New picture books, old stories: folktales and fables

Jul 7, 2013 by

The danger in re-telling old stories is that if they don’t bring a fresh perspective, they can seem tired and uninteresting. Especially because folktales are  more ‘moralistic’,  re-working them in a way that makes them more creative and engaging is important. Making picture books out of traditional stories is a great way of adding fresh visual appeal, and if the text is written well, it can give new life to an old story.  When looking at folktale re-tellings, I think keeping in mind how the text flows is crucial. Traditionally all these stories were told orally, and they had a certain rhythm and lilt to them because the storyteller would be narrating them to his/her audience.

Two picture books I found recently were  good attempts at re-telling popular folktales. I don’t know how much these books vary in terms of the story from the original folktales because I’m not familiar with them. But I did think that as a whole they were good examples of giving you a glimpse into another culture’s storytelling style.  One is from a Central African storytelling tradition, and the other from the Middle East.

Busy-Busy Little Chick  is a re-telling of a Central African folktale written by Janice N. Harrington  and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. What we have here is a mother who’s all talk and no do when it comes to building a new nest, and the little chick is the one who’s all busy-busy doing it instead. Hence, the title :)

 

Text copyright © 2013 Janice N. Harrington Pictures copyright © 2013 Brian Pinkney

Text copyright © 2013 Janice N. Harrington
Pictures copyright © 2013 Brian Pinkney

What I liked the most about it was the way the author managed to weave Mongo/Nkundo words into the narrative without it seeming awkward or misplaced. They worked very organically with the rest of the text.  There is also lots of rhyme and repetition, much like you would find in an oral telling of the story. Brian Pinkney’s bold and lively brush strokes further enhance the dynamic narrative by adding color and life. This would be one fun, perfect pick for reading aloud to children.

Text copyright © 2013 Janice N. Harrington Pictures copyright © 2013 Brian Pinkney

Text copyright © 2013 Janice N. Harrington
Pictures copyright © 2013 Brian Pinkney

 

Nasreddine is based on a folktale thought to have originated in Turkey that later spread to, and became popular in, the Middle East. It is written by Odile Weulersse and illustrated by  Rébecca Dautremer. If there was any book I’d like to own that thoughtfully ‘teaches’ children to not be bothered about what other people think, I’d pick this one. I love how understated the text is; it’s not overtly preachy. It also has a repetitive strain to it that makes it great for reading aloud. And paired with the lovely  illustrations, it makes for a truly original re-telling.

 © Flammarion, 2005. Published in 2013 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Text by Odile Weulersse, illustrations by Rebécca Dautremer, translated by Kathleen Merz.

© Flammarion, 2005. Published in 2013 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Text by Odile Weulersse, illustrations by Rebécca Dautremer, translated by Kathleen Merz.

I love Dautremer’s illustration style. It’s got mood that very  poignantly brings to life the embarrassment and self-consciousness young Nasreddine feels. It really, really spoke to me. The pictures really reflected the roots of his emotions. The perspectives in the art work are another aspect I loved (like in the pic. below). The angles she uses are very creative and have this looming feel to them. The earthy, subtle tones also lend great flavor and feel to the pictures. The illustrations are the primary reason I would keep this book as part of any collection on folk tale picture books. It really is beautiful.

 © Flammarion, 2005. Published in 2013 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Illustrations by Rebécca Dautremer.

© Flammarion, 2005. Published in 2013 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Illustrations by Rebécca Dautremer.

 

As these two picture books show, whether it’s with pictures, text or both, there is a lot of room for creative story re-telling. Do you have any favorites? And what did you like about them that set them apart from their original tales?

 

 

 

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