Tag Archives: Fairy tale/Myth

Two Parrots by Rashin, inspired by a tale from Rumi

Two ParrotsAccording to a note at book’s end, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī of 13th-century Persia, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, or simply Rumi, “… is currently considered to be the ‘most popular poet in America.’” International award-winning illustrator/writer Rashin wants to make sure that even the youngest readers can access and appreciate the timeless poet. To that end, in a simple, contemporary translation illuminated with captivating pictures, Rashin presents a story about love and freedom from Rumi’s iconic, extensive Masnavi, his six-volume poem of Sufi spiritual lessons.

“Once upon a time, in Persia,” begins this tale of “a wealthy merchant who had everything.” Still, he found himself a bit lonely, and bought a lively talking parrot to keep him company. In spite of all the endless comforts the merchant offers his fine feathered friend, the parrot remains sad in his beautiful golden cage.

As the merchant makes plans for a trip to India, he generously asks all his servants what he might bring back as gifts. Rather than any luxuries, the parrot’s only desire is but a message to a friend: “‘Tell him I would love to see him, but I can’t because I live in a cage.’” The merchant dutifully delivers the missive, only to witness the friend’s sudden death at the news. Upon his return home, how the merchant’s own parrot reacts to his regretful report teaches the merchant “a lesson [he] will never forget.”

Rashin, too, is just as ingenious as her avian characters, as she creates a complementary ‘hidden-in-plain-sight’ narrative in Farsi. In case you’re not lucky enough (like grateful me) to have a literary Persian friend, allow me to share a few tidbits. The three servants’ requests penned on a long scroll, begin with the word ‘sogati,’ the Persian concept of gifts gathered from one’s travels to specifically share with family and friends waiting at home (think souvenirs with purpose) – in this case, items include “perfume, clothes, jewels, sweets, wine, fruits, scarf, fabric.” The merchant is surely indulgent.

Most revealing of all is the parroted epistolary exchange: the sealed envelope at story’s beginning suggests that the Indian parrot’s name is Sina, as he writes, “My dear friend, salaam [hello] …,” to his caged buddy; as the ending nears, the scattered pages around the parrot’s cage show a letter in progress, in which the trapped parrot replies to his friend: “Salaam, my dear friend, I wished I could see you,” and “You are lucky because you are free.”

Love should never be at the cost of freedom, and Rashin-via-Rumi offers an important early lesson about healthy relationships (21st-century helicopter parents – who me?! – might take careful note). Thanks to Rashin’s vivid, empathetic presentation, here’s a teachable moment translated into an enchanting, memorable experience.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Iranian American, Persian

Triton of the Sea (vols. 1-2) by Osamu Tezuka, translated by Eugene Woodbury, edited by Eileen Tse

Triton of the Sea 1.2

When I say ‘brought to you by popular demand,’ I have indisputable proof here: 715 supporters put up almost 150% more than the requested funds in answer to Digital Manga‘s 2012 Kickstarter campaign to bring Triton of the Sea (along with two additional Tezuka titles, Unico and Atomcat), to an English-reading audience four decades after its native Japanese publication. How grateful are we for unfaltering groupie devotion for the ‘godfather of manga’?

Mermaids, monsters, and even more mythic creatures, oh my! “Since the dawn of time, legends of the sea have been with us. Tales of beautiful, terrifying, and mysterious oceans have aroused our minds with notions of fantasy, of phantasm,” the double-volume adventure begins. Following his grandmother’s astonishing tales, young Kazuya climbs down the dangerous cliffs surrounding his seaside village and discovers an abandoned baby boy.

Swaddled in “seaweed instead of bedding,” Kazuya takes the wide-eyed, gleefully-grinning bundle home. “If that baby stays in this village, bad fortune is bound to follow,” Kazuya’s grandmother warns. Her words prove prescient when a sudden earthquake hits, followed by a tsunami that kills Kazuya’s father. Resolutely determined to give Triton a family, Kazuya’s mother moves to Tokyo with Kazuya and Triton to begin a new life.

As a naive teenager, Kazuya is easy prey for city slickers. In grave frustration, Kazuya wreaks violent revenge after being cheated yet again and must flee for his life. Triton, meanwhile, grows quickly, maturing many years during a single growth spurt; although Kazuya and his mother realize Triton is not of this world, both remain unconditionally bound to him for life.

