The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America, by Jaime Hernandez. With introduction by F. Isabel Campoy. Toon Books, NY, 2017.
The Dragon Slayer by Jaime Hernandez includes three folktales: “The Dragon Slayer,” Martina Martinez and Perez the Mouse,” and “Tup and the Ants.” These stories have been passed down for hundreds of years, moving from Medieval Spain to modern Latin America, and picking up Catholic, Jewish, Arab, and Moorish influences along the way. The incredible accomplishment of this book is that it preserves the rich diversity of its historic and contemporary influences. This is accomplished through the wonderful storytelling and Hernandez’ comic-style illustrations. The illustrations and storytelling conjure up an agrarian Latin American recent-past while incorporating traditionally medieval European tropes like Kings, ogres, and dragons. At the same time, we see strong female characters and contemporary language and humor. By taking inspiration from these varied sources, these vibrant tales reflect much of the history that makes folktales magical without being afraid to let the form and stories change for modern audiences. It’s a tricky line to walk, but The Dragon Slayer does it perfectly. The three stories also present a lovely, if limited, variety of stories of adventure, romance, and tricksters. We can only hope we see more of these in the future.
Spirited Away: Fairy Stories of Old Newfoundland, by Tom Dawe. Illustrated by Veselina Tomova. Running the Goat Books & Broadsides, Inc., ISBN: 9781927917138.
Tom Dawe has created a spine-tingling collection of stories, vivid retellings of those the author has collected throughout Newfoundland. Woodcut illustrations by Veselina Tomova add to the creepy atmosphere, while compelling endnotes on the original storytellers and a glossary of regional words offer a deeper understanding of where the stories come from. From malevolent spirits that rise with the mist, to being transported miles on a single walk, to dark omens encountered on shadowy paths, readers may find it advisable not to make light of fairies.
Muskrat and Skunk: A Lakota Drum Story. Retold and Illustrated by Donald F. Montileaux, Lakota Translation by Agnes Gay. South Dakota Historical Society Press. ISBN: 9781941813164.
As Muskrat crosses a hollow log, his feet go thump, thump, thump. He finds a stick and taps the log, bonk, bonk, bonk. Skunk joins in, and boom, boom, boom. As Muskrat and Skunk pound the very first drum, the animals can’t help but dance, even when a surprise visitor arrives to join the fun! Muskrat and Skunk retells the Lakota story of the origin of the drum, and its connection to the heartbeat of the earth. The illustrations are childlike and appealing, and drum sounds are emphasized with special font treatments, encouraging young readers to join in this “chorus” during read-alouds. Text is presented in both English and Lakota, facilitating language instruction and retention, as well as pure joy in reading. An endnote connects the story to powwow traditions and costumes, and sources for further reading are given. Recommended for classroom and library story hours, as well as enjoyment at home.
Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki. By Kevin Crossley-Holland, Illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love. Candlewick Studio. ISBN: 9780763695002.
Crossley-Holland’s collection of Norse myths breathes new life into old stories. The tales are curated and organized to create a narrative that flows inevitably from “In the Beginning” to “The Last Battle.” The structure reveals new connections between the stories and illuminates the characters and their motivations in unexpected ways. Details of Norse history and culture are sprinkled throughout, adding depth and authenticity. Crossley-Holland’s writing is lyrical, evoking powerful images that are beautifully balanced by Love’s simple, graphic illustrations. This collection will become a treasured addition to any library.
Wordwings. By Sydelle Pearl. Guernica Editions. ISBN: 9781771831963
The year is 1941. Twelve-year-old Rivka Rosenfeld lives with her two younger sisters and grandfather in the basement of a former synagogue in the Warsaw Ghetto. Everything is different from the idyllic life she knew before the Nazis invaded Poland and forced all of the Jews into the Ghettos. Her parents have died, and Rivka’s remaining family, like everyone else in the Ghetto, is trying to survive. Even in the midst of the daily brutality of their lives, there are adults who are attempting to preserve some semblance of childhood for the children; one of them — Batya Temkin-Berman, a librarian who really lived and surely deserves to be commemorated in a book of her own — enlists Rivka’s help in setting up a children’s library within the Ghetto, as well as delivering books to children. Rivka, who has a gift for storytelling, finds herself called on more and more to tell the stories she knows by heart: traditional fairytales and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. The librarian also encourages Rivka to write down her own experiences of life in the Ghetto, an account which will become part of Dr. Emmanuel Ringelblum’s Underground Archive. Wordwings is a skillful weaving of historical fact and fiction that sheds light on one small facet of the Holocaust. Beautifully written and lyrical, it is a testament to the power of imagination and story to transcend unfathomable horror, and the seemingly innate human desire to create beauty in the ugliest of places.