What do Demeter and Persephone, Finn MacCool and the fish of Maui all have in common? Well, they are included in this collection of stories from around the world beautifully illustrated by Anya Klauss.
In times long past before the truth was known, many of the things like the sun’s passage across the sky or the formation of the land were a mystery to those observing them so they made up stories to explain the particular phenomenon. Even though they came from far-flung places and diverse peoples. their common thread was to explain the seemingly inexplicable so that the world made sense to them. Whether it involved giants, mythical beings and creatures, magic or sorcery, each story sought to demystify and through their telling through generations across thousands of years they have endured, even though science may have intervened to expose the truth.
As well as being a wonderful introduction to these sorts of stories and embracing a range of cultures, such myths can also be the entry point into scientific investigations for young and not-so-young scientists. If Maui did not fish the North Island of New Zealand out of the sea, how did it get there? If the changing of the seasons are not caused by Demeter’s love and loss, how are they formed? A great way to link literature and science and start our students on their own quests.
Van Amsterdam the baker was well known for his honesty as well as for his fine Saint Nicholas cookies, which were made of gingerbread and iced just as people imagine St Nicholas to look like. When his made the cookies he weighed his ingredients meticulously and always gave his customers exactly what they paid for — not more, and not less. They were very happy and Van Amsterdam was very successful.
But one day a mysterious old woman in a black shawl came into the shop and demanded that Van Amsterdam give her thirteen biscuits because that was how many were in a ‘baker’s dozen’. Van Amsterdam refused so the old woman left without her cookies but as she left she told Van Amsterdam “Fall again, mount again, learn how to count again.”
From that day, business went downhill and Van Amsterdam was left almost penniless and with no customers. Then one night he is visited by St Nicholas in a dream and he learns a lesson about being generous.
This is a retelling of an old tale that goes back into history with the first recorded version being noted in 1896. Accompanied by exquisite illustrations it brings yet another legend associated with Christmas to life and underscores the need to be unselfish at this time. It includes a recipe for St Nicholas cookies and a Readers Theatre script
Since early in the 19th century when the poem was first written, reading The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve has become a ritual for families around the world. So iconic has it become that many of the rituals that we continue to associate with this special period originated within its lines, including the fact that Santa arrives on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day.
No Christmas Countdown collection would be complete without at least one version of this poem so this new one, beautifully interpreted in pictures by French-Australian illustrator Helen Magisson is the perfect addition.
Like many homes at this time, excitement abounds and getting the grandies off to sleep on that night of nights is tricky. But they have learned over the years, that after we have put the special magic key out for Santa and checked the sky one last time that we then sit together and share this classic as the bedtime tradition. They are quite happy to snuggle down and close their eyes and pretend they are sleeping (even though they are secretly staying awake to listen for hooves on our tin roof) and in no time at all they are.
So, if you want to start such a routine and don’t have a version of this in your collection, or are looking for a new one, this is the pick of those I’ve seen this year.
Tante is so little she has to stand on a stool to climb into bed and so old she can’t count all the Christmases she has seen. She lived at the edge of a pine forest in Germany in a tiny cottage with her canary, her cat and her dog. Beside the cottage was a barn with a donkey, a goat, a rooster and a hen – so she had all she needed.
Usually Tante wasn’t too fussed about having a spic and span house but at Christmas time when the days were short and the nights long, she cleaned her house from top to bottom and corner to corner sweeping even the tiniest cobwebs and their inhabitants from the rafters. She would chop down the best Christmas tree she could find and decorated it with sugar cookies and gingerbread and put special presents under it for her animals. She invited the village children in to see her tree and share its goodies – there was something for everyone including her animals, except the spiders who had all been swept out the door.
But still Tante wasn’t really happy – all her life she had heard about the marvellous things that happened on Christmas Eve like animals talking or bees humming carols. So she sat down to wait for the Christmas magic but soon fell asleep so she never knew whether it happened or not. She certainly did not hear tiny little voices begging to be let in out of the cold – but Kriss Kringle did so he opened the door a crack and in went all the spiders who had been swept outside.
