31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, and Religious Tales
I still love them. I do. I love them and they don’t quite get the attention that they used to in the past, but I don’t care. There’s something uniquely satisfying about reading both traditional and original folk, fairy, and religious tales. Somehow they feel simultaneously classic and contemporary. There’s really not that much more to say about them, except that I’ve been pleased with the slow uptick in these titles over the last few years. So with that in mind, here are the stories and legends that did a particularly good job in 2022.
And are you interested in seeing past lists of these titles? Then check these out!
2022 Folk, Fairy and Religious Tales
Carrimebac: The Town That Walked by David Barclay Moore, ill. John Holyfield
When old Rootilla Redgums and her grandson Julius Jefferson walk into Walkerton, Georgia, no one is ready for their wisdom and magic. But when the Black people in town get threatened by a hooded mob, these two will move heaven and earth to save the day. A marvelous original folktale. I think that back in the day I was reluctant to include “original fables” in this category, but sometimes a book is so interesting that you just kind of have to include it one way or another. And this book is just so interesting in its plot, characters, and metaphors. I mean, we’re talking about economics here and the KKK and the state of American in the Reconstruction era. Hoyfield’s got this kind of Loren Long/Frank Morrison thing going on with his art that’s at once elongated and exaggerated while also indulging in these close-ups of people’s faces, looking dead on at the reader, that really get to the heart of the characters. This books has given me a lot to chew on, and I’m still thinking about it.
Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings by Laurel Snyder, ill. Dan Santat
Think you know your fairytales? How well would you do if you were actually in them? You’re Little Red and you’ve got to pick your adventures carefully. There’s more than evil wolves in these woods… Now be sure you set aside some time to read this. I thought I’d just whiz through this little fairy tale number, lickety-split. Instead, I found myself an hour later relentlessly trying to figure out how the heck you’re supposed to get to Sleeping Beauty when it’s so easy to get waylaid by the wolf. As someone who grew up on classic Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, it was enormously gratifying to discover how often one dies, actually dies dies, in this book. These are fairytales after all! People get eaten half the time anyway. What better medium than a Choose Your Own Adventure one? Dan Santat (who must have worked on this for months and months) is having a ball, and Laurel Snyder really lets herself go all in. My sole objection is that for some super random reason an evil queen shows up in Sleeping Beauty’s bedroom. What the whaaa? Otherwise, this is top notch stuff. See if you can get to the ultimate ending at the back. It’s worth it.
The Gift of the Little People by William Dumas, Rhian Brynjolson
A thrilling tale of a time when the Rocky Cree, suffering from a dread disease and were saved by a group of small people. An otherworldly tale of heroism. I’ve not run across this series before. The Six Season of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak series tells a variety of stories from the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak (Rocky Cree) people. This particular one appealed to me since it had such a nice way of incorporating the art with the text. It’s a slightly longer story than you’d find in a picture book, which is partly why I think it fits so well here. William Duman is himself a Rocky Cree storyteller and it shows. The man knows how to tell a tale.
Gold by Jed Alexander
Three bears set out on their bikes while a little girl in yellow beelines for their house. In this wordless play on the Goldilocks fable, prepare to have expectations of all sorts upset by a story that redefines what a family can be. Also prepare to be utterly charmed or, at the very least, subtly impressed. We see a lot of books that are skewed takes on Goldilocks (this very year we’ve already seen Bee Waeland’s The Three Bears and Goldilocks) and you kind of get a little sick of them after a while. This book upsets not simply storytime expectations but cultural expectations about who can and cannot be a family unit. I was immediately charmed by the San Franciscan setting and the fact that the bears’ bike helmets are so ridiculously small on their huge heads. Then you get to the beautiful use of the color yellow throughout. And of course the mess Goldilocks makes could be attributed to a child trying to “help”. Mr. Alexander already tried something like this with his previous book Red but I think that was just a warm-up for this little number. Completely, utterly, wonderful (and wordless!).
