________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 6 . . . .November 12, 2004


Tales From the Isle of Spice: A Collection of New Caribbean Folk Tales.

Richardo Keens-Douglas. Illustrated by Sylvie Bourbonnière.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2004.
48 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (lib. bnd.).
ISBN 1-55037-866-X (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-867-8 (lib. bnd.).

Subject Heading:
Children's stories, Canadian (English).

Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.

Review by Cora Lee.

***1/2 /4



"Look, look," Aglo said quietly, "there she is."

"Where, where?" Petal whispered.

"There," Aglo whispered back.

"Where, where?" Petal shouted. No matter where Petal looked, she couldn't see the princess.

"She is looking at us, Petal. She's looking at us."

"What is she like, Aglo?"

"She's a very good-looking lady, Petal. She hasa long blue dress on, and she is smiling at us."

"Is it true she has diamonds in her hair?"

"Yes, it's true, and she has a glow around her."

"What is she doing?"

"She's just smiling at us. Oh, she's gone. Petal, she's gone." (from "The Nutmeg Princess.")


internal artReaders tired of the bland, blond beauties in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and craving more complexity than The Ugly Duckling offers will find welcome relief in Tales from the Isle of Spice, a collection of three of Richardo Keens-Douglas's previously published Caribbean folk tales. These are tales of a different tradition. The stories are straightforward in the telling, but mask so much more. Under each tale lies an undercurrent of a primitive magic in the person of an old obeah woman or witch, whose laugh "filled the air like earthy thunder," or in the sinister appearance of La Diablesse, who steals babies from weary and unwary mothers. Short as they are, these little stories are in no way bereft of descriptive detail, carefully chosen to evoke the exotic warmth and colour that is the Isle of Spice.

     Within the main characters dwell a simplicity that speaks of basic human virtues and a people grounded in self and family and community, but these are offset by examples of their antithesis in the community at large. In "The Nutmeg Princess," beauty shines from the inside of a black princess with dewdrop diamonds in her hair, and a little boy is "happy because [his] home was full of love, and material things didn't matter to him." The rest of the village people, however, cared only for riches. To fit the spare but lyrical prose, Keens-Douglas has stripped the complexities of human nature down to its bare essentials. The best example of his ability to distill opposing notions into perfect little stories is "Freedom Child of the Sea," which lays bare the dark history of slavery in a way even the youngest readers can understand while still leaving the optimistic message that there's still hope for us all.

Highly Recommended.

Cora Lee is a Vancouver, BC, writer and editor.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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