31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Fairy Tales, Folktales, and Religious Tales
You may have noticed that I re-named this particular list this year. In the past I was content to call it “Folk and Fairytales” and leave it at that. But white folks like myself have a nasty tendency to call another culture’s religious story a “folktale”. Happens all the time. So I decided to open it up a bit and let in the “Religious Tales” part. The advantage to this is that now I can include a slew of other books that might not have made it otherwise. And, if you know me, then you’ll know that the more books there are, the happier I am.
Interestingly, 2018 turned out to be a very strong year for these books. Why? Well, look closely and you’ll see that this is nothing so much as a gathering of small publishers. It’s like I always say, the more the big guys consolidate, the more cracks and fissures appear for the little folks to sneak through.
Here then are the titles published in 2018 that really stood out and shone:
2018 Fairy Tales, Folktales and Religious Tales
And There Was Evening and There Was Morning by Harriet Cohen Helfand, ill. Ellen Kahan Zager
Marjorie Ingall over at Tablet Magazine was responsible for alerting me to this little number. When she posted The Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2018, she said it was her oddball choice of the year. In this book you’ve got the biblical story of creation, where every star and tree and fruit and animal is composed of the Hebrew letters that make up its name. Marjorie says that “if your kid isn’t bilingual or doesn’t go to Jewish day school, the puzzles will probably be too frustrating,” but since I don’t know my mayim from my kochav I can say that, for those of us without understanding, it’s beautiful to the eye and a way of telling the creation myth we’ve never seen before. A new take.
The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez, F. Isabel Campoy & Alma Flor Ada
Look familiar? This book made a nice little appearance on my Bilingual Books for Kids list. I’m over the moon for it, so let’s pick it apart a little. You have three different folktales inside. Each one has been heavily informed by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, who have added this crazy amount of additional backmatter at the end. As for the stories, they’re not the usual suspects. Sure, I knew the classic Perez y Martina tale already, but this one has a much happier ending than I’m used to. The titular story about the Dragon Slayer is a wonderful tale to kick everything off. Want a poor girl saving her prince boyfriend with her wits, while slicing off a couple dragon heads along the way? So much fun, you’ll wonder why they don’t turn folktales into comics more often.
Fiesta Femenina: Celebrating Women of Mexican Folklore, retold by Mary-Joan Gerson, ill. Maya Christina Gonzalez
We’re strong on the folktales from Spanish speaking countries this year! This collection is particularly interesting because it’s such a mix. Some of these stories are from different tribes in the area. Some are from the Spanish conquerors and Christians. At one point there’s an Aztec tale called “Malintzin of the Mountain,” which focuses squarely on the woman who helped Cortés conquer her own people. Why? Background is given and we get a fuller picture, not just a story. I’ve never seen a book quite like this one. Effectively obliterates the idea of there being a single kind of Mexican folktale.
The Frog Prince by The Brothers Grimm, ill. Sybille Schenker
Sometimes you just want to give a gift that’ll impress someone. Sybille Schenker’s books live to impress. As I’ve been booktalking my favorite titles of the year, this is the one I return to over and again. If I had to choose a book of 2018 with a design that drops jaws, it would be this one. Kirkus described it better than I ever could when they said it had, “finely rendered cut-paper figures with gold and silver highlights on sheets of clear acetate or plain expanses of creamy white and rich green paper for illustrations.” They called it lavish. It is. It’s also deeply strange. Schenker has no interest in modernizing the original Grimm tale, so you’ll find that the princess never gets her comeuppance. Plus there’s that whole weird element with the servant who has the gold bands about his chest. Oh, you didn’t remember that part? Time to read the book.
Gamayun Tales: The King of Birds by Alexander Utkin
The first comic in a series (possibly a trilogy), Slavic tales are retold here. In them, a war between the beasts and the birds extends to the human realm when a man heals a bird and sets out for his reward. The art is a limited color palette but the primary colors at work are the unusual combination of blue and gold. I’ve read this story multiple times to my kids and the number one question they have afterwards is when the sequel is coming out. Smart kids.
Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten Tales from the Deep Dark Woods by Craig Phillips
Another series of comics, another book I’ve read multiple times to my children. It’s an interesting mix of tales that you might be familiar with (Peach Boy from Japan or Baba Yaga) and some that you’ve never seen before. The one where a girl must trick a carriage full of demons out of marrying her to a devil groom is pretty great. Phillips’ human characters do sometimes look very similar to one another, which can be confusing if you hop around from story to story the way we do. But it’s a great way to get lovers of comics into folktales as well.
