Breaking the Spell: Tales of Enchantment

Selected by Sally Grindley

Breaking the Spell: Tales of Enchantment is an anthology of tales, each written by a different author. From what I can tell, only one of these tales is a retelling, but each has a traditional folktale flavour.

The stories included are:

  • The Paper Garden – Tony Ramsay
A King Midas-esque tale, where an Emperor, annoyed at the elements ruining his enjoyment of his garden, orders his workers to enclose the garden, piece by piece. Eventually, his actions have devastating consequences for the garden he prides so much.
  • Dancing in the Air – Joan Aiken
A Spanish tale of a poor young boy named Carlos who is banned from a church where beautiful music is played. The Bishop declares that he will be allowed to return until people dance one foot above the ground. After an encounter with a gypsy, Carlos is given a kettle that seems to play a magic tune just for him.
  • The Prince with the Three Fates – retold by Ann Turnbull
From Egypt, now, a Prince is born, destined to be killed by a snake, a crocodile, or a dog. Desperate to save their son, his parents lock him away, but he is determined to live his life, and goes out into the world to defeat his fates.
  • The Queen of the Bees – Vivian French
What do you do when you have three daughters? You send them on a quest to find men, of course! Two bratty sisters and their lovable, naive, pure younger sister set out to find their destinies. Only the youngest, helpful to a fault, has a bit of help from the animal kingdom.
  • The Witch’s Ride – Jane Yolen
When dealing with witches, not everything is as it seems. When Ewan falls for beautiful Emily early, he’s really marrying a witch. When she uses him for her witchy deeds, it’s up to his mother to save him from his bride.
  • The Snake Princess – Jamila Gavin
Set in India, a King falls in love with the Snake Princess. Soon after their marriage, he finds himself changing; becoming scaly and cold-blooded. With the help of a venerable yogi, he discovers the source of his change, but must make a decision between his life and his love.
  • Chantelle, the Princess Who Could Not Sing – Joyce Dunbar
After being cursed by a jealous aunt, Chantelle’s beautiful voice flies away. After her betrothal to a prince leaves her humiliated, she tries her best to learn to sing again. When she runs away and once again discovers her voice, she realizes it comes with a price to pay… can the prince save her?

These are all unique as well as familiar, as a folktale should be. Familiar tropes told over again. While I love the stories (and I really do), what impresses me the most is the artwork. All done by Susan Field, she manages to make them all look the same while incorporating flavours from the different countries. The Japanese, Spanish, Indian and Egyptian stories can be placed just by looking at the artwork, which I love.

This is a good book for those who are looking for bedtime stories for their children. It offers up a nice variety, and will appeal to a family with different appetites in their stories. Alternatively, it makes a great book for someone working on their own reading skills, trying to make their way into slightly longer books. I’ve personally found that short stories are great for this, as they can read as much as the whole book or as little as one story at a time. This lets them set their own pace without overwhelming them.

Suggested Ages: 7-12

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Smoky Night

By Eve Bunting

The story of Smoky Night is set during the Los Angeles Riot, and is from the point of view of an African-American child named Daniel. He lives with his mother and cat in an apartment building located in the heart of the riots. The main plot revolves around Daniel’s family and their apartment neighbour, an Asian woman (Mrs. Kim). This dislike is reflected in the way their two cats fight.

Smoky Night tells a story of racism without overtly touching the race button. The setting of the Los Angeles Riots provides an interesting backdrop that is easily overlooked if you are young and unaware of what the name “Rodney King” involves.

The artwork is incredible. The heavy oils on one page, and the scattered mosaic of random household objects or rubble on the other. It will be one of the things you remember most about this book.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

Bunting, E. (1999). Smoky Night. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt More

Sesame Street (SesameStreet.org)

Sesame Street does a bad job designing a site that is brightly coloured, sparkly, and contains both sound and animation. This is a great start – something to catch and hold your child’s attention. All the big links are along the top of the bar, where children will find and click on them.

Sesame Street has been a definitive force in children’s media education for 45 years and counting, and this site is clearly targeted to kids. Depending on how much you teach your children about how to use websites, your child might be able to navigate this website without issue and get the full impact of everything. I do suggest parents vet this site for themselves and watch to see how your child handles this site before leaving them to have at it.

Suggested Ages: 4+

Sesame Workshop, (2011). Sesame Street. Sesamestreet.org More

East of the Sun & West of the Moon (Part 4)

By Edith Pattou

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The book is written from five alternating points of view: Rose, Father (Rose’s father), Neddy (Rose’s brother), the White Bear, and the Troll Queen. Each chapter gives a different point of view, and each takes the tale a little farther forward. At first I found this gimmick off-putting, but as the book progressed I found it helped the pace, keeping me engaged and racing for the end.