Triton is a creature of the sea, the last of a once mighty clan slaughtered to near extinction by order of King Poseidon. With Kazuya on the run, Triton is loath to leave their mother alone but he can no longer ignore his aquatic calling. Guided and protected by a golden dolphin, Triton must hunt and eradicate Poseidon’s monstrous children one by one, until he can confront the ignominious king himself. Alas, the watery despot is not Triton’s only adversary… the human race proves to be a far greater threat to the deep seas.

Part myth, part family drama, part biology lesson, part dire environmental warning decades ahead of its time, Triton is, like many of Tezuka’s beloved titles, ultimately a desperate plea for peace. Far too often, we humans are our own worst enemy, tragically destroying too many others as well: “However strong and powerful the people of the land may be, they are wrong when they try to claim both the ocean and the land as their own. There are many other living things besides humans,” Triton’s young son warns. Out of the mouth of babes, generation after generation, Tezuka masterfully continues to provide timeless lessons to be repeated again and again and again …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 1969, 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

The City of Death (Ash Mistry Chronicles, Book 2) by Sarwat Chadda

City of DeathOkay, so we’re skipping ahead here, because I had to read this for a book judging requirement – and, in reading out of order, also confirm that it can narratively stand alone even without its prequel. I can’t reveal any trade secrets, but I can confirm that Book 2 of Sarwat Chadda‘s Ash Mistry series doesn’t need Book 1 (The Savage Fortress), but if you decide to turn back time, you’ll appreciate filling in a few details. That said, to maximize your sense of adventure, I would definitely stick to the 1 – 2 – 3 (3 being The World of Darkness, available on the other side of the Pond, but a U.S. pub date is still pending).

After a serious makeover summer in India, Ash is back home in London with his old friends, starting a new school year. He’s lost his adolescent pudge, learned how to kill with a single touch, and can run to Edinburgh and back in a single night (those nightmares about past lives keep the shuteye away). He might be the reborn “eternal warrior” of Kali, goddess of death and destruction, but he’s also still the same socially awkward teenager he was before his transformation; alas, none of his newly acquired skills are helpful as he fumbles to ask the gorgeous Gemma out on a date.

Then his old friend Parvati shows up to warn him that their nemesis, evil Lord Savage, is after the legendary Koh-I-Noor diamond, part of the British Crown Jewels – it’s the last relic he needs to unlock the secret to eternal life. Savage’s hench-monsters wreak havoc hunting down the priceless jewel, and in the violent skirmish, Gemma dies in Ash’s arms. Bent on revenge – not to mention saving the world yet again – Ash returns to India with Parvati to stop Savage once and for all. His not-so-secret determination to resurrect Gemma repeatedly impedes him from thinking clearly, even as his trust meter is tested again and again. But being a superhero when you’re still just a kid – with ever-growing powers you haven’t quite mastered! – is no easy job, especially when those new skills just might come at the cost of your own humanity.

Chadda updates ancient mythology to fit into a brave new world of instant access driven by cell phones, video games, and the world wide web. Technology might have advanced, but the war between good and evil remains forever timeless: get ready for young Ash Mistry, the latest vanquisher-in-training the world has been waiting for …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, British Asian, Indian

Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer

NasreddineHere’s the perfect companion to Mar Pavón and Nívola Uyá’s A Very, Very Noisy Tractor which posted Saturday.

Young Nasreddine’s answers his father Mustafa’s request to ready the donkey for their journey to the market. Mustafa and their large sack of dates sit atop the donkey, while a shoeless Nasreddine follows behind in an attempt to keep his slippers clean. Of course, the passing vizier has something to say about that, calling Mustafa lazy for making “his son slosh through the mud.” Mustafa merely replies, “‘Your words, sir, are hurting my ears,’” but Nasreddine’s embarrassment sends him home full of shame.

The next week, the patient donkey bears young Nasreddine who claims a twisted ankle, along with wool to be transported to the weavers. Along the way, nearby women washing clothes voice their opinion about overprivileged children who make their elders walk: “‘Fathers have no authority at all.’” Mustafa calmly offers the same reply: “‘Your words, women, are hurting my ears.’” But, alas, that hurt is amplified in embarrassed Nasreddine.

A few days later, another trip elicits further unsolicited comments. And another week later, even more. And so on and on. Finally, having tried every permutation of father, son, and beast, Mustafa gently addresses his son: “‘I’ve let you do as you wish until now, but today you need to understand your mistake … It’s up to you to decide if what you’re hearing is wise, or if it’s only a silly and hurtful remark.’” Young Nasreddine’s understanding is “triumphant,” and surely a lesson to learn well for us all.

