Category Archives: Mythology/folklore/fairy tales

Tales From the Odyssey


This has been a hectic and difficult week, so I haven’t gotten much reading or blogging done in the last few days. In my classroom, however, our shared reading and read-alouds continue despite many interruptions: assemblies, field trips, testing days, special visitors. Our current read-aloud, which we will finish today, was written by Mary Pope Osborne, who wrote all the Magic Treehouse books that my students devour. She wrote a 6-book series called Tales From the Odyssey, for ages 8-12, and we are just finishing the first book which is called The One-Eyed Giant.

I remember, as a child, being fascinated by the Greek Myths and learning about all the gods and goddesses.  My students feel the same way.  Unfortunately, this series is out of print, so I picked up my copies of the six books at the library.  Although I’m only reading the first volume aloud to my students, I have enjoyed reading each of the books in this retelling of the great tale.


Jack the Giant-Killer

In Jack the Giant Killer, by Charles de Lint, Jack is not a he, but a 19 year old girl named Jacky Rowan. And the story doesn’t take place once upon a time, it takes place in modern day Ottowa, Canada. This is another book in Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series, in which each book is an adaptation of a classic fairy tale. And this is an early book in the extensive repertoire of Charles de Lint, whose groundbreaking work in a relatively new genre — urban fantasy — is beloved by many. This book was lightweight and early de Lint, but fun.

Jacky Rowan’s life has become meaningless. Her boyfriend has left her, but although she’s relieved to have that demanding relationship at an end, she has no idea who she really is and what she should do with her life now. Her dilemma is quickly resolved as she wanders through the night and encounters the parallel world of Faerie in the city of Ottowa.

But in the shadows beyond its streetlamps, in the alleys between high-rise buildings, there is something extraordinary for those with the Sight to see: Trolls squat beneath motorway bridges; the Wild Hunt rides through downtown streets; giants stalk the neighborhood parks, shaking the earth with their stride..

Jacky becomes the unlikely hero of this story, finding hidden strengths and abilities that are needed in the war between the good and bad forces of the world of Faerie.

As in the tale of old, there is a quest to undertake a treasure to claim, giants to defeat. But unlike the villains of childhood stories, these Faerie creatures are real, and deadly. And there is no guarantee of ending happily ever after…

It’s a fast read, a fun introduction to the genre of urban fantasy, and an enjoyable adaptation of another fairy tale. I do love the idea that the world of Faerie runs parallel to our own reality, and that if we only had the Sight, we could see all it’s hobs and goblins, giants and trolls, fairies and gnomes. Charles de Lint is very good at briefly giving us that Sight. And I must not be the only person that becomes entranced by that idea… Just take a look at the photo below. It’s a photo of the troll under the Aurora Bridge in Seattle!


My Grandmother’s Stories


Another author I have just discovered, and am so glad I did, is Adèle Geras.  I’ve been aware of her name, seen some of her books, but had never read anything by her.  I just finished a most delightful books of stories by her, and can’t wait to read more of her work!  Here’s what Booklist said about My Grandmother’s Stories: A Collection of Jewish Folktales.

“Like all good stories in the Yiddish tradition, the pleasure of Geras’ collection comes as much from the telling as from what happens. These are stories within stories: the narrator remembers herself as a young child hearing them from her grandmother, as they cooked, hung up laundry, prepared for the Sabbath, or cleaned house for Passover. This framing of the stories emphasizes their continuing pleasure across generations; and customs, idioms, traditions, even recipes that the Jews brought with them from Eastern Europe are an unobtrusive part of the telling.”

Each story was inspired by Geras’s grandmother, and each one teaches a lesson in the kind and endearing way a grandmother would teach her beloved grandchildren. This collection was illustrated by Anita Lobel, whose illustrations were as delightful as the stories.

 This book won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in 1991.  I read it for Callista’s Jewish Literature Challenge, and it was a wonderful find.



An Arthurian Challenge


Becky, of Becky’s Book Reviews, is hosting a new challenge, and even though I will soon be immersed in the ending of another school year, and even though my list of reading challenges is already ridiculously long, I just can’t resist! I love the King Arthur legends, and have quite a few books already on my TBR shelf that would work for this challenge, and that could also be counted as extras for Carl V’s  Once Upon a Time III challenge.

So I signed up to read at least 3 books (trying to be reasonable about it). I’ll update this post with my choices as I go along.