East gives us plausible characters, realistic scenarios and reactions, as well as a real and solid world setting. Even differing religions and folktales are given a place in East, which makes the religious studies student in me pleased. It is what I wished Ice had been. Some may find the shifting points of view and size off-putting, since East comes in at roughly 400 pages. The chapters are short, however, and can be picked off slowly. A good book for those that love fleshed-out folktales.

Suggested Ages: 9-12+

Pattou, E. (2005). East. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural

By Patricia McKissack

The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, stories that scared me as a kid and still spook me today. But these are not just ghost stories; they are African-American in theme, and deal with issues of racism, classism, emancipation, and the Klu Klux Klan. One of the most terrifying is the “Tale of the Gingi”, which has remained with me since I first read these in 3rd grade.

The Dark Thirty is an incredibly well-written set of short stories, each with its own feel and voice. Recommended for around grades 4 and up, it is a great book for anytime you need a scary story. It deserves all the awards it has received, and I highly recommend this book to anyone with children who like a fright.

Suggested Ages: 7-12

McKissack, P. (1998). The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural. Random House Children’s Books.

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East of the Sun & West of the Moon (Part 2)

By Mercer Mayer

Welcome to part 2! For part 1, please go here.

This is the version of East of the Sun & West of the Moon that I have the most trouble with. Several of the key themes are missing, most notably the polar bear. Instead this one plays like a mash-up of The Princess and the Frog and East of the Sun West of the Moon.

After the beginning of the story has ended, however, we veer back into more recognizable territory. She sets out, getting help from various supernatural beings who guide her closer to the kingdom she seeks, and each offer her a gift that will help her save her love.

The biggest positive I can give this version is its artwork, which is gorgeous, and comparable to Gal’s. It reflects the setting well, even if the setting isn’t how I would like it. The details are perfect, with heavy lines and excellent colours.

Suggested Ages: 3-7

Mayer, M. (1980). East of the Sun & West of the Moon. Four Winds Press.

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Nadia’s Hands

K. English

Nadia’s Hands tells the story of a Pakistani-American girl and her Auntie Laila’s wedding. Auntie Laila is having a traditional Pakistani wedding, and Nadia will be the flower girl. Already worried that she won’t be good enough as a flower girl, another Auntie puts mehndi (henna) on her hands the day of the wedding. For a long time she has to sit very still, and has a lot of time for self-reflection and worry as various family members come by and remark on her hands. But Nadia doesn’t like her hands – with the mehndi, she doesn’t think they look like her hands at all.

This is a small coming-of-age story, as well as a story of acceptance of heritage. Nadia’s story is a story targeted as an old childrens audience, around 8-10, where they will still appreciate and enjoy the story, but also grasp the meaning and not be put off by the large amounts of text. The artwork is not as fine as some of the others, such as Stellaluna, but it has its own unique style and helps they story move from beginning to end.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

English, K. (1999). Nadia’s Hands. Boyds Mills Press.

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Martin’s Big Words

By Doreen Rappaport

Martin’s Big Words is a short biography of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, from childhood to death. Meant for young children, the story is told bluntly and as simplistically as possible as it covers his life is separatism, his life in the church, cries for de-segregation, and death.

On the cover, there is no title, no author or illustrator, only MLK’s face.  The focus, simply and elegantly written, is on MLK’s message, presenting it to children in a way that they will understand. It is likely they will not truly grasp this importance – the target audience is too young – but it is likely to be one of those books that stays with them as they grow and learn.

Suggested Ages: 4-9

Rappaport, D. (2007). Martin’s Big Words. Disney Book Group.

Sukey and the Mermaid

by Robert D. San Souci

Sukey and the Mermaid is an African-American retelling of a folktale. Based in the Caribbean, it is one of the few rare African-American tales involving mermaids.

The story revolves around the eponymous main character, Sukey. Running away one day, Sukey sits on the shore and sings a song that accidentally summons a mermaid called Mama Jo to her. A strong friendship develops between the pair, with Mama Jo playing a fairy godmother role to Sukey.

This story stands out in a lot of ways. The artwork is distinctive, done entirely in dark tones (scratchboard) that reflect Sukey’s world (A neat aside: the artwork is done by Brian Pinkney, who also illustrated The Dark Thirty).

This will appeal to children with an interest in African-American folktales, mermaids, or folklore alone.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

San Souci, R. (1992). Sukey and the Mermaid. Simon & Shuster. More

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