And the next morning Tante woke to find that Christmas magic had really happened…
Based on an old European folktale, Shirley Climo and Jane Manning have brought this story to the 21st century in a superb retelling with charming illustrations. Tinsel – originally shiny strands of brass or copper – has been part of traditional Christmas decorations since the end of the 19th century as people tried to bring light and sparkle into their homes at a dark time of the year in the northern hemisphere. Anyone who has seen a cobweb dipped in dew in the early morning and gleaming as the sun catches it can easily make the connection between the spiders’ work and the sparkly loops of foil we use today.
This is a story worth tracking down to add to your Christmas collection – well-written and adding just a bit more to the story of this special time it will be one to read every Christmas Countdown.
Way back when, fairy tales involving all sorts of terrifying, evil creatures that were all eventually defeated by the powers of good were told to children as a way of exhorting them to make the right choices and stay on the straight and narrow.
In 1812 German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began gathering and publishing the tales in a collection that eventually spanned seven volumes. Right from the beginning there was criticism of their content because even though they were marketed as ‘children’s tales’ they were deemed too gruesome for children and changes were made so that some of the scarier elements were softened, such as making the wicked mothers of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel in stepmothers (an image which modern stepmothers still battle.) Over the years, more and more changes have been made with the myriad of interpretations and reprints until we have the more acceptable versions we have today.
But in this collection Gris Grimly, (an apt name) has faithfully reproduced the original text of forty one tales, some familiar and some not-so, and adorned them with his own inimitable artwork. “The result is a Grimm collection unlike any other, set in a world that is whimsically sinister, darkly vivid, and completely unforgettable.”
This is probably not a collection that you would pick up and read to a Kindy kid as an introduction to fairy tales or a before-the-bell time-filler but it could be one to give a slightly older child who is craving the horror stories being read by older siblings or peers. It might also be the collection that you share if you are doing a comparison of versions of the same tale and how they have changed or been changed or if you are investigating childhood of different eras and want to look at the literature of the times and the purpose for it.
Once upon a time (although quite recently in this version), Cinderella lived with her stepmother Mrs Ugly and her three stepsisters. But this isn’t a story about Cinderella. It’s about the youngest Ugly sister, Gertie. Unlike her mother and sisters who lived up to their name, Gertie was kind and gentle and very hard-working. While Cinderella lazed around and did nothing, Gertie did all the chores of the original story.
Gertie’s niceness was the cause of great shame and despair in the Ugly family and so she was hidden away, not allowed to go anywhere with them. So when an invitation comes to attend the Grand Ball, there is no question of Gertie going – unless she can prove that she can be bad and mean. But to be bad and mean will take lessons so she is sent to the Wicked Queen who is on her way to deliver a poisoned apple to Snow White. But unable to help herself, just as Snow White is about to accept the apple, Gertie warns her that it is poisoned. The Wicked Queen is furious and immediately sends Gertie home to her very angry mother. Gertie’s pleas for a second chance see her protecting Hansel and Gretel from the Wicked Witch and again, sent home in disgrace. It is not until she meets the Big Bad Wolf who is determined to eat Little Red Riding Hood that her chances of going to the ball improve.
This is an hilarious twist on a range of familiar fairytales with a most delicious ending. The bright, trendy illustrations bring it into the 21st century and into the world of today’s young reader. They will delight in revisiting characters they’ve already met and seeing a whole new side of the Cinderella they know and love.
Apart from being fun to read for its own sake, this would be an ideal story to use as part of an investigation into perspective because not only is the story told from a different character’s point of view, bringing it into modern times offers a range of new possibilities too. Thus it will have a broader appeal than just the very young who are fairytale fans
If you are looking for a new fairytale for the Share-A-Story guide, this might be the one.
