Review also includes:
Why the Fish Laughed and other tales, 978-0192751874
Collections of stories from diverse cultures are now commonplace on children’s bookshelves, but these two paperback selections from the Young Oxford Book of Folktales (1998) are exceptional. It’s not that master storyteller Crossley-Holland ranges any more widely than other compilers, but his choices, without excluding familiar classics like ‘Brer Rabbit’, ‘The Pied Piper’, or Vasilissa’s brush with Baba-Yaga, are highly adventurous. His narrative voice is as vivid and daring as the imagery of these intriguing stories, and is reminiscent of the powerful folktale retellings of Susan Price and Angela Carter. Here, for example, are three speech snippets from the title story of the first book: ‘A calamity and a scandal! The King’s new Queen has given birth to a puppy dog and a water jug!’; ‘How perfect is this house! … You lack nothing but the Tree of Apples that Dance and Apricots that Sing growing before your door. Then it would be complete.’; ‘Continue along this road, and you will see my sister sitting at her handmill grinding salt or fine white sugar. If you find her grinding salt, stop where you stand and do not let her see you. But if she should be grinding sugar, run to her as quickly as you can and nurse at each of her breasts.’ Such richness is offered by all of the stories. Common themes are trickery, communion with animals and spirits, our pursuit of wisdom, and Death’s pursuit of us. I would recommend these stories for reading alone and aloud for all ages. What a pity about the stingy print size.