How the Stars Came to Be by Poonam Mistry
My list. My rules about what constitutes a folktale. In the past a children’s librarian would rather stamp their forehead with a date due stamp than allow an original folktale onto a list such as this. But times change and, to be perfectly frank, I had to include this book somewhere. Poonam Mistry is inconveniently not American, so many book awards here in the States are doomed to elude her. Never fear. This book was already shortlisted for the 2021 Kate Greenaway Medal and it’s just so darned pretty I wanted to pay it a bit of an homage here as well. Though fairly simple, the story is unique. In this tale there was once a fisherman and his daughter. For light, they had to rely on the sun in the day and the moon at night, and that was that. But occasionally there was no moon, and the girl would worry that her father wouldn’t be able to return home. After asking the sun for help, it bestowed on her broken pieces of a shining ray. The girl was instructed to place them carefully in the sky. However, a cheeky monkey got involved and … well, you can guess the rest. Mistry is heavily influenced by some forms of traditional Indian art, but this deluxe edition of her latest is even shinier and more sumptuous than any she’s put forth before. The storytelling too is one of her best. Ever wanted to give a child a gift, just to watch them ooh and ahh and coo over the cover? Mission accomplished.
Itzel and the Ocelot by Rachel Katstaller
Itzel and her nana live happily at the edge of a jungle. But when the rains won’t fall it’s up to brave Itzel to summon them with an epic quest. A Salvadoran folktale inspired book by an author/illustrator from El Salvador? Yes and please! Note how Katstaller credits the precise location of the origins of the tale (the regions of Izalco and Santo Domingo de Guzmán, if you’re curious). As for the tale itself, it may be an exact replication of the original, but I appreciated that it had all the hallmarks of classic folktales. The repetition. The gathering of companions along the journey. The language itself was also delightful (love that opening line “Many, many years ago, although it might have been yesterday”) and, of course, I love the color scheme in the art. All reds and purples and pink/browns. A great way of updating an old tale to a modern one (and the Glossary of terms and pronunciations at the end are appreciated as well).
The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale by Charly Palmer
Let us bend your ear with the story of Gravity, a kid so good at defying centripetal forces that his feats are legendary. This is one of those legends. I figure tall tales fall squarely into the fairytale/folktale camp, wouldn’t you say? This book felt a lot like other tall tale tales I’ve seen on our shelves before, like that delicious Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen and Kadir Nelson from back in the day. We know Palmer was a great artist, but who knew he could play with words so well? This book cleverly combines trash talk and talking big with tall tale telling, and I love the end result. Definitely needs to be on your watch list.
The Legend of the Spirit Serpent by Adaiah Sanford, ill. Ken Daley
No one but the leader of the tribe can ever visit the Spirit Serpent. If you do, you’ll get eaten! But Natari is just too darn curious. A retelling of a traditional Kalingao legend from the Dominica island. Hmm. It’s like all our stories based on folktales this year revolve around trying to find magical snakes (see the previously mentioned Itzel and the Ocelot by Rachel Katstaller). Look at it another way and it’s the year where we’re getting legitimately good books written by kids (see: Take Off Your Brave: The World Through the Eyes of a Preschool Poet by Nadim (age 4), ill. Yasmeen Ismail which will appear on an upcoming Poetry list). This retelling of a traditional Kalinago legend is told by the kid that won the 1st Annual Caribbean Writer’s Contest. It’s the tale of the daughter of a chief whose curiosity gets the better of her. I was quite fond of it, honestly. Would love to find a copy of the original tale (however you define that) to see what Sanford might have added or subtracted. A grand story of an adventurous girl.
Mrs. Noah’s Doves by Jane Yolen, ill. Alida Massari
Yeah, I’m a Noah’s Arc junkie. I admit it. I like that story. True, it ends with the bulk of humanity dying a watery death, but if you get around that part there’s an order and organization to it that’s quite keen. Now Yolen’s tried her hand on this storyline and the results are interesting. In her version the rains begin before Noah’s wife even hears about the whole Arc plan. She’s also the keeper of the birds, tending to the injured ones. You can see where this is all going with the doves, though there’s an interesting part where before the doves are sent the eagles and ravens go and do not come back. Italian artist Alida Massari lends her very distinctive style to the endeavor and it gives a cozy quality to it (even when you see little people drowning in the swells). I haven’t seen a beautiful looking Noah’s Arc in years. A real eye-pleaser.
