these old books – with some updated editing and artwork. Thanks to a good friend and fellow book addict, we borrowed one of these books and quickly ordered the first four to have in our own collection.
Each book starts out the same, with this warning to grab a kid’s attention:
This book is different from other books.
You and YOU ALONE are in charge of what happens in this story.
There are dangers, choices, adventures, and consequences. YOU must use all of your numerous talents and much of your enormous intelligence. The wrong decision could end in disaster – even death. But, don’t despair. At any time, YOU can go back and make another choice, alter the path of your story, and change its result.
What kid doesn’t like to be in control? My daughter definitely loves it and J thinks these books are awesome. I was a little concerned since the one we got our hands on was Secret of the Ninja, which isn’t exactly her favorite subject, but once she started playing around with the concept and realized that she was a part of the story, she was hooked. I think she read that one book about 5 times in one day, each time getting a different ending. She read it to me repeatedly so that I could make the decisions about where we should go. She read it to her father. She almost read it to her uncle via skype!
I love that she is excited by this series. They say that the books are for kids age 9 and up, but for most 6 year olds you could read it with them and they would get it. It always offers great opportunities to explain things that they don’t understand.
There is also a series within Choose Your Own Adventure called Dragonlark which is aimed at younger readers. They actually look pretty cool too, but I haven’t actually gotten my hands on one yet.