Nasreddine apparently has much wisdom to impart: “Stories about Nasreddine are told throughout the Middle East and beyond. They are often said to be based on a real man who lived in Turkey during the Middle Ages,” the ending historical note explains. “The stories have been changed and added to over the years, but Nasreddine has never lost his ability to offer both wisdom and delight.”

French author Odile Weurlersse (who also teaches film at the legendary Sorbonne) and French illustrator Rébecca Dautremer surely increase the delight factor with an absolutely enchanting literary presentation balancing just the right repetitive text with ineffable illustrations. Nasreddine’s thoughtful expressions, Mustafa’s tender responses exponentially enhance the story, certainly emphasizing the much-appreciated wisdom with utter delight.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, European, Turkish

Tropic of the Sea by Satoshi Kon, translated by Maya Rosewood

Tropic of the SeaThe brilliant Satoshi Kon clearly left us too early – he passed away at age 46 of pancreatic cancer in 2010. Surely, his fertile imagination had many, many more stories left to tell. Thankfully, he did leave quite a visual legacy, including such intriguing anime films as Millennium Actress, PaprikaTokyo Godfathers. But before he became internationally renowned for his anime directing, Kon began his visual career as a manga artist while still a college student.

Serialized in Japan almost a quarter century ago, Kon’s “first long-form manga,” Tropic of the Sea, hits Stateside shelves in English translation next week. In spite of its 23 years, Sea is more relevant than ever as an environmentalist parable – mermaids, 60-year-old eggs, and underwater shrines, notwithstanding! More presciently spooky than not, Sea predates the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami by more than two decades …

Change is coming all too quickly to the small seaside town of Ade. Outsiders are encroaching with their curiosity and cameras, eager to find out more about the mysterious Hiratsu Shrine. The 23rd head priest, Yozo Yashiro, has turned media savvy, ready to expose the family’s traditions and secrets. Hoping to capitalize on the luxury development happening on the once-pristine beach, Yozo is all about luring the tourists up the steep cliffs to view …  a mermaid egg. For generations upon generations, the Yashiro family has nurtured a single egg in which incubates the next mer-person over 60 years; in return, the mer-people have shared the sea’s bounty with the villagers while protecting their home from the sea’s power.

Yozo’s aging father is furious, leaping out of his hospital bed to prevent further encroachment. Yozo’s son, Yosuke, rightfully worries about the family’s future. Priest Yozo has quite the convincing argument in embracing so-called progress: “When young people move to the city, they don’t come back.” What’s the point of protecting tradition when the future looks so diminished? Yosuke and his younger friends need to figure out where they stand … and what they need to do – and fast! Because that magical mer-egg waits for no human …!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 1990, 2011, 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters + Author Interview


When I recently caught up with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, she was in one of her rare lull periods at home in Houston, Texas, having finished almost three solid months of book touring for her latest novel, Oleander Girl. Like her latest protagonist, Korobi Roy, a young woman from Kolkata who crisscrosses the United States on a personal quest, Divakaruni, too, took to planes, trains, and automobiles, from one coast to another and back again to reconnect with her readers.

“It’s great to be home,” she confesses, “although I’m getting very little done.” She has less than a month left before classes start again – she teaches writing at the University of Houston – and has started “just a little” that waiting next novel. She’s recently gone digital, tinkering with a new personal website, which she proudly “overhauled” completely on her own. Her two college-age sons are home for the summer, so for a few more weeks, they get most of her attention – and her home cooking!

Since she published her first collection of poems, Black Candle, in 1991, Divakaruni has managed a near annual output across multiple platforms, from poetry, to short stories (Arranged Marriage, The Unknown Errors of Our Lives), to middle-grade titles (Neela: Victory Song and the three-volume Brotherhood of the Conch trilogy), and her best-known, bestselling medium, adult novels including The Mistress of Spices, Queen of Dreams, and One Amazing Thing. A novel and short story have been transformed for the stage, while two other novels and another short story have had film debuts. In the latest glitterati film news, her penultimate novel, One Amazing Thing, just got optioned by Hollywood.

Earlier this year in March, Divakaruni added her first children’s picture book to her growing oeuvre: Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale, based on a favorite story her beloved grandfather shared in her youth, now vibrantly illustrated collage-style by artist Susy Pilgrim Waters. As celebratory as Divakaruni is, the timing of the book’s publication remains bittersweet for the whole family: Juno, the beloved family dog who has been Divakaruni’s personal muse for years – “when I am mired in writer’s block, I rub her belly” – passed away a few months ago. Juno herself “inspired” Divakaruni to write this clever rendition of Grandma, about an audacious grandmother who braves the dangerous jungles to visit her daughter and grandchildren, protected from afar by her beloved canine companions. “‘What’s life without a little adventure?’” Grandma muses; clearly she’s channeling some of Divakaruni’s far-reaching energy.

