Review also includes:
Princess Stories From Around the World, ***, retold by Kate Tym, ill. Sophy Williams, Chrysalis, 64pp, 978-1843650256
These two big, bold and handsome anthologies team very approachable retellings of world stories with some radiant illustrations. Both books range fairly widely for their subject matter.
The giants we encounter come from Japan, pre-Columbian America, Jamaica and Russia as well as from nearer home. This collection in particular provides a fascinating fusion of the familiar and the strange. The beanstalk story is here, but in a Greek version with elements of the wishing pot and the old couple who lived in a vinegar bottle. A Snow White figure appears but, in Pushkin’s variant of the story, is helped by seven giants. Thor’s humiliating visit to Jottunheim is retold, but young Thialfi is deleted from it.
The Princess stories also combine familiar versions of King Midas and the Frog prince with less well-known tales of Ixtla and Popacatepetl, the resourceful Kate Crackernuts and a tragic version of the Kingdom under the Sea.
Whereas Waters plays a straight bat with the storytelling, Tym’s style is more arch, and laced with knowing asides and snatches of 21st-century vernacular. I found this somewhat trying, unable to decide on the degree of irony to impute to these flourishes in a book which seems at times to accept the sexist perspectives of some of its source materials, and at other times to subvert them. (The Barbiesque cover-girl and glittery-pink title and endpapers add a visual reinforcement to the feeling that stereotypes are being played about with here.) However, this is a point to be negotiated by individual readers and their guides, and the storytelling is never less than engaging.
Both books have vivid full page and text-embedded illustrations. Amanda Hall’s images are sharp and sometimes ferocious, and she uses ethnically derived borders on every page. Sophy Williams has a more pastellish, soft focus approach, with four sumptuous double page spreads. Giant Tales has a useful appendix on sources that would have been welcome in the Princess book. Both of these are highly recommended as attractive objects and good sources for enchantment and more analytical discussion.