Hermes: Tales of the Trickster by George O’Connor
Thanks to Fable Comics, my children were already well and truly familiar with Hermes and all his snarky comments. And thanks to Mordecai Gerstein’s I Am Pan, my kids knew about his son as well (while I kept thinking about Jitterbug Perfume, but that’s a story for another day). This is the latest in the Olympans series, and a nice lighthearted companion to Apollo (which I found almost too dark at times). O’Connor is such a pro by this point that you can’t help but gaze in awe at the ways in which he ties so many Hermes and Pan stories together. Can’t wait for the next!
The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier, ill. Sonia Sánchez
That old Little Red Hen story gets adapted into a fun format that makes a lot of sense, and gives a shot in the arm to the whole STEM-girl genre. The problem with Little Red Hen adaptations, as I see it, is that all too often the hen forgives the lazy animals way too easily. Maier takes a different approach. In this book a young girls wants to make a fort. Will the boys help her? Not a chance. The people who do are the grown-ups in her life, and we get multiple images of her mother or grandmother operating tools to get the job done. Are the boys allowed to play in the fort when it’s finished? Not until they contribute their own construction programs in some way. As is right.
Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India by Chitra Soundar, ill. Uma Krishnaswamy
And here you may see me straining against the tenuous strands of what truly constitutes a “folktale”. There was a time not so long ago when we librarians could afford to be choosy. Original folktales (folktales that haven’t been handed down for generations but have been created recently) would not have found a place on such a list as this one. But the downside of these stringent requirements is that you miss out on such delightful tales as these. In these stories from India, a prince and his best friend outwit, outthink, and generally run rings around a bunch of different problems. For example, a man sells another man a well then claims he never sold him the water inside. How do you solve that? I’ve a kid who likes it very much when a book shows someone being clever. If you know a similar kid then these short stories (which are rather perfectly designed for bedtime) are for you.
Meet Me at the Well: The Girls and Women of the Bible by Jane Yolen and Barbara Diamond Goldin, ill. Vali Mintzi
Rarely do I find a book on this list quite as useful as this. If you haven’t grown up knowing who Miriam or Judith was, you miss out on a lot of cultural references. You know all the strong girls / strong women books that came out this year? Well this should be listed alongside them since a lot of the women in these stories would qualify for that title. Each story is accompanied by a poem that gives a little more insight into the woman’s mind, and it makes for a handy reference, as well as good bedtime fodder.
Mrs. Noah’s Pockets by Jackie Morris, ill. James Mayhew
In every given year you usually get one Noah’s Ark picture book. I think there’s a law about it somewhere. So each year I go through them and try to find the ones that are the best. This year I sorted through the stack and decided that this was the book I wanted to praise the highest. While Noah wants to limit the number of animals in the new world, Mrs. Noah sews herself some mighty deep pockets. And when they dock, she releases a world of extraordinary things. Beautifully rendered (just look at those colors!) with a lot to say about exclusion too.
Myth Match: A Fantastical Flipbook of Extraordinary Beasts by Good Wives and Warriors
I’ll tell you right now, this is a flip book. The greatest flip book known to man, woman, or child. Around this time of the year I pay very very close attention to the Best Of lists coming out of libraries. Specifically, the two I pay the most attention to are Chicago Public Library’s (which is invariably impressive) and New York Public Library’s (where I used to work). NYPL is particularly useful when it comes to this list. Few other places pay adequate attention to folktales and the like, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were talking up a book I’d never seen before. By some miracle my library’s consortium had a copy so I nabbed that thing so fast it would’ve made your head spin. What I found inside was incredible. Basically, it’s mythical creatures from all around the globe. You combine them in different ways and can make them even more fantastical in the process. Or, you can be like my children, and attempt to make the most horrific creature possible. Either way, it’s pretty amazing.
Never Satisfied: The Story of the Stonecutter by Dave Horowitz
I say this for so many books, but I wish, I wish, I wish I’d had time this year to review this one. First off, if there were a prize for “best backstory”, Horowitz would walk away with the gold, uncontested. In this book he discusses how he stopped making children’s books and became an EMT. Yeah. You read that right. When he wrote that I suddenly realized that it was true. I hadn’t been seeing his books in the last few years. And while he was an EMT something happened that made him think of this old tale. It’s beautifully told, so funny, and his art is a perfect complement to the storytelling. The sole problem with it? I keep singing songs from Hamilton when I read the title. I figure it’s a small price to pay.
