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Read a Tale, Tell a Tale

By Jennifer Bergen, Children’s Services Manager

February 26 is National Tell a Fairy-Tale Day.  I know you already know them, but in case you need some inspiration for your Thursday bedtime story, come visit our Fairy Tale and Folklore Neighborhood in the Children’s room. Look for the banner with the impressive Neuschwanstein Castle pictured atop its woodsy Bavarian hillside. In this section, we have pulled together our fantastic collection of anthologies and picture books so you can find plenty of options, including classic tales, tall tales, new tales, whimsical or “fractured” fairy tales, and stories from around the world.

A few recent additions to this neighborhood include:

chickenBrave Chicken Little retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd. Chicken Little is sure the sky is falling, and he gathers an even larger than usual crowd of animals in his wake when he runs into that sly Foxy Loxy.  This time, Loxy has a wife and seven little kits “who frazzle my wits,” and they are all hungry. Down to the cellar the other animals go, waiting for the stew water to boil. Can little Chicken Little save the day?  Byrd turns the tables on this tale and gives kids an unlikely champion for problem-solving and resourcefulness.

My Grandfather’s Coat retold by Jim Aylesworth. Children love the old Yiddish tale “I Had a Little Overcoat,” with the continual surprises of what the old man will make out of his clothing next.  This retelling has just the right amount of repetition for young listeners to get into the rhythm and start chiming in: “He wore it, and he wore it. And little bit by little bit, he frayed it, and he tore it, until at last…he wore it out!”  Barbara McClintock’s illustrations of family life add a personable tone, showing how the overcoat lasts for generations until “there was nothing left at all. Nothing, that is, except for this story.”

Twelve Dancing Unicorns by Alissa Heyman. In this magical fantasy, a king has 12 unicorns chained to trees in a pen. Only a little girl with a special cloak can discover the mysterious secrets of the mythical creatures and try to save them. This story is sure to satisfy young unicorn lovers with beautiful illustrations by Justin Gerard.

blueThe longstanding favorite anthologies by Andrew Lang are being reissued with the original illustrations, and you can find The Blue Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book and The Green Fairy Book in the library’s collection, each with dozens of tales from around the world including both well-known stories and rare little gems. Lang’s prefaces are worth reading aloud, during which he generally acknowledges the superiority of the child’s mind over the dull thinking of grown-ups.

Two Robert Sabuda pop-up books are also displayed in the Fairy Tales & Folklore Neighborhood: Dragons & Knights and Beauty & the Beast. They are not available for check-out due to their delicate inner workings, but kids and adults love to pore through them while sitting on the fanciful purple bench.  So come read some books, play dress-up with your child, gaze into the “magic” mirror and be inspired to tell a thrilling tale with your own new endings on Fairy-Tale Day.

Posted in: Children's Dept, For Kids, Mercury Column, News

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Three Billy Goats Gruff

This works well with a small group of school age kids, but could be adapted for other sizes/ages.  Supplies needed – two dry erase boards or posterboard, some markers, 3 billy goat and 1 troll puppets/masks or some kind of representation, and a copy of the well-known fairy tale “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” I like to use Paul Galdone’s version.

Ask for 2 volunteers who are artists or who like to draw.  Ask one to draw a large bridge on the board on one side, and the other to draw a hill with grass and flowers on the other side.

Ask for 3 volunteers to play goats.  As your artists draw, give your other volunteers some quick instructions about what happens during the story. They need to know who is the small billy goat Gruff, medium goat, and large goat.  Decide whether you will read all the lines and they will just act out their part, or if you want them to say some of their lines. For older kids, you could have lines printed out in advance that they could read.

Plan to play the part of the troll and the narrator. The troll’s role is key because he has to interrupt each goat as they are going across the bridge, and his voice needs to be pretty loud and a little scary.

Act out the story with the goats pretending to go over the bridge, meet the troll, and go on over to the meadow.  Everyone watching can help with the “Trip, trap, trip, trap!” parts.  When the largest billy goat Gruff butts the troll, he can fall behind the bridge board.

If your kids love acting out stories, you may have to repeat it a few times allowing others to play parts or re-draw scenes.

