CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 12. . . .November 19, 2010.
Jan Andrews. Illustrated by Francis Blake.
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2010.
87 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.
Review by Beth Maddigan.
He was at his wit's end. It was true he could see she was shrinking. First her clothes were hanging off her, then her skin. Then she didn't have any flesh on her. There were just her bones.
But that was almost worse still.
Rock, rock, rock, rock.
"You crab-faced bandicoot."
Her jaw was going at him.
"You grub-toed homunculus."
"You lug-loaf milksop, galoot of a lummox."
Rock, rock, rock, rock. Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak. Rattle, rattle, rattle went her bones.
No one came to visit, of course. Why would they? Who wants to be sitting down for a nice, polite conversation with the remains of a corpse? (From the story "The Skeleton in the Rocking Chair.")
Rude Stories lives up to its name with a collection of cheeky tales from around the world. Jan Andrews delivers each one in a true storyteller's voice. As you read a story, the pace and delivery morph into narration in your mind's ear. You are transported into a storytelling circle, enjoying each delightful pause and phrase. Andrews is a well-travelled and accomplished storyteller. Known for her vast repertoire, she reached far and wide for this globetrotting, silly collection that lands quite happily on the saucier side of folklore for children.
Francis Blake is an accomplished artist who delivered a perfect set of visuals for this collaboration with Andrews. His deliberate simplicity and colourful characters mirror the cantankerous nature of the stories and impudent nature of the tricksters. Francis Blake also illustrated this collection's companion book, Stories at the Door.
Writing about another of her ventures, Jan Andrews spoke to the universality of a piece of her storytelling work, and that message holds true for this collection, as well. While the title is an accurate representation of the stories within, and certainly the collection is not for the prudish, children - almost all children - love to hear stories about the misadventures of their brazen alter egos. Children don't need to be rude to listen and love rude tales. The stories in this collection are outlandish and filled with belching and bottoms - favourites with the prepubescent set.
Andrews also takes care to weave a thread of continuity through the collection, referring to characters in one story as she moves on to the next and always setting the place and time of the stories through her use of the word, "once." Andrews lays the framework for a story by explaining when the "once" was, and, by painting it in the appropriately fanciful light, she allows children to be transported in their imagination. For example, her description of the time of "Ella and Bella," "the once when birds wore hats and coats and collars and ties, because they hadn't any feathers yet, when lizards had to slither instead of darting because they kept tripping over their long, thin tongues."
The specific stories, however, each have a different flavour. They are shared from different times and places, but they have a commonality in their boorish themes. That said, one of the stories seems a little out of place in this collection. "A Red One, a Green One, and a Blue One." Contributed by Camille Perron, it is a tale of Ti-Jean who put his faith in a naughty princess. He unwittingly trades his unique pigs for a glimpse at the sun, moon and stars that are revealed on the princess's ankle, calf, and thigh. I think children will find this hint of sexuality intriguing and mysterious and, while there isn't an issue with this tale in isolation (it is told in a fashion befitting the age group), it seems a little misplaced in a volume dedicated to smart alecks.
Another tale from this collection, "Beware the Spirits," is one that every storyteller, librarian, teacher, and parent should hear. A cautionary tale of what happens to those who like to keep their stories all to themselves, it is a delightful narrative of encouragement. A tale that encourages tellers - what could be better? I'll be adding it to my sharing collection, as will many, I predict!
Beth Maddigan is a children's librarian and instructor in St. John's, NL.
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