Noodleheads Find Something Fishy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss, ill. Tedd Arnold
The third Noodleheads story so far, and they’re going strong! Based on classic noodlehead folktales (hence the heavily Endnoted words of Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss) these books are funny AND really good Geisel contenders. Easy books created out of folktales? You’re just jealous you didn’t think of it first.
The Origin of Day and Night by Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt, ill. Lenny Lishchenko
Inhabit Media, Inc. is the only publisher out there, that I’m aware of, that specializes in Inuit tales, stories, and books. I went through all their books this year and this was the one that I loved the best. The art, as you can see, is deeply evocative and engaging. The story, which explains where we got night and day, deftly told. Truly beautiful.
Ramayana: An Illustrated Retelling by Arshia Sattar, ill. Sonali Zohra
The epic Hindu poem, the Ramayana, is almost too big to encompass in the pages of a children’s book, but credit Sattar and Zohra for trying. This is probably the thickest chapter book on today’s list, and the art only appears occasionally. But when it does appear, it makes its presence known in impressive two-page spreads. Arshia Sattar is actually a Ramayana scholar, but the text feels as though it was written with kids in mind by an expert. A necessary purchase.
Speaking to an Elephant and Other Tales from the Kadars retold by Manish Chandi and Madhuri Ramesh, ill. Matthew Frame
I can’t describe this any better than the publisher (Tara Books) did here: “This collection of unusual folklore features the world of the Kadars, a small indigenous community in south India. Originally narrated to the authors by Kadar elders, these stories recall ways of living in forest habitats that hold important lessons for all those interested in regrowing our forests.” Read enough folktales and over time you notice patterns. Some of these stories feel familiar. Others are completely new to the senses. Mix them up together, and you get an exciting book with seriously striking art.
The Take-It Take-It Lady by Kveta Pacovska
And speaking of books that upset your expectations, here’s a curiosity. Essentially, what we have here is the story of Goldilocks. Not that you’d recognize her in her current form. As the Take It-Take It Woman, the older lady goes about just taking anything that isn’t nailed down. When she sees an empty cottage in the woods, she just walks on in. You might consider pairing this with a less inventive Goldilocks tale for a comparison storytime. Just be warned that if you intend to read this book aloud, a little practice might be warranted.
The Tiger Prince by Chen Jiang Hong, translated by Alyson Waters
Oh shoot. How the heck did I forget to add this book to my Translations List of 2018? Well, that’s on me, but at least we get to celebrate it here. Now about twelve years ago I encountered a different book by Chen Jiang Hong called The Magic Horse of Han Gan. It was incredible. The depth of the colors was something I’d never encountered before. I eagerly waited for more from this talented artist, but since I believe they live in France, translations were slow in coming. This book? Worth the wait. This Chinese folktale tells the story of a child raised by a tiger, bridging the divide between humanity and nature. It’s incredible. Just look at that cover.
Who Will Bell the Cat? by Patricia C. McKissack, ill. Christopher Cyr
The late great Patricia McKissack was the power behind this particular interpretation of the classic story. Though there isn’t any blood, I should tell you that some of my library colleagues were put off by the fact that the cat in this book acts like . . . well . . a cat. And mice, as I’m sure you know, don’t fare well when cats are about. McKissack stretches the book out a little, which makes sense, and Cyr’s art really gets the reader’s attention. I nominate this to be the best evil cat in a children’s book of 2018. Who’s with me?
Wild Swans retold by Xanthe Gresham Knight, ill. Charlotte Gastaut
So lovely! And without all that pesky faux-infanticide and stuff. This is a retelling of the classic Six Swans fairytale, collected by the Grimm Brothers. If you’ve half a mind to read the original, I recommend the 2014 version illustrated by Gerda Raidt. This is a little longer than that tale, appearing as a small novelette. The illustrations don’t quite reach the levels of lushness found in The Frog Prince this year, but there is a bit of gold foil at work here as well, so look for that. A gentler retelling, Knight makes the book enjoyable for ages old and young, without sacrificing the elements that made the original so memorable.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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