Nine Color Deer by Kailin Duan, translated by Jeremy Tiang
It’s nice to see a folktale from something other than the Grimm oeuvre show up multiple times over the years. I swear I’ve encountered the Nine Color Deer tale in the past but never with such thought, care, and attention as I’ve seen in Duan’s latest. Inspired by the images in the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China, this transition from cave painting to the picture book page is seamless. While the Translator’s Note at the end of the book gives context to both the story (its roots may lay in a Buddhist Jataka tale from India) to the art itself, what makes the tale work is how the story has been retold for 21st century kids. I don’t need to tell you that some folktales don’t always make the leap all that easily. Here, you thoroughly enjoy what comes across as a kind of environmental tale of betrayal and humbling in the face of nature itself. A five star winner through and through.
Noodleheads Take It Easy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss
Look, I’ll just lay it on the line. At this point in time, unless Tedd Arnold and his team purposefully attempt to screw one of these Noodlehead books up, I will always and forever include them on these lists. Now if you’ve never encountered a Noodlehead book before, you are in for a treat, my friend. They’re essentially Fool Tales that take their inspiration from a wide range of folktales. Reading through the book, you’d never know the sheer number of stories that are being referenced. That’s where the incredibly cool backmatter comes in. I do have some objection to the character of Meatball in the book being labeled in the backmatter as a “bully” when he is clearly a trickster. Even so, these books are always not only great folklore, they’re darned good easy reading titles as well. Again and again a delight to read.
A Sliver of Moon and a Shard of Truth by Chitra Soundar, ill. Uma Krishnaswamy
Clever solutions! Who doesn’t love ‘em? I was a fan of Soundar and Krishnaswamy’s Mangoes, Mischief and Tales of Friendship back when it came out a year or so ago, so to see another book in the series was nothing but pleasing to me. Don’t think of this as a sequel, though. Soundar’s adept at catching you up right at the start of the tales as to what’s come before. You see, Prince Veera has a best friend named Suku. Suku’s from a poor family but his wit and intelligence put him on par with the prince. In this book the prince’s father’s uncle has sent for the boys, after having heard them give some pretty smart answers to problems in their own court. Once they arrive they immediately find all kinds of tangled situations to unravel. This book is rooted firmly in classic folktales, but feels like nothing so much as an equally classic boys detective series. I mean, essentially, both Veera and Suku are like royal Encyclopedia Browns, noticing details the adults never would, and getting out of sticky situations with brains rather than brawn. These are a ton of fun, integrating classic stories seamlessly into their plots. A great and necessary addition to any list.
The Tale of the Unwelcome Guest by Rebecca Sheir, ill. Mert Tugen
Clever fool Nasruddin is thrilled when he learns that his wine will be featured at the governor’s feast. But when he arrives and people ignore him because of his clothes, he finds an ingenious way to teach them a lesson. A classic Middle Eastern tale with variants around the world. Boy, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Nasruddin folktale published. Rebecca Sheir is the host of a podcast called The Circle Round and she’s created a couple preliminary folktales this year. Of the ones I’ve seen, this one is undeniably the strongest. Illustrator Mert Tugen (from Istanbul) modernizes it a tad, but for the most part it retains the bones of the original very fun, ridiculous story. And there’s a whole heaping helping of backmatter, if that’s what you’re into. A Bibliography listing other Nasruddin stories that folks can read wouldn’t have been out of place, but that’s more a suggestion than requirement. More of this, please!
The Three Billy Goats Gruff retold by Mac Barnett, ill. Jon Klassen
The classic tale of three hungry goats and an even hungrier troll is told with flair and humor. Get ready to laugh out loud with this hilarious new interpretation. Barnett and Klassen tell it straight! That’s a bit of a surprise. When I’d heard that they were tackling that old tale of goats and a hungry troll I just assumed they’d wacky it up in some way. And sure, it has their signature style to it, no question. There’s actually this visual gag where you see the biggest billy goat that literally had me laugh out loud. Still and all, this is pretty much precisely what you’ll expect when you read the story. I was a bit sad that Asbjørnsen and Moe weren’t credited but that’s just the Norwegian in me. It’s not like every edition of Little Red Riding Hood mentions the Grimm brothers, after all. Altogether, this is an absolute hoot to read aloud. The troll’s rhymes about how he’ll prepare the goats are pitch perfect. Favorite line: “A goat flambé with candied yams. / A goat clambake, with goat, not clams!” I envy the lucky suckers that get to read this aloud to large groups of kids.
Want to see other lists? Stay tuned for the rest this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Gross Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
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.
SLJ Blog Network