Summary: Sent to America to live with her aunt and uncle, the narrator is struggling to adjust to her new life, missing her family and friends back home. One day her aunt takes her on a walk and tells a story from ancient Persia about a group of people forced to leave their home. They arrive by boat in India, ragged and exhausted, only to be told by the king that they can’t stay. His land is too crowded, and there is no room for these strangers who don’t speak his language. He fills a cup to the brim with milk to demonstrate this. One of the refugees takes some sugar from his pack and adds it to the milk. The milk has become sweeter without causing the cup to overflow; the king understands the message that in the same way the Persians will bring happiness to his country, and he welcomes them. The girl learns from her aunt’s story, and begins to see the beauty in her new country, carrying a packet of sugar to remind her to bring sweetness wherever she goes. 48 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: With spare prose and gorgeous illustrations, this book delivers its message about immigration without preaching. It’s also a great example of the timelessness of folklore and how ancient stories can still be relevant today.
Cons: I would have liked some additional information about the history of the folktale.
Summary: Before the present time, there were four tonatiuhs or suns. During each one, the gods created humans, but something always went wrong. First, the humans were too big, so they were turned into mountains. Then they were too small, so they became fish. Finally, after the fourth tonatiuh, the gods gave up, and handed off the sacred bones to the lord of the underworld. But one of the gods, Quetzalcóatl, or Feathered Serpent, didn’t want to give up. He decided to travel to the underworld in search of the bones. His journey was long and dangerous, but his cleverness and strength helped him to overcome all the obstacles, and to recover the bones once again. He and the other gods created humans that are still alive today, the time of the fifth tonatiuh. Includes an author’s note, glossary, and bibliography. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: Award winner Duncan Tonatiuh uses his distinctive style of illustration to bring to life this Mesoamerican tale filled with interesting mythological creatures and plenty of adventure. The author’s note gives more details about the story, making this an excellent resource for older readers.
Cons: You will definitely want to do a practice run-through before trying to read this aloud and encountering words like Itzcuintlán and Mictlantecuhtli.
Summary: Aesop was born a slave in ancient Greece over 2000 years ago. He learned that speaking out could be dangerous in his position, so he learned to talk in code, telling stories about the powerless and the powerful through his fables. Following an introduction to Aesop’s life, the book presents ten fables. Each telling is only a few paragraphs, with an illustration or two, and the moral in gold type at the end. The final few pages recount how Aesop was freed, and how his fables were told for many years before they were finally published in book form. Includes an afterword that explains more about what we do and don’t know about Aesop and which parts of his story in this book are true; also, a bibliography. 64 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: An excellent introduction to Aesop’s fables, giving some context about how they are not only lessons about morality, but give advice on “how to survive in a world in which some have power and some do not.” Caldecott honoree Pamela Zagarenski will surely get some additional consideration for her beautiful illustrations here.
Cons: I would have preferred that the afterword were a foreword, so readers would be aware of the uncertainties around Aesop’s history before reading the pages about his life.
Summary: Federico heads off in his red hoodie, ready to shop from Abuelo’s grocery list for the ingredients to make the perfect pico. After he leaves the market, he takes a shortcut through the woods to get to his grandfather’s store. There he encounters a hungry wolf, but manages to escape on his bike. When he gets to la tienda, it’s mysteriously closed with pawprints outside the front door. Abuelo, waiting inside, seems to have grown an extra-thick beard and some hefty biceps, and acquired a new set of dentures. When Federico realizes it’s the wolf, he fends him off with quick thinking, chili pepper, and an extra hot habanero. The wolf runs off, and Abuelo is found inside a locked box. None the worse for their experiences, Federico and his grandfather work together to cook up a new treat: Wolf’s Bane Salsa. Includes a recipe for the perfect pico, and a list of Spanish words with their location in the story. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This clever rhyming retelling of Little Red Riding Hood includes a fun Mexican twist that extends to the bright, colorful illustrations. This reminded me of Corey Rosen Schwartz’s rhyming fairy tales, and a little investigation revealed that Rebecca J. Gomez was the co-author of one of these.
Cons: Seemed like Abuelo and Federico should have made Wolf’s Bane pico, not salsa.
Summary: When Brother Declan discovers a boy lying in the sand surrounded by seals, he takes him back to the Abbey of Bangor. As he picks up the boy, he notices two things: a flash of gold in the water and a silver ring with the letter L on it in the boy’s hand. As the boy recovers, he tells the monks that his name is Rónán, and that he and his father were caught in a storm while out fishing. His father drowned, and as Rónán hears stories from the monks about mermaids, he starts to believe he was saved by one, specifically a legendary mermaid named Lihan. The boy stays at the abbey, learning to do chores and to play the harp. One night he hears the song of the mermaid, and plays his harp back to her. The next morning, he goes out in a boat and finds Lihan. It turns out she’s been waiting 300 years for peace, which she thinks can be had by getting blessed by the abbott. Rónán brings her back to the abbey, and Lihan receives the blessing, is christened Muirgen, and becomes known as the Mermaid Saint. Includes an author’s note telling the origins of this story. 32 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: A fun and interesting retelling of a tale that will appeal to anyone with an interest in mermaids (selkies are mentioned as well). The watercolor paintings add the right touch with their renderings of the Irish coast and the sea.
