Review Blog

Sep 24 2015

Once upon a timeless tale series retold by Margrete Lamond

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Little Hare, 2015.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Ill. by Anna Walker. ISBN 9781742974019
The Three Little Pigs. Ill. by Jonathan Bentley. ISBN 9781921994916
These are the two latest additions to this series of timeless tales. Based on those original, traditional stories that have been handed down from generation to generation and which we expect our students come to school already knowing, they are the pre-Disney version of stories told way back when, retold by Margrete Lamond and beautifully illustrated by some of the best illustrators for children, bringing them right into the world of the 21st century child and a new generation.
While there may be a perception that fairytales such as these are the domain of the preschooler and very young readers, they actually have a place on the shelves of every library, primary and secondary. They are a part of our Anglo-Saxon oral culture and there is an expectation that when you mention a particular story, the students will know enough of the core story to bring it to mind. This can then be compared to other cultures whose history has been passed down orally. As the original purpose of such stories was a didactic one - each had a lesson or a moral to be learned by the younger generation without putting them physically at risk - students can not only examine what that lesson is, but also compare it to the traditional stories of other cultures to investigate if similar, universal truths are a common theme and whether the values of the past hold true today across society.
Given that many of them are now hundreds of years old , students could also examine what it is about these stories that has enabled them to have endured over time, place and space. Even though they have been retold, re-interpreted and repackaged into a variety of formats, why does the core and essence remain intact? Why are they told again and again and again and children's eyes light up when you pick up a familiar one to read to them? Even students with little or no English request and borrow these stories over and over. Conversely, which of today's stories will survive the test of time? Even though The Very Hungry Caterpillar is now in his mid 40s, Corduroy is over 40, and Hairy Maclary, Hush and Grandma Poss are all 30-something, do they have whatever it is it takes to notch up centenaries and bicentenaries? What is the secret ingredient that turns "popular" into "classic"?
These stories also lend themselves to helping students understand that critical information literacy skill of interpretation. Because there are so many versions available it is easy to collect enough of them to provide the variety required to examine how both the story and the illustrations have been interpreted. What has been added, deleted, or changed to give the story a particular purpose or slant? How would the story change if it were told by another character? Which parts of the story have the illustrators chosen to depict and how are their pictures of the same thing, such as the giant, similar or different? What common knowledge do we share even though no one has ever seen a giant? Is there evidence of stereotyping? Why are the human characters predominantly depicted as having European colouring?
Riches indeed that go beyond the sharing of a favourite story.
This series which now has 14 titles would make an affordable addition to the library's collection so students can start to delve into the deeper questions.
Barbara Braxton

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