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 herĀ 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

Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader

By the BRI (Bathroom Readers’ Institute)

If I know anything for sure, it’s that the above title post caused one of two reactions in you:

  1. If you know about the Bathroom Reader Series: “Awesome!”
  2. If you’ve never heard and/or read the Bathroom Reader Series: “Uncle… John’s… Bathroom… No! Just no.”

But hear me out! (If you’ve never tried these books before). They are awesome. Even better, they’re accessible for all ages, and have offerings for all ages.

The general format of any Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader is an assortment of facts, arranged in 1-5 page lengths. I tend to prefer the general books, but there are other UJBRs that specialize on topics such as music, American history, Canada, and so on. There are collections of quotes, wordplay, riddles, stories about Ancient Rome, mythconceptions… the list goes on.

For the people still looking at me really oddly, each book is quite heavily vetted before it goes to print. That doesn’t mean everything is 100% accurate, but no reference book ever is. And yes, this is a reference book, though I don’t recommend ever trying to add it to your bibliography. If you ever wanted to be the King/Queen of trivia, you need to start investing in these books, because there’s no easier way to read then when it’s interesting.

Which brings me back to kids. I first picked one of these up when I was around the age of 11. I don’t remember why, but I’m glad I did. I am now Trivia Queen of Nova Scotia [no citation available], as well as a proud UNBR addict. These books are a great reading tool, especially if your child loves random facts, or you want to encourage them. They’re great to pick up, read for five minutes, put down, come back. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to read them, because there’s no story, no chapters – nothing to follow plot-wise.

UJBRs have been getting longer and longer over the years. My first one topped out around 300pgs, but now they can be closer to 500 or above. Which is great for me, but terrifying if all you/your kid can see is length. Luckily for us, Uncle John has addressed this problem by producingĀ Uncle John’s Did You Know? Bathroom Reader For Kids Only. I think this was the book I recommended the most at Christmas, because it has something for everyone.

This does not, of course, mean that everyone will like it. Facts just bore some people. But if you give it a chance, I think you’ll find it really enjoyable. Don’t be put off by the name – the name is most of the fun! There isn’t even a lot of toilet humour left – they ran out of those jokes about 10 years in.

Archie Comics

Comics are a touchy subject with parents. Kids love them; parents view them as beneath the reading level/intellect of their child.

A word to you, parents: never worry about your child’s reading level, so long as they are reading. I’m not saying don’t push or encourage them, but if they enjoy reading comics, don’t freak out. Comics are still valuable in their own way.

I believe this comic-hatred is a throwback to the parents of the 50s. My father wasn’t allowed comics as a child; one time his parents found a collection he’d borrowed from a friend under his bed and threw them out despite his panicked protests (no word on if the friendship survived that incident). While the standards were relaxed for my sister and I, I do not think my dad loved us reading comics; in his mind we could do better, and we were pushing ourselves enough. Mostly because we looooved Archie comics. Well, I say we but it was mostly me, myself, and I. Every time we went to the grocery store I would grab a new one and beg my parents to buy it for me.

For being the worlds oldest teenager, Archie still speaks well to a young audience. The core five (Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead) each represent a general stereotype; you’ll always find someone to associate with.

I couldn’t tell you why I loved these comics so much as a kid. Probably because they were short, sometimes funny, occasionally touching or education. When you’re young, short little tidbits will help hold your attention longer then a well-thought, lush and beautifully executed plot. Sad but true.

When it was new (to me), I don’t think Archie comics set out to be multicultural or educational. It’s largely Caucasian-centric (just look at the main group), with a less then 3 African-American supporting characters (or other nationality). The vocabulary was largely easy-access, and the stories focused on comedy. In recent years, however, Archie Comics has made a change towards consciously inserting a new vocabulary word per book as well as inserting a larger multicultural cast. A good idea, to be sure, but the characters are entirely superfluous; there are so many of them that they cannot be characters on their own.

While each character has a basic personality, there was no consistency from story to story. In one, Veronica can be a rich kid with a heart of gold, willing to share and just wanting to be loved; in another she can be cold and heartless, out to ruin her best friend. Spread this out over several decades of stories (since Archie comics often reprint stories; in recent times I have not seen a single book that has given me entirely new content) and perhaps hundreds of authors, and you understand the inconsistency. It does make it hard for the children to follow, howver.

These comics are a good idea for younger children. Whatever you think about comics, Archie is a great introduction. It can innocently teach your child vocabulary and other important lessons while entertaining them at the same time. Don’t go overboard; try to find them at old fairs or yard sales, since they are expensive. I found that I outgrew them in my teens, but they were still a large and valuable part of my childhood, and certainly contributed to my reading ability later in life.

Suggested for ages 6+

Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown: Garage Tales

By Jon Scieszka

Garage Tales is a small compilation of tales from Trucktown; each one has previously been released on their own. The first one is “Uh-oh, Max”, a tale about a monster truck named Max. He zooms around wildly without paying attention to where he’s going, and ends up stuck under a bridge. Now it’s up to the other denizens of Trucktown to save him!

These stories are simple with gorgeous illustrations, and would easily appeal to little boys, but little girls could like it too. The stories are short, energetic, and beautifully illustrated. The characters of Trucktown were designed by the “Design Garage”, comprised of David Shannon, Loren Long and David Gordon. It shows that these characters are lovingly done, with each one introduced on the inside paper. The artwork makes excellent use of its white space, usually taking up the full page. It’s silly, engaging, and fits perfectly in its own world.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

Scieszk, J. (2010). Garage Tales. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. More

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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