There is something about Christmas in Australia that inspires authors and illustrators to take traditional, well-known northern hemisphere songs and put a unique Aussie twist on them. We Wish You a Ripper Christmas, which belts along to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, is another example. Taken from the chorus of a previous song on their earlier book and CD Fair Dinkum Aussie Christmas the authors (aka Bucko and Champs) have created a new story that is perfect for sharing around the tree on Christmas Eve.
High above the farmhouse out in the bush, Santa Wombat is heading our way. He has his list of who-wants-what in his hand to check it when out by the windmill, disaster strikes! It flutters off on the breezes and without it no stockings can get stuffed. Santa Wombat searches high and low for it while gangly emus play cricket with the red kangaroos and koalas hang tinsel and Christmas tree lights. Dingoes, galahs, even the possums are all part of the cast but the list is nowhere to be seen. Then suddenly…
Accompanied by Roland Harvey’s iconic illustrations, this is a great romp through Australia’s countryside that will appeal to young and old alike. With a CD included you just know that there will be a new version of the more familiar song being sung this year, particularly as it has a karaoke track. Buchanan and Champion have been creating Christmas songs for Australian kids for a long time and this is a fantastic addition to the repertoire.
Dog is always hungry and his thoughts are always about food. Even though he had already had a slice of steak, half a ham and a whole string of sausages, he was thinking about his dinner. In the market town it is market day and his nose leads him to the butcher’s stall where there are all sorts of delicious doggy delights – in particular, a big juicy bone that is irresistible. Carefully, he sneaks up and snatches it, hightailing it out of town before anyone can catch him.
Delighted with his daring and his success, he runs until he comes to a river and the cool water reminds him he is thirsty and needs a drink. But as he bends over the water, he sees another dog with a bone, fat and juicy and bigger than his. He is determined to have it…
This is a retelling of The Dog and his Reflection, a fable by Aesop that dates back hundreds of years. Written in an entertaining way and brought right up-to-date with lively, colourful illustrations it provides the platform for a discussion about being content with what we have as well as a springboard to other fables, their format and messages. Are stories meant to entertain us or educate us, or is there room for both? It could be the start of having even very young students start looking below the surface for the juicy bones beneath – the message that the writer is trying to help us understand.
But even without the philosophical discussion, it just a lovely story to read aloud to our youngest readers.
Carolina Farías, Valentina Belloni, Polona Kosec and Eva Montanari
Picture Window Books, 2015
hbk., 32pp., RRP $A16.95
It is said that every major culture in the world, with the exception of the Australian Aboriginal Peoples, has a version of Cinderella in the traditional storytelling collection. In this book, Cari Meister brings together four of these – the traditional Cinderella that most children know from French writer Charles Perrault; Little Burnt Face from the Micmac tribe of North America; Yeh-Shen from China; and Rhodopis from Ancient Egypt. Each story is illustrated by a different artist with each style being unique and bringing something different to the words.
An internet search for “Cinderella stories” brings up many hits demonstrating the popularity of this story as a vehicle for investigating stories and cultures from afar and it provides a fascinating insight into how the basic premise of the story we know so well and the lessons it teaches has been interpreted across countries and throughout time.
This is part of a series of books that view popular fairy tales through a multicultural lens- the others being Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Rapunzel – that provides a different entry point for students to not only study other cultures but also the fairy tale genre. What does the left-behind glass slipper become in Ancient Egypt and whose fairy godmother is a fish? What are the common threads that link the stories, and given that fairy tales were first shared as didactic stories, what is the universal message that elders want the youngsters to know?
There is scope to use this book across the school.
Are there any more recognisable words than these at this time of the year? This poem, written by Clement Clarke Moore 192 years ago, stirs the imagination of generation after generation and every child should have at least one copy in their library. This one, beautifully illustrated by Richard Johnson in a very traditional way, is perfect to introduce children to the story of Santa Claus and his reindeer. The gentle colours and timeless imagery will make it a favourite version.
At this time of the year there are many books published that have a Christmas theme but this one has proven its popularity and if your library doesn’t have a copy then this is the one to get.