CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 13. . . .November 25, 2011
A Book of Tricksters: Tales From Many Lands.
Jon C. Stott, reteller. Illustrated by Theo Dombrowski.
Victoria, BC: Heritage House, 2010.
143 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Gail de Vos.
Quickly, before Zhao could change his mind, Mister Li ordered his servants to bring him paper, ink and a brush. He wrote as Zhao had requested and gave the paper to the young man. Zhao handed him the reins to the mare and turned to leave. As he walked out of the courtyard, he called over his shoulder, "Don't feed the horse too much at a time, and remember to be patient. You have to wait until she has digested the hay."
"I won't forget," the landowner called out. And he smiled his mean smile as he thought about how he had fooled the young man. Certainly this horse was worth more than 100 taels and all the taxes Zhao would have paid for years to come.
As soon as Zhao had left, Master Li ordered his servants to bring hay to the horse, bales of it. He started to feed it to the animal, which devoured it quickly. It was probably the best meal the mare had ever had. Then the landlord waited impatiently. Probably too quickly, he thrust his hand into the animal's mouth and scratched the back of his tongue. The horse coughed a couple of times, but nothing else happened.
Jon Stott has provided his readers with 15 simply retold folktales about traditional tricksters in 14 different countries. Over half of the stories are fairly familiar to young students of folklore, with stories of Anansi the spider, Brer Rabbit, the Billy Goats Gruff, Hansel and Gretel, Robin Hood, and two First Nations' tricksters from either side of the continent, Nanabozho and Raven. There are also stories that young readers may be meeting for the first time: the Hodja, Maui, Fin McCoul, Kancil, Zhao, and two more common animals, the hare and the tortoise, both in different roles than perhaps anticipated by readers.
Countries included are Ghana, the United States, Canada, Indonesia, Norway, India, Australia, Germany, Ireland, Turkey, China, France, England and Hawaii (although I believe this last one is a state rather than a country). Also provided is a glossary of unfamiliar terms and, in "The Trail of the Tales," concise source notes often containing Stott's rationale in including the story in his collection.
The stories, themselves, are told with enthusiasm and include back story information where needed. There is plenty of dialogue and action in all of these tales, and the tricks and tricksters are not always obvious, making this a delightful voyage of discovery. Stott has made each of his stories of an appropriate length, effectively melding three different Hodja tales together in order to do so. These retellings would all be appropriate for young tellers to take and make their own as well as for educators, storytellers and librarians to tell to this age group. Each story is accompanied with an appropriate green and grey illustration by Theo Dombrowski that highlights a main segment of the action without giving too much away from the story as a whole. Each story is provided with a very brief but informative note regarding an element of the story or the culture being portrayed. Recommended for elementary school teachers and library collections.
Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of nine books on storytelling and folklore.
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