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Traditional Tales

Traditional tales have been passed on for generations by word of mouth, so there are many versions of each one. All of these stick fairly closely to the traditional storyline. You'll find the versions that wander further afield on the spin-offs page.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears
by Emma Chichester Clark
(Walker Books)
What a superb rendition of an old favourite this is. Old it may be, but Emma Chichester Clark has done something incredibly difficult while making it appear easy – present a straightforward telling that has a fresh modern feel both verbal and visual and which stays true to the oral tradition. Into this large format book she has worked a wealth of detail and delicious touches. The bears, Dad, who sports a jazzy printed shirt calls the intruder a ‘hooligan and a thief’, gasping Mum who wears a floral print dress and Baby with his checked trousers, have real characters. Then there is Goldilocks looking like she’s just been at work with her mum’s hair straightners, entirely colour co-ordinated wearing purple boots to match the flowers on her dress; an altogether typical child: ‘She didn’t wonder. / She didn’t ask.’ as she takes liberties with the bears’ property.
   Such is the quality of this book that it kept a large mixed audience of nursery aged children and seven/eight year olds entranced and begging for an immediate rereading.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Snow White
by Jane Ray
(Walker Books)
Sublime paper-cuts – six truly three dimensional scenes (each spread having three layers) retell the Grimm’s tale of Snow White and the evil stepmother queen jealous of her beautiful blood lips, snow white skin and jet black hair, ‘as black as the winter branches’. The text unfolds, literally, on each side of the stage sets which abound with a host of appropriate props, not to mention an abundance of flora and fauna.(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Pea Boy and other stories from Iran
by Elizabeth Laird and Shirin Adl
(Frances Lincoln)
Seven traditional tales from Iran are retold in lively fashion by a writer who has lived there and illustrated by an artist who grew up there. The stories, set in deserts, forests, mountains or bazaars, feature demons, merchants and weavers as well as animals and there are, of course, the foolish, the clever, the wise and the brave among the characters. The old tales from Persian sources (given at the end) are illustrated in Adl’s slightly elongated, spiky and fine, almost scratchy, pen outlined, mixed media style which provide a nice contrast to the ancient stories.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Giant Carrot
Planted by Allan Manham grown by Penny Dann
(Orchard Books)
All’s well that ends well in Manham’s Great Big Enormous Turnip derivative.
Herein, gardener Jack cycles off every day to his allotment to check on his vegetable, especially the carrots, his pride and joy. Try as they might however, he and his fellow gardeners cannot ‘budge’ his prize orange beauty. Just when it seems soup is off the menu for that day, a timely sneeze by Jack saves the day – and of course, the soup.
   Amusing activities shown in Dann’s bright jolly illustrations but not mentioned in
the text add to the fun of this updated version of the Tolstoy tale.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Cinderella
by Max Eilenberg and Niamh Sharkey
(Walker Books)
Inspired by drawings from 15th and 16th century books, Niamh Starkey, through her use of angular and curved shapes, has created a splendidly funky, modern look to her illustrations. This is entirely in keeping with the upbeat retelling of the classic tale with its straight to the point fairy godmother, horribly direct stepmother and cleverly contrasting ugly sisters – one stretched, one squat. All the usual Perrault ingredients are there but this whole book has a totally upbeat humorous feel to it.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Old Animals Forest Band
by Sirish Rao, illustrated by Durga Bai
(Tara Publishing)
This traditional story is an Indian variant of a Grimms tale. It tells how four animals, a dog, a donkey, a cow and a rooster who are thrown out of their respective homes by their human owners for not fulfilling their roles as watchdog, washing carrier, milk provider and wake up caller respectively. The four evictees meet up in the forest, become friends and eventually prove themselves anything but the useless creatures their humans had called them.
  The illustrator is a tribal artist whose style is in the Gond tradition of central India frequently seen on the walls of houses in the Madhya Pradesh region. His pictures, composed by arranging finely shaded and patterned animals and figures ignore the Western conventions of perspective, appearing two dimensional, stylised and static yet, with their stripes, dots and other geometric patterns, visually arresting.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Frog Bride
by Antonia Barber, illustrated by Virginia Lee
(Frances Lincoln)
A Russian variant of a traditional tale wherein a King orders each of his three sons to fire an arrow and wherever it falls, there to seek their bride. The third son, Ivan, sends his arrow into marshland and is horrified to discover days later, an ugly frog awaiting him. So begins this magical transformation tale of love and trust lost and found, for the frog is actually Princess Valissa, daughter of an enchanter king and granddaughter of the old witch Baba Yaga. Lavishly ornate, sombre coloured illustrations executed in oils embroider the text which is straightforward and easy on the ear.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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King Pom and the Fox
by Jessica Souhami
(Frances Lincoln)
For her latest folk tale offering, puppeteer and storyteller, Jessica Souhami, has chosen a Chinese variant of Puss-in-Boots wherein a cunning fox (rather than a cat ) beguiles the Emperor into marrying his daughter to the handsome ‘King Pom’ whom he introduces as his wealthy, regal master.
  This book is a joy both visually and verbally. It reads aloud like a dream with that direct conversational style which stays true to the oral tradition. The stylised collage and pencil illustrations, set against a creamy background, have a poise and assuredness that perfectly matches the witty narrative.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Look Out, He’s Behind You!
by Tony Bradman & Margaret Chamberlain
(Frances Lincoln)
First published nearly ten years ago, this is a most welcome reissue of what then, in my experience, was a great favourite with both young listeners and readers. In a brief present tense telling, Red Riding Hood sets out for her grandmother’s with a large grey lupine hot on her trail.. As her journey takes her down ‘the road… over the bridge, across the village green and into the dark, dark wood…’ various animals warn her of her pursuer till, when she enters the cottage, she finds herself face to face with the huge leering wolf. Then it’s he who needs to take look behind.