That “can-do” attitude is clearly displayed in Divakaruni’s seventh adult novel, Oleander Girl. Korobi, who was protected, coddled, and carefully raised by her traditional grandparents since she lost both her parents at birth, decides, at just nineteen, she will venture beyond everything she has ever known in order to find out who she really is. Her grandfather has suddenly died, but his death finally frees Korobi – and her hesitant grandmother – to discover the truth about Korobi’s parents and their long-buried relationship. Although Korobi is engaged to one of Kolkata’s most eligible young men, she realizes she cannot enter marriage without having a better understanding of her Indian future, which is only possible by discovering her American past. The question looms: when she returns home, if she returns home, who will she be to the people who love her most?

The first thing I must know about Oleander Girl is how you chose the name – Anuradha Roy – for Korobi’s mother? A real-life Anuradha Roy wrote An Atlas of Impossible Longing and The Folded Earth. Is your character’s name mere coincidence?
It’s a coincidence. It’s a fairly common name in Kolkata – I had several friends in school who were Anuradhas! And Roy, too, is a very old name, which goes back a century at least.

When we talked almost a decade ago about Queen of Dreams, it was your favorite among your novels. You’ve had several titles since. Do you feel the same? I know choosing a favorite is something akin to naming a favorite child, so I’m asking as delicately as possible…
Yes, it’s tricky to choose a favorite. But right now it is Oleander Girl, because I gave myself some new challenges in this novel and was pleased at how they turned out. For one, I wanted a book that captured the pulsating heart of contemporary Kolkata, caught between the old and the new, and this was a challenge because although I visit regularly, I haven’t lived in Kolkata in thirty years. The other thing I wanted to do is to showcase multiple narrators of different genders. The main narrator (in first person) is Korobi, the heroine who goes on a journey across the world in search of a secret that will transform her. But I was particularly pleased at how the male voices – especially that of Asif, the chauffeur, turned out. It allowed me to weave together the complex class interactions that are such a big part of Indian society.  [... click here for more]

Author interviewFeature: “An Interview with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni,” Bookslut.com, August 2013

Readers: Children, Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Indian, Indian American, South Asian, South Asian American

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

Raven GirlInternationally renowned for her two bestselling novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger is also a splendiforous artist with double the graphic titles to her lauded name. Her fourth and latest is “a new fairy tale” with origins that begin with movement: “Awhile ago, Wayne McGregor [resident choreographer of London's Royal Ballet] invited me to collaborate with him to make a new dance. … [H]e would make the dance, I would make the story,” she explains in her ending “Acknowledgements.”

As fairy tales go, Niffenegger weaves shocking originality between the seemingly (deceptively) formulaic opening and closing: “Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven,” the story begins; “Once there was a Raven Prince who fell in love with a Raven Girl. And they lived happily together ever after,” the final lines resound. In between is a human daughter who is birthed from an egg, the Cat who reports strange occurrences to the unbelieving Court of the Ravens, a plastic surgeon who speaks about “chimeras” and builds wings before falling to his own death, the Detective Boy who is carried off and never seen again, and a half Raven/human family that considers movie offers and the circus until a crowned stranger knocks at their door.

Niffenegger’s intricate etchings gorgeously embellish her fantastical tale – the first full illustration as the Postman’s shadow encompasses the young Raven as she looks up in troubled wonder is a haunting, lingering image. The detailed realism of the ravens – every feather, every wrinkle on the talons – sharply contrasts the more suggested, less fleshed out human figures who appear almost unfinished in comparison to their avian counterparts.

Niffenegger’s illustrations question the imagined and the real, flipping our expectations with regularity. “Fairy tales have their own remorseless logic and their own rules,” she writes. Presented on the page in words and art, Raven Girl is “ready to undergo its own transformation into dance.” The curtain rose last week in London … oh, to have had the wings to carry me there …!!

Tidbits: Click here for an interview with Niffenegger about the Raven Girl-Royal Ballet collaboration.

