by Geraldine McCaughrean
Illustrated by Bee Willey
Finished: Feb. 8, 2008
Reason for Reading: Read aloud to my 7yo.
First Published: 1995
Genre: children, fairy tales, short stories
There was once a fool.
Comments: This collection of myths and legends, the first in a three-part series, has been compiled and retold by the award-winning British author and storyteller, Geraldine McCaughrean. A fine assortment of tales that include a few of the more well-known along with a wide variety of lesser known ones. These stories are beautifully written with enticing language. The tales have not been watered down for children but rather are vivid in their retelling of battles, bloodshed and romance. I read this aloud to my 7yo and he was enthralled with the tales. I did find myself editing on the fly occasionally for either content or comprehension. To read on one's own, I would recommend this for ages 10 to adult. The illustrations are a gorgeous accompaniment to the text, dreamlike with bold, vivid colours. We really enjoyed this and will be reading the other two books in the near future. Recommended.
The stories included are:
#1 - The Golden Wish (A Greek Myth) - This is the story of King Midas, one of my favourite Greek myths. Does anyone not know the story? Midas wishes that everything he touches would turn into gold but when the wish comes true the reality is not what he expected. I loved the ending of this one which questions whether Midas really did learn his lesson.
#2 - Shooting the Sun (A Chinese Myth) - The god of the eastern sky has ten sons, or I should say suns. Each sun takes a turn walking across the sky but they get greedy and unruly and want to do it each day. As the world starts to burn up with ten suns shining every day and night the bowman of the sky is commissioned to shoot each sun down. At the last minute the earthly emperor realizes that one sun must be left to remain in the sky. This is a new one to me and an emotional tale as the god and his wife loose their children.
#3 - George and the Dragon (A Persian myth) - A dragon is terrorizing a kingdom and a lottery is held each day to find the person who will be sacrificed for the dragon's next meal. On the day that the king's daughter has been chosen a Knight of the Crusades is on the scene to save the day. This is the legend of Saint George.
#4 - Skinning Out (An Ethiopian myth) - Tells the story of why the snake can change his skin when it gets old but humans cannot.
#5 - Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow (An English legend) - Starts with very brief historical background of Kings Richard and John, and Robin of Locksey. Then tells the popular story of the day Robin Hood won an archery contest disguised as on old man.
#6 - Brave Quest (A Native American myth) - A young brave who has been scarred by eagles is in love with a girl who has been promised to the sun. The girl asks him to journey to the Sun and ask his permission to marry her. The brave has a long eventful journey and ultimately does the Sun a favour. We both really enjoyed this one and it was our favourite of the week.
#7 - Saving Time (A Polynesian myth) - Another tale of the Sun. In the days of long ago the sun used to speed across the sky making for very, very short days. One Polynesian boy decides to harness the Sun until he promises to slowly take his time across the sky so the Island People may have time to finish their work during daylight.
#8 - The Lake That Flew Away (An Estonian legend) - We really enjoyed this tale. Brigands and bandits were hiding in the marshes, searching for treasure and killing anyone who came near them. The lake flowed with their blood and was so sad that he decided to leave and find himself a place where he would be useful and appreciated.
#9 - Admirable Hare (a legend from Ceylon) - This is a tale of the Buddha and explains why, if you look closely, you can see the shape of a hare when you look at the moon.
#10 - All Roads Lead to Wales (A Welsh legend) - This is probably our favourite in the book so far. This post-Roman tale tells how Maximus Emperor of Rome found his lady love in Wales and how the Roman roads across all of Britain came to be built.
#11 - Rainbow Snake (An Australian myth) - The rainbow comes down to a dull, bland earth and leaves behind both tragedy, wisdom and colour.
#12 - Juno's Roman Geese (A Roman legend) - How a statue of Juno and her sacred birds, geese, saved Rome from the invading Gauls.
#13 - John Barleycorn (An American Myth) - This is a new one for me and quite a violent tale. Without telling us exactly who John Barleycorn is at first except that he is a 'he', we are told how he was killed and how he rose from the earth and at the end, his true nature is revealed. Not my favourite.
#14 - The Singer Above the River (A German Legend) - This was a spooky tale of a heartbroken woman who threw herself over a cliff only to return as a nymph. She become a siren who hated young men and would lure their ships to crash into the rocks below the cliff.
#15 - How Music Was Fetched Out of Heaven (A Mexican myth) - The Lord of Matter sees that the people are miserable as the earth is covered with either silence or noises. He sends Quetzalcoatl up to the sun to steal his 4 musicians and bring them back to earth so the world may be filled with music.
#16 - Whose Footprints (A myth from the Gold Coast) - Legba, the assistant of God, is tired of being blamed for everything, so he decides to play a trick on God himself and thus sparks the reason that God no longer lives on earth with the people. We really enjoyed this one, Legba reminded me of Loki from Norse mythology.
#17 - The Death of El Cid (A Spanish legend) - A tale of the hero El Cid's last conquest over the invading Moors.
#18 - The Man Who Almost Lived Forever (A Mesopotamian legend) - The god Ea is friends with a human priest and he shares secrets of the gods' powers with him. The priest uses this power and angers the other gods. Much shorter story than others in the book. This is another one that ends with a trick. The 7yo is enjoying the trickster stories.
#19 - Stealing Heaven's Thunder (A Norse myth) - I was pleased to see Loki appear in this story as I was thinking of him a few stories back. I love Norse mythology. In this story Thor's hammer has been stolen and Loki comes up with a plan to get it back. Again a trick is put into action and the 7yo enjoyed this as much as I.
#20 - Anansi and the Mind of God (A West Indian myth) - This is the first Anansi tale I've read to the 7yo so first I had to explain that Anansi is a spider man not Spiderman. LOL. This tale is told in verse in a slight vernacular so very different from the others here. Here Anansi plays a trick on God. Enjoyable, the 7yo asked me to read it a second time.
#21 - How Men and Women Finally Agreed (A Kikuyu myth) - The Kikuyu are a matriarchal tribe and this tale tells why they are and how the women did not let the men take over when they tried to rebel. Quite funny actually.
#22 - First Snow (A Native American myth) - The world was complete but Coyote had one more present to give the people, snow. They don't understand how the wet, cold stuff could be useful until Coyote explains how the people can use it.