   With its speech bubbles and various signs and lift-the-flap format this is bound to be a winner with a new audience.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Princess and the Pea
by Lauren Child and Polly Borland
(Puffin)
For this enchanting book, derived from the Hans Christian Andersen story, Lauren Child has cut out her characters and placed them in a series of dioramas, making most of the fittings, furniture and ornaments herself. This three-dimensional miniature world, photographed by Polly Borland is a joy to explore and marvel at.
   Therein, the Prince, besides being a real romantic determined to marry for love alone, is something of a ‘drama prince’ so to speak. His search for the perfect spouse yields princesses who despite their beauty are dull, silly, vain and altogether lacking in that ‘certain something’ that will make them more fascinating than the stars. The longish text is a delight with the author taking readers into her confidence with witty asides, nudges and winks.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Yeh-Hsien
retold by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Richard Holland
(Mantra Lingua)
The story of Cinderella is said to have originated in China and is over one thousand years older than the earliest known Western version. Like the European Cinderella, Yeh-Hsien is left in the care of a stepmother who treats her badly, feeding her little and dressing her in rags. As the Spring Festival approaches Yeh-Hsien longs to attend but when the day comes, her stepmother and stepsister leave her behind with work to do. But that's where the magic comes in - magic that emanates not from a fairy godmother, but from the bones of a fish.
   The graceful flowing lines and strong shades of blue and red make for some dramatic illustrations to this cross cultural tale which is available in 22 dual language editions
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Sausages
by Jessica Souhami
( Frances Lincoln)
A very funny retelling of a European folk tale featuring a poor woodcutter, John, who rescues an elf from a thorny situation and receives three wishes and a warning for his kindness. He and wife Martha sit thinking long and hard about the possibilities but then hungry John's carelessness with the first two wishes results in a string of sausages stuck fast to his nose. Of course, it takes a woman's wisdom to see that only the responsible use of wish number three can save the day.
    Jessica Souhami's folk art style images executed in collage and water-colour inks wonderfully dramatise the comedy capers bound to render young audiences helpless with laughter.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Cow on the Roof
by Eric Maddern, illustrated by Paul Hess
( Frances Lincoln)
Superb storyteller, Eric Maddern presents his version of a well-known European folk tale wherein overworked- so he is always complaining - farmer Shon agrees to swap places with his wife for a day, anticipating a restful, stress-free 'holiday'. How wrong could he be? It's not long before he is in utter chaos; and when a hungry Sian returns after a day in the fields, she finds her husband up to his armpits in soot and his head dripping with porridge having well and truly learned his lesson the hard way.
    The illustrations - both full and half page- with their plastic figures and exploded perspectives are a wonderful chronicle of the tale. Hess's couple are a modern pair in appearance; he sporting trendy shirts and she vest top, funky boots and skirt.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Climbing Rosa
by Shelley Fowles
( Frances Lincoln)
A tree with branches reaching above the clouds, a layabout prince in need of a wife, a challenge to win his hand in marriage, and a plucky young girl, are the main ingredients of this Eastern European tale thought to have originated in Hungary. When Rosa hears of the King's challenge she is soon scaling up the tree trunk but she quickly discovers that it's not only the tree she has to contend with: her nasty stepsister is hot on her trail and equally determined to grab the seeds and win the prince's hand.
    The book's shape - taller and narrower than the norm - lends emphasis to the tree's height and Rosa's climbing expertise giving additional scope to the artist whose paintings reflect the traditional Eastern European decorative style.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Little, Little House
by Jessica Souhami
( Frances Lincoln)
Jessica Souhami has based the heroine of her retelling of a Jewish, Eastern European folktale on a distant Ukrainian relation. In this version of the story, poor Joseph and his wife, their three children and a host of animals all share a small house and outside living space; it's not a happy situation all jammed in together and no money for a bigger place. So off goes Joseph to seek advice from Aunty Bella, who always gives a sympathetic ear to everyone's troubles, and good advice too. Her somewhat unlikely suggestions seem to be making the whole situation progressively worse but Joseph follows her instructions to the letter and just when things are almost at breaking point Aunty Bella has one final piece of advice .
    Bold, bright, paper collage illustrations and a lively, direct telling with its shared with the audience joke, make this book one to be read over and over.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Buri and the Marrow
by Hennriette Barkow, illustrated by Lizzie Finlay
( Mantra)
also available in 15 other dual language editions)

A retelling of a Bengali folktale about an old woman who sets off through the forest to visit her daughter and on the way encounters three animals - a fox, a tiger and a lion .All three want to eat her but the old woman persuades them to wait till her return when she'll be 'fat and round'. True to her word she is, but what about those three hungry animals waiting for her? Her daughter thinks of a clever plan: is it good enough to outwit even the wily fox though?
   With its repeat refrains and straightforward rhythmic manner of telling, this is a good read aloud book and one that children will want to read for themselves once they've heard it a few times. The story is available in a wide range of dual-language versions.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Pretty Salma
by Nicky Daly
( Frances Lincoln)
In this splendid twist on Little Red Riding Hood, set in Ghana, Salma sports a blue scarf, striped ntama (wraparound skirt), white beads and yellow flip-flops, and the animal stranger with designs on her granny is a scary looking dog.
    Mr Dog tricks Salma into handing over first her basket and then her clothes and off he sets to visit Granny. However he reckons without Ka Ka Motobi the Bogeyman and his fearsome entourage who send him packing back to the 'wild side of town'.
   There are lots of humorous touches in the illustrations as well as repetitions of African patterns and motifs. Great fun.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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