1. Over Sea Under Stone, by Susan Cooper (audiobook)

2. The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper (audiobook)

3. Greenwitch, by Susan Cooper (audiobook)

4. The Grey King, by Susan Cooper (audiobook)

5. Silver on the Tree, by Susan Cooper (audiobook)

The Ice Queen

the-ice-queen2“Alice Hoffman takes seemingly ordinary lives and lets us see and feel extraordinary things.”
–Amy Tan

Don’t you just love it when you find an author new to you, whose writing you love, and you have all his/her books ahead of you to read? That is the happy place I find myself in with Alice Hoffman.

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of her book, The Ice Queen, and I immediately headed out to the library to find more of her books. Ms. Hoffman is an author that speaks truth — emotional truth — and I particularly love authors that do that well. The Ice Queen is an emotional journey through a young woman’s life and psyche. This young woman was very damaged by life. In a moment of anger at age eight, she tells her mother who was leaving for an evening out with friends, that she wished she wouldn’t come back. Her mother was killed that evening in a car accident on the ice. The emotional devastation of that loss left the girl’s heart frozen.

She grew up, became a librarian, lived a quiet life withdrawn from other people. Then, in a moment of quiet desperation, she made another wish, and she was struck by lightening … but it didn’t kill her, instead it began to change everything…

This story is described as “magical,” and it is fantastical is certain ways. The author weaves in elements of fairy tales, (it is considered a modern interpretation of The Snow Queen), but the reality of the main character’s emotional changes and growth keep it a very grounded and human story. I found it very moving and thought-provoking, and highly recommend it.

Click on the links below to read some excellent blog posts about this book:
Nymeth (things mean a lot)

Rhinoa (Rhinoa’s Ramblings)

Mindy (Farmer Family Scoop)

This is another book I enjoyed as part of Carl V’s Once Upon a Time 3 challenge, and also for J.Kaye’s Audiobook Challenge.


The Nightingale

Painting by Kay Nielsen

Painting by Kay Nielsen

Last week I read two books based on the fairy tale “Rapunzel,” and although I enjoyed both books, I’m still not crazy about that fairy tale.  However, one fairy tale I did love as I was growing up was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale.  So reading Kara Dalkey’s book “The Nightingale,” based on that favorite story, was a very enjoyable read for Carl V’s Once Upon a Time III challenge.

Although in the original story of The Nightingale, the setting was China, Kara Dalkey often writes stories that are set in feudal Japan.  She wrote The Nightingale in that time and setting.  She is tremendously knowledgeable about that historical time period, so her settings and characters are very believable, and she writes so vividly it’s easy to lose yourself in her stories.  Some of her work has been called “historical fantasy, and this one, which is rich in history as well as the fantastic, would fit in that category.

From the Publisher:

In this deft and enchanting retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, Kara Dalkey has mixed history and legend, weaving the Andersen fable into a fascinating novel about court life in ancient Japan – -a life of pageantry and poetry, of great beauty and casual cruelty, of life and courtly intrigue as the men and women of the royal household vie for the Emperor’s favor, and each other…

This is the story of Uguisu, a young woman with an extraordinary gift for song, who is brought to the Emperor’s palace to be the greatest of his many possessions.  Her song can bring tears to a courtier’s eyes, but it is her wit, her courage, and her heart that must serve her best of all.

 This was one of the books in Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series, and I really enjoyed it. I should also add that it was nominated for the Mythopoetic Fantasy Award in 1989.





Book Cover Artist: Thomas Canty

Book Cover Artist: Thomas Canty


Rapunzel, Rapunzel

Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren 

The fairy tale of Rapunzel always seemed weird to me as I was growing up, so it wasn’t one of my favorites. But I have just read two books that retell the story of Rapunzel: Zel, by Donna Jo Napoli, and Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale, and I have a new understanding of and appreciation for this old tale. I also read an excellent article by Terri Windling on the historical and cultural background of the Rapunzel story. It is well worth reading, also.

Napoli’s Zel is a dark and psychological retelling for young adults. It is told in first-person narrative for each of the three main characters: Zel, Mother, and Konrad, the one who brings her love and freedom. With this type of narration, you completely understand the story behind each character, and the reasons for each character’s actions. It is a story of obsessive love, abuse, and of the redemptive power of love. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Alexandra O’Karma, and it was a powerful rendition of a powerful story! This is not a story for young listeners/readers.

On a much lighter note, Rapunzel’s Revenge, a graphic novel by Shannon Hale and her husband, Dean, was a lot of fun. Definitely in the category of a “fractured fairy tale,” this graphic novel is set in the wild, wild west, and Rapunzel’s long, long braided hair is used as a lasso and very effective weapon throughout the book. The humor is silly, in the best possible sense of the word, and I chuckled all the way through it. Lots of fairy tale fun from an author I always enjoy!