Posted in: Children's Dept, For Kids, Parents

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The Paper Bag Princess

The Paper Bag Princess is a hilarious modern take on the Prince Charming story.  Princess Elizabeth seems to be the average princess who’s planning on marrying Prince Ronald.  Unfortunately, Prince Ronald is carried away by a fire-breathing dragon to his lair.  The dragon even smashes the castle and burns up the Princess’ clothes!  Does Princess Elizabeth pine away? No way!  She dons a paper bag and sets out to track down the devious dragon.  When she finds the dragon, she outwits him with a series of tasks that leave the dragon too exhausted to breathe fire.  Princess Elizabeth sets the Prince free, but he’s not at all grateful for her heroism. Instead he criticizes her for wearing a paper bag and having tangled hair.  Fortunately, Princess Elizabeth is a sensible, self-sufficient girl who tells Princess Ronald to take a hike!  This is a fun fairy tale to act out with paper puppets on popsicle sticks or finger puppets.  You can make a castle out of a shoe box, then copy scenes out of the book for backdrops.  Any small paper bag will serve as a costume for the Princess, and a paper crown will suit the Prince.  Even though it was first published in 1980, this is still a very popular, relevant fairy tale.


Posted in: Children's Dept, For Kids, Parents

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Retelling the Gigantic Turnip

Several of us love using the Russian folktale about the giant turnip in storytimes. We have a flannel board of the story, but there are also plenty of books that tell it.  You can read the text of the story here.  After telling the story, kids can act it out.  Ask for volunteers to come up and play the different parts, starting with the old man.  He pretends to pull as hard as he can on invisible turnip leaves.  Each time a person/animal is added, they hold on to the waist of the person in front of them and they all pull.  Kids love being chosen to be the mouse, who helps the group finally succeed in pulling up the gigantic turnip.

Posted in: Children's Dept, For Kids, Parents

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Same story, different cover

By Emilyn Linden
<style="font-family: new="" roman",serif;"="" times,"times="">Adult Services Librarian

It’s a popular belief that there are no new stories, only different ways of telling them. And sometimes that isn’t such a bad thing. The old myths and fairy tales became popular for a reason. They are stories that tell us about people’s deepest desires and fears. Retellings of the old myths and fairy tales go in and out of style periodically. This is one of those periods of popularity, and there have been some recent imaginative, worthwhile retellings.

If you’re interested in reading retellings by some of the best writers currently writing fantasy, horror, and young adult fiction, you’ll want to pick up Happily Ever After, an anthology of 33 myth and fairy tale retellings from the past two decades. Some of the authors included are Susanna Clarke, Gregory Maguire, Kelly Link, Garth Nix and Holly Black.

A new book that came out in February of this year that has received a lot of attention is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. The novel is based on the Russian folk tale, transplanted to 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel are a childless couple who move to Alaska from Pennsylvania to start over after a heartbreaking miscarriage. After two years they are each slowly succumbing to despair. To distract themselves from their worries one evening, they build a girl out of snow. The next day the snow girl is gone and Jack sees a real, seemingly feral, child running in the woods.

Another book set in the winter but meant for middle-grade readers, is Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Jack and Hazel have been best friends for five years, so when Jack suddenly stops talking to Hazel, she’s devastated. We find out a shard of magic mirror has made its way into Jack’s heart, and he later disappears without a trace. Hazel must brave the cold Minnesota winter and enter the woods to find her friend. This imaginative tale contains many allusions to beloved children’s stories from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to A Wrinkle in Time.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is meant for teenage readers, but it’s proved very popular with adults, too. This may be because the title character, Cinder, is a cyborg mechanic who has a hopeless romantic of an android for a sidekick. Cinder is a second-class citizen, as are all cyborgs, in this futuristic retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinder lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters and supports her family through her work as a mechanic. Her reputation reaches Prince Kai, the heir to the throne, who brings her an android to repair.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is not a new novel. It originally came out in 2001, but a new, enhanced edition came out in 2011. This is a novel about the complex religious and mythological heritage of America and is, therefore, complex and meandering itself. Shadow is released a few days early from prison when his wife dies in a car accident. He accepts a job from Mr. Wednesday, a former god, and embarks on a trip across America, where he encounters the old gods and creatures of myth immigrants brought with them to the United States. If you’ve read American Gods before, it’s probably worth it to pick it up again, since the 10th Anniversary edition has a new introduction and contains Gaiman’s preferred text.

The end of the world seems like a good place to end this list. In Norse mythology, the end of the world comes with the deaths of the gods and the world being squeezed by a serpent that has grown so large she encircles the world and crushes it. Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt takes this story and presents it through the eyes of a young girl living through World War II who has been presented with a book of the Norse myth Asgard and the Gods.

Posted in: For Adults, Mercury Column

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