We’ve recently read two retellings of legends/fairy tales. Each has had a twist we weren’t expecting. When you are used to reading legends/fairy tales, you are pretty sure what will happen next. Books that stray from what is expected will always win a place in my heart.
The first book is The Frog Princess: A Tlingit Legend From Alaska, retold by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger. I thought this was going to be a slight variation on the many frog prince books (and please check out the princess-with-a-twist books by Frances Minters), but it wasn’t. Instead this is a gorgeous book from the Tlingit (pronounced KLINK-it) people in Alaska about a Headman’s daughter who kept turning down every young man who came to ask her to marry him. She finally ended up saying in disgust with her suitors, “I’d rather marry a frog in our pond than any of you!”
This leads to a courtship with a young man who is one of the frog people, and the princess falls in love. When the Headman talks to the leader of the frogs, he wants his daughter back. The frog leader contends that the daughter is happily married with children, but the Headman persists. When the young woman comes back, she is quiet until the shaman gives her a potion that has her cough up the food she ate with the frog people (cue shades of the Persephone story from D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths). The Frog Princess then continues and finishes in a way I wasn’t expecting. The ending is told in a way that encourages girls to be strong and stick with their convictions, which is something we are trying to teach our girls, while still indulging in their love of princesses.
The other book we read made me think of the Anansi the Spider books by Eric Kimmel. It is a Haitian tale called Please, Malese! A Trickster Tale from Haiti, by Amy MacDonald, illustrated by Emily Lisker. Our local library is participating in a Community Read with books about Haiti. I am so happy they are including the children in this program – it is really opening doors I hadn’t thought about.
As with the Anansi stories, Malese is a trickster. He is lazy and would rather trick people than do even the slightest amount of work. The girls and I talked about how much work it takes Malese to be a trickster, though – and we think it takes more effort than if he actually worked. Malese connives his way into a pair of shoes, and several other things. When the townspeople figure out what is going on, they actually confront Malese, and his response reminds me of the Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit stories, rather than most trickster stories.
In this day and age, you expect the trickster to get caught and teach you a moral and a lesson. That is not the ending of the Please, Malese book! It reminds me much more of the books my parents read to me – the story is there for the story’s sake, not to teach you a moral. You also expect books to be somewhat subdued in color. This book is incredibly lively and the illustrations jump out at you in a wonderful way. There is also a black & white cat which you find on every page, and Malese’s shoes have green & white polka dots!
Both of these books are fun stories that are enjoyable for the children and for the adults over multiple readings. The words and pictures are lovely. Both highly recommended. The first book may be best suited for children with interests in princesses, but the second book should amuse anyone.