Two more books read for Carl V’s “Once Upon a Time III challenge!

The Raven Steals the Light

Raven and the First Men
Sculpture by Bill Read

The Raven Steals the Light, by Bill Read and Robert Bringhurst, is a wonderful retelling of some of the classic myths of the Haida peoples from the Queen Charlotte Islands of the Pacific Northwest.

Robert Bringhurst explains the location of the Haida in his introduction to the book:

Haida Gwaii, the islands of the People, lie equidistant from Luxor, Machu Picchu, Ninevah and Timbuktu. On the white man’s maps, where every islet and scrap of land, uninhabited or otherwise, lies now in the shadow of somebody’s national flag, and is named for preference after a monarch or a politician, Haida Gwaii are shown as the westernmost extremity of Canada, and they are named not for the Haida, who have always lived there, nor for the Raven, who somewhat inadvertently put them there, but for a woman who never saw them. Her name was Sophie Charlotte von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, but the British called her simply Queen Charlotte, for she was the wife of the Mad King of England, George III.
So the Raven, who often likes to call a rose a skunk cabbage, just to see what trouble he can cause, has tricked us again, Haidas and outsiders alike, with this one. He has us trained now to point to Haida Gwaii and say “Queen Charlotte Islands.”These stories were told there well before Queen Charlotte’s time.

Haida culture is fascinating and these stories are short and fun to read. Raven, the trickster, is the central character in this mythology, and in the first story he’s the one responsible for releasing the sun from a small box and for making the stars and the moon.

Before there was anything, before the great flood had covered the earth and receded, before the animals walked the earth or the trees covered the land or the birds flew between the trees, even before the fish and the whales and seals swam in the sea, an old man lived in a house on the bank of a river with his only child, a daughter. Whether she was as beautiful as hemlock fronds against the spring sky at sunrise or as ugly as a sea slug doesn’t really matter very much to this story, which takes place mainly in the dark…

Bill Reid was the author of a number of other books, but he was also a wonderful artist. The sculpture of Raven and the First Men is one of his finest works. It’s on display at the beautiful Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC, and I’ll never get over the awe I felt when my husband and I first saw it. Bill Reid’s beautiful sketches are at the beginning of each story in this book. According to the back cover of this book, Robert Bringhurst is “a poet, cultural historian and scholar of Native American literature.” He, too, has published other books of stories and poetry. The collaboration of these two artists made this book a lovely thing indeed, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in mythology, folktales, or art!

Indian Hut, Queen Charlotte Islands
by Emily Carr

Click here to listen to Bill Reid narrating one of the stories from this book!
Click here to listen to Robert Bringhurst reading from Nine Visits to the Mythworld, a book of Haida poetry he translated.

This was my second book read for Carl V’s Once Upon a Time III challenge.

Once Upon a Time III: My Quest


I’m so excited that Carl V’s Once Upon a Time III challenge is underway! I’ve finally decided what I’d like to read for my Quest, and I know it’s going to be another wonderful journey!

Last year, among the books I chose to read for Carl V’s OUaT Challenge II, were four books that turned out the be the highlight of the challenge for me. It was a unique collaboration between four authors, who each wrote a book centered around one of Brian Froud’s paintings. The four authors were Charles de Lint, Patricia McKillip, Terri Windling, and Midori Snyder, and it was a wonderful creative collaborative project. This year I was hoping to do something similar since I enjoyed that type of reading project so much. I’ve found just the thing! My goal this year is to read Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series! (Or at least as many of them as I can get hold of.) I’m also going to participate in the Short Story Weekends reading!

Just in case I find more time to read, I’ve also put together a list of books already on my TBR shelf, waiting for this challenge, so we’ll see how many I can get through in the next three months.

My TBR Shelf possibilities:

• The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly (underway!)
• Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon Hale and
• A Fine & Private Place, by Peter S. Beagle
• The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
• Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling
• The Book of Atrix Wolfe, by Patricia McKillip
• Daughters of Copper Woman, by Anne Cameron
• Arabian Nights & Days, by Naguib Mahfouz
• Moonheart, by Charles de Lint
• A Hidden Magic, by Vivian Vande Velde
• Heroes & Heroines in Tlingit-Haida Legend, by Mary L. Beck
• The Raven Steals the Light, stories by Bill Reid and Robert Bringhurst

My TBR list has gotten longer each year I participate in this challenge, but that’s what I love about it — being introduced to new authors and wonderful books by reading all the reviews that fellow travelers post on their blogs.

