For books 27-29 of the Read to Me Picture book challenge I have chosen folktales/legends from three different continents. Though folktales are fiction, they extol the beliefs, customs, tales, music, and art of a culture – the values of a society. I am always happy to see the preservation and re-narration of these stories, which should not be lost. Of course many of our modern picture books are simple retellings of old folk tales in modern lingo.
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema.
A western retelling of an old Kenyan folktale, written in cumulative rhyme in the style of “This is the House that Jack built”, which is so appealing to young children, who are quick to latch on to the repetitions and enjoy the rhythm. The young cow herder Ki-pat is desperate to help his dying animals during the drought in the Kapiti plains. Children will not only enjoy the lyrical rhymes of the text, but will appreciate the vivid, stylized drawings and details about this thirsty African region. A book that will incite many re-readings, I think.
Munay and the Magical Lake: Based on an Inca Tale, retold by Sandy Sepheri, and illustrated by Brian Demeter
This book retells the Ecuadoran tale of Munay, a young girl whose innocence and purity enable her to find the healing water from the lake that will save the feverish prince of the Sapa Inca. This story, as with many folk tales, emphasizes certain virtues, in this case those of asking questions, listening, and honesty. The story is illustrated in warm reds and oranges and purples in a cartoonish style. Aimed at older children in the range of 7-10.
Beautiful Warrior – The Legend of the Nun’s Kung Fu by Emily Arnold McCully.
McCully says she spent hours researching: Chinese art of the Ming dynasty, kung fu masters, 17th century Chinese philosophy and Tai Chi, and the depth of her preparation for this picture book truly shows. From the first double page spread of the Forbidden City (in watercolor, tempera and pastel) one is transported back into the 1600’s in China. The tale is based on an old Chinese legend of a young peasant girl desperate to avoid marrying a brutish bandit. The young girl turns for the second time in her life to a nun-kung fu master who teaches her the true inner strength of the Kung Fu philosophy, which triumphs, of course, over barbaric, brute strength. This book looks far beyond Hollywood’s portrayal of the martial art to its base of physical and mental wellbeing, flowing from developing the vital energy of “qi”. This is a picture book with depth and detail of an ancient way of life, for children aged 7-9.
The latter was my favourite of the three because of the author’s ability to catapult me into 17th century China, through the combination of text and illustration. I related least to the Inca folktale, but I do wonder if it is partly because I have been to China and Kenya but never to Ecuador.