________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 19 . . . . May 23, 2003


Three Tuneful Tales. (Once-Upon-A-Time).

Marilyn Helmer, reteller. Illustrated by Kasia Charko.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2003.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $7.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55074-972-2 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55074-941-2 (cl.).

Subject Heading:
Fairy tales.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Catherine Hoyt.

*** /4


"The Pied Piper of Hamelin"

All eyes turned to the Pied Piper. His face grew dark with anger and his odd little smile appeared again. These were the words he spoke:

Cheat me and you'll rue the day
The Pied Piper came you way!

"Fifty guilders or nothing at all," the Mayor said sharply. The councillors nodded in agreement.

"Your work is done!" shouted the townsfolk. "Take the money and go!"

This "Once Upon A Time" collection includes versions of "The Bremen Town Musicians," "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," and "The Nightingale." As the title suggests, all of these tales feature music prominently in their storylines.

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     The first tale is "The Bremen Town Musicians.” This version, like many, has an unappreciated donkey, dog, cat and rooster who set out towards the town of Bremen to escape an untimely fate by their masters. Along the way, readers realize that, although the animals think themselves great singers, they are not. After a long day of walking, the animals come upon a cottage of thieves. The thieves' feast looks very inviting, and the animals decide to scare the dangerous robbers away. The animals achieve their goal largely using their musical talents. Once they are rid of the thieves for good, the animals happily decide to live in the little house in the forest.

     The second tale is "The Pied Piper of Hamelin." The town of Hamelin was overrun by rats. The angry townsfolk demanded that the Mayor get rid of them. The Mayor did not know what to do. Then a mysterious stranger offered a solution to the Mayor. For a sum of one thousand guilders, he would get rid of the rats. The Pied Piper used his magic pipe to lead the rats into the river where they drown. Once the rats were gone, the Mayor and the townsfolk refused to pay for the Pied Piper's services. So, to punish the dishonest town, the Pied Piper used his magic flute to lead their children away, and the townspeople never saw their children again.

     The third tale is "The Nightingale." The Nightingale had the sweetest voice ever heard in China. When the rich and powerful Emperor of China discovered that many felt that the greatest wonder of China was the Nightingale, he immediately wanted to possess the bird. The Emperor's Chief Advisor located the little brown bird in the forest and persuaded it to come to the palace to entertain the Emperor. The Nightingale impressed the palace so much with its beautiful song that the Emperor decided to keep the Nightingale in a golden cage so that he can hear its beautiful music whenever he wanted. But once the Emperor received a mechanical singing bird, he lost interest in the Nightingale, and so the little bird returned the forest. When the bird’s absence was discovered, the Emperor was furious and banished the Nightingale from his empire. In time, the Nightingale's beautiful voice was all but forgotten. Then the mechanical bird breaks down and the Music Master recommends that it only sing once a year. Years later, when the Emperor is lying on his deathbed, too weak to wind the mechanical bird, the Nightingale appears on his windowsill. The Nightingale promises to return every night to sing for the Emperor and offers his advice if he is allowed to live free. The Emperor agrees and recovers from his illness to live for many more years and become known throughout China as the wisest of rulers. The Nightingale continued to visit the Emperor every evening to sing his beautiful songs, and no one ever knew that the little brown bird was the Emperor's secret advisor.

     These traditional fairytales are retold by Marilyn Helmer, but they do not seem to differentiate themselves in any real way from other modern versions of the stories that I have read. The tales have lots of dialogue which appeals to many younger readers. The author's sentence structure and use of descriptive words also make the stories a pleasure to read aloud. I like the concept of grouping fairytales in threes and presenting them on a particular theme. This approach may make the small collection more appealing to some readers than other compilations.

     Kasia Charko uses watercolours quite effectively in these illustrations. The layout of the book is conducive to younger readers with pictures breaking up the longer passages of text. This illustrator uses a variety of vivid reds, yellows and greens which create pictures that draw the reader's eye to the page. The illustrations do a good job of depicting the text so that they are a visual clue to the story. I immediately noticed the decorative borders used at the tops of the pages throughout the stories, and I especially liked the little rats running across the pages in "The Pied Piper."

     Three Tuneful Tales is recommended purchases for public libraries. This title would make a good choice for a music themed story program for school aged children.


As the result of another exciting Northern move, Catherine Hoyt is now living and working in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. She is a volunteer at one of the most northern public libraries in Canada.

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

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