Book of a Thousand Days

Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days is based on “Maid Maleen,” a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. I don’t remember hearing Maid Maleen as I was growing up, so this was a completely new fairy tale for me. I enjoyed this book, although not quite as much as The Goose Girl. But it had a very strong female lead character, Dashti, the maid, and it was full of adventure and romance. How can you not enjoy that?

Here’s a synopsis of the story (from Shannon Hale’s web site):

“When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment.

As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. With the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors — one welcome, the other decidedly less so — the girls are confronted with both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.”

I spent some time reading the section of Shannon Hale’s web site devoted to this book. Click here to read her fun stories about writing it. One of those stories, in particular, shows the caring nature and generous spirit of this author:

Giving Back
In researching and writing this story, I was impressed by the life-saving difference one animal can make in a family’s survival. We’ve been able to donate some of the proceeds of this book to The Heifer Foundation, an organization that gives important domestic animals to families in third world countries. Check out The Heifer Foundation , where you can purchase a goat or water buffalo or basket of chicks, or even just part of one (I’m pretty sure a part donation goes toward a whole, rather than just one let of a water buffalo shows up on someone’s doorstep). Donating in someone else’s name can make a wonderful gift, and how cool to be able to tell someone, “This holiday, you gave a herd of geese to a family in need!” 

The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle’s Wedding

The Latin American folktale called “The Rooster Who Went to His Uncle’s Wedding” has been a big hit in my second grade classroom. My students love doing Readers Theater, so when the author, Alma Flor Ada, who retold this tale so nicely, commented on my post last week and suggested we turn this story into a play, my students were very excited and full of ideas.

Searching online, I found a Readers Theater script that was perfect for my second graders, written by Jacklyn Moore. My students chose their parts and decided that they wanted to draw their character to hold up as a hand puppet as they performed.

Our project was interrupted by Valentine’s Day and then by Mid-Winter Break, but the students finally finished their puppets and are practicing their parts. Our rehearsals have gone well, their expression and fluency are improving with each reading of the script, and the students are excited to perform this week for our 5th grade buddies.

This has been a wonderful reading project! I was thrilled to have Alma Flor Ada leave comments on my posts, and it was equally exciting for the students to have contact with a real “author friend.” These are the kinds of magical moments that help turn children into passionate readers, and bring such joy to this job.

Tales Our Abuelitas Told: A Hispanic Folktale Collection

It’s not quite January, but I couldn’t resist starting my Expanding Horizons Challenge a few days early. I am so happy to have a little time to read during this much needed “Winter Break” from school, so I was delighted when this book of folktales, that I had put on hold at the library quite awhile ago, came in just before Christmas. And this was the perfect first book to read for my challenge focus on Hispanic/Latin American books and authors.

Tales Our Abuelitas Told is a lovely collection of Hispanic folktales from many different cultures, written/retold by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada. Abuelitas is an endearment in Spanish for “grandmothers,” and these tales, full of life lessons, are told with the loving care of our grandmothers.

These stories have journeyed far — over mountains, deserts, and oceans — carried by wind, passed on to us by our ancestors. Now they have found their way to you.
A sly fox, a bird of a thousand colors, a magical set of bagpipes, and an audacious young girl … A mixture of popular tales and literary lore, this anthology celebrates Hispanic culture and its many roots — Indigenous, African, Hebrew, and Spanish.

In the introduction to the book, the authors explain the history of Hispanic folklore, which I found fascinating. Twelve tales are retold and beautifully illustrated, each one ending with a brief explanation of the different versions of the story and the authors’ connections to it. My favorite was “The Happy Man’s Tunic,” a story brought to Spain most likely by the Arabs. In the story, a caliph was too busy to spend time with his kind and loving son. When his son became ill, the caliph consulted many physicians. But when none of them could find the right cure, and he despaired, an old woman came to him and told him that all his son needed to get well was to wear the tunic of a man who is truly happy. The search was on, and a young shepherd was finally found who proved to be a truly happy man. The problem was…he didn’t own a tunic! It’s a fun story with an important message, but I won’t give it away here.

The authors also included a fun list of traditional beginnings and endings to stories told in Spanish, side by side with their English-language equivalents:

Había una vez… Once upon a time…

En los tiempos e la abuela… In Grandmother’s time…

Hace mucho tiempo… A long time ago…

...y colorín colorado, este cuento se ha acabado. …and, my many-colored feathered friend, now the story has found an end.

It’s exciting to find a book of folktales that is done so nicely. This is a lovely book, beautifully written and illustrated, and it would be a great addition to a family’s collection of folktales, and a wonderful book to use as a teaching tool in school for any age group.