Click here for my interview with Niffenegger for the November 2010 issue of Bookslut.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, British, Nonethnic-specific

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Rebecca Copeland

Goodness ChronicleAward-winning Japanese crime fiction writer Natsuo Kirino (Out; Grotesque) contributes to the latest installment of the “The Myths” series, originally published by Britain’s Canongate, in which contemporary writers retell myths. Previous volumes have included Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus and David Grossman’s Lion’s Honey: The Myth of Sampson.

Kirino here retells the eighth-century creation myth of Izanami and Izanaki – the original female and male gods whose union produced the Japanese islands – in a novel framing two sisters, one fated to become the next Oracle to serve the “realm of light,” the other who will serve the “realm of darkness.” Unwilling to accept her fate, Namima attempts an escape that damns her to Izanami’s Realm of the Dead. Readers will find echoes of Orpheus and Eurydice as well as Persephone and Demeter.

Verdict: Although inventive, the double narrative of sisters and gods – the former freeing, the latter bound to centuries-old history – never quite meshes, often feeling clumsily forced. Still, bestselling Kirino’s many devotees will likely provide a ready audience

Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, May 1, 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Japanese

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Every once in a while, being formulaic can produce splendid results. Take Grace Lin‘s 2010 Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon – what made it so successful? Spunky, independent-minded young characters, intricately layered storytelling within the story, and, of course, Lin’s signature whimsical, illuminating illustrations.

Lin’s latest has all that … and more. Rendi, used to luxury and privilege, runs away in a fit of (well-justified) anger and finds himself working as a chore boy in Master Chao’s  humble inn in the tiny Village of Clear Sky. After a less-than-amiable start, he begins a tentative friendship with Peiyi, the innkeeper’s young daughter, who soon reveals that life at the inn is not without strife, especially of the emotional kind: Peiyi’s older brother is missing, Master Chao and the next-door neighbor Widow Yan can’t even be civil to one another, their animosity forces Peiyi to hide her friendship with Widow Yan’s daughter, who in turn is clearly suffering from lovesickness for a certain missing someone. What is causing all this sadness and resentment? And has no one else realized that the moon is missing? And why does only Rendi seem to hear the nighttime crying?

When a mysterious new guest, Madame Chang, arrives at the near-empty inn, Rendi and Peiyi are quickly drawn to her … especially to her stories. But for every story she tells, Rendi must repay in kind with a tale of his own. Stories and life soon intertwine, from which Rendi begins to distill new truths, especially about his own faraway family.

If Mountain was about thankfulness, this new companion title celebrates the restorative power of forgiveness. In our overcommitted, overscheduled lives that can too often blind us to our own insincerity and impatience (and worse!), we could surely use regular reminders of the magically healing potential of two (heartfelt) small words, “I’m sorry.” I’m sure my own family will tell you I have more than my fair share to share, ahem. Better get started …

For all of Grace Lin’s titles on BookDragon, click here.

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, Chinese, Chinese American

The Girl Who Loved Danger: A Steve Light Storybox by Steve Light

As the e-publishing world is shrinking our stories into little mobile devices, storyteller, teacher, and author Steve Light brings back some delightful heft with his new Storybox collection that features classic tales from around the world that your youngest readers can bring immediately to life … any way they choose!

One day in class, Light acted out Hansel and Gretel to his students using two figures he had carved; the children responded with “‘Where is the witch, the cottage, and the father?’” So Light “‘went home, carved all the other characters and props, put them in a wooden box, painted a ‘title’ on the box, and Storyboxes were born.’” Light currently has four available storyboxes: Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Little One Inch (originally a Japanese tale), and The Girl Who Loved Danger pictured here.

Each storybox slides open to a colorful booklet, in which Light offers his version of a story as a starting point: “I have changed them to how I like to tell a story. That is the liberty each storyteller is given.” Dig underneath, and your little ones will find all the props and tools to recreate the story or even make up their own. Light’s all-in-one goal is clearly to encourage and enable children’s imaginations: “The nature of a story is to excite, amaze, evoke thoughts and question and kindle a curiosity of the unknown.”

In this version of The Girl Who Loved Danger, a morality tale originally from the Congo, a curious little girl cannot give up her love of dangerous adventure. Warned about a deadly monster down by the lake, of course, she goes to find it. Along the way, she meets her ancestor bird from whom she receives a lucky feather. She gets swallowed up, as does a helpful man from her village, and then even her parents! Having that feather does indeed prove fortuitous, and the little girl comes up with an ingenious way to make friends with the hungry monster. Clever girl power all the way!

Intrigued? Put away the electronics, and think outside this imaginative box …

Readers: Children

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, African, Nonethnic-specific