Cons: The ending was kind of anti-climactic. If I ran across a mermaid, I don’t know what my first thought would be, but it wouldn’t be to turn her into a saint.
Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Summary: The familiar story of the three billy goats gruff is told in rhyming text with a few dozen Spanish words incorporated into the story. A glossary of the Spanish words appears at the beginning of the book so readers can refer back to it. The story is simple, but includes a twist when the biggest goat discovers the troll has a thorn stuck in her toe. His sympathy brings a few tears to the troll’s eyes, and the goats work together to remove the thorn and apply some soothing herbs. There’s a happy ending for all four of the new amigos. 32 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Susan Middleton Elya has produced another winning retelling of a familiar folktale that incorporates Spanish words and culture. The rhyming text and simple, geometrical illustrations will make this an appealing choice for even the youngest readers.
Summary: Lalani lives in a village suffering under a drought. She takes a trip up the forbidden mountain near the village, and meets a strange man there who grants her wish for rain. Unfortunately, he causes the rain to fall without ceasing, and when flooding begins, the villagers blame Lalani. Meanwhile, her mother has fallen ill with mender’s disease, an illness that is nearly always fatal. Lalani decides to travel over the sea to the fabled land of Isa. Many men from her village have sailed away in search of this land, but have never returned. Her voyage turns out to be perilous, but she is kind to all the strange creatures she meets, and they help her get the help she’s seeking. Her friends at home take care of some difficult situations there, so that everyone is reunited for a happily-ever-after ending. 400 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: I wouldn’t be surprised to see this win the Newbery medal or honor. It’s a beautifully written book with amazing world building that is based on Filipino folklore. There are many interesting characters (human and otherwise), settings, and legends that fans of folklore-inspired fantasy are sure to love.
Cons: While I can appreciate the mastery at work here, this genre is just not my cup of tea, so I really had to push through to the end. If you liked The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, you will undoubtedly love this. If you didn’t, come sit next to me.
Summary: Aesop’s famous fable is retold with a few modern twists and some attitude. A “very lovely” lion who is “like a sun” lives in a forest with a mouse who is “a busybody and a glutton”. One day the mouse goes into the lion’s cave; the lion almost eats him, but changes his mind. When the lion is caught in a trap the next day, it’s the mouse who frees him. But this story continues as the two continue to trade favors. At first it’s with a feeling of obligation, but soon they are simply being kind to one another. In fact, they end up getting along so well that they live together for the rest of their lives. 32 pages; ages 4-7.
Pros: You can never have too many versions of a classic folktale, and kids will get a chuckle out of the illustrations and tongue-in-cheek text.
Cons: It doesn’t quite measure up to Jerry Pinkney’s version, in my opinion.
Summary: As they did with Cinderella in Glass Slipper, Golden Sandal and creation stories in First Light, First Life, Paul Fleischman and Julie Paschkis have created a story that weaves together elements from Jack and the Beanstalk type stories all around the world. These are all tales in which a child–often the smallest or youngest in a family–uses courage and cleverness to outwit a villain like a giant or witch. Each illustration identifies the country from which that particular element of the story originates. A map on the endpapers shows all the countries. Whether the hero grows to full size, becomes king, or gains the respect of his family, the story always has a happy ending. 40 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: This book would be a perfect ending to a study of Jack and the Beanstalk tales; it’s not meant to be read as another re-telling, but rather as a way to appreciate both the variety and similarities of all these stories. The folk art-style illustrations give it an international flavor.
Cons: I’ve always felt that “Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman” was an awkward rhyme. Why not “Fee-fi-fo-fan” or “Fee-fi-fo-fun”?
Summary: Similar to the Branches imprint, Scholastic now has Acorn, books for emerging readers. They’re described as being at a Grade 1 Scholastic Reading Level, which translates to about a Level J in the Fountas and Pinnell world. There are four series so far: Hello, Hedgehog! by Norm Feuti, featuring a friendly hedgehog and his guinea pig pal; Unicorn and Yeti by Heather Ayris Burnell, the somewhat surreal pairing of an extra-sparkly unicorn and a yeti; Crabby by Jonathan Fenske, all about a really crabby crab; and a reissued Dragon series by Dav Pilkey. Each series has 2-3 books so far, each 48-64 pages long, with almost all the words in the form of cartoon bubble dialogue. A final page offers extension activities, such as directions on how to draw a character and a writing prompt. 48-64 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: If the Branches series are any indication, these are sure to be a hit. Cute, friendly, and mildly humorous characters paired with a graphic novel look and cartoon bubble dialogue seems like a recipe for success.
Cons: At the risk of sounding like a cranky old librarian, I wonder if kids will even know what quotation marks are in another generation.