Book reviews - myths legends & traditional tales (page 2)

On this page we have reviewed some of the best new books about, or based on, myths, legends, fables, folklore, fairy tales and traditional stories. Sometimes, the distinction between these and fiction is blurred, so the placing of books in this section is a personal choice. There are books here to appeal to everyone, so please take a look.

The Children of Lir by Laura Ruth Maher

The story of the Children of Lir is a well known Irish legend; King Lir had four children whom he loved dearly, but their wicked step-mother, Aoife, wanted all of his attention for herself, so one day she took the children down to the lake and turned them in to swans. The curse was to last for 900 years and would be broken by the toll of a bell. King Lir was so angry about this that he banished Aoife in to an air demon and she was never seen again. The children spent those 900 years as swans and when the spell was broken, they turned back in to children and lived with their father in the stars. Re-told in ryhming verse with beautiful illustrations, this is a lovely book for introducing children to popular legends.

Aesop's Fables - Retold by Elli Woollard

A collection of eight classic tales, including favourites such as The Hare and the Tortoise and The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse have been cleverly retold in rhyming verse. Perfect for younger readers to get to grips with the basics of these traditional stories before they read them in full and the stunning illustrations really bring them to life. These tales will be enjoyed by all ages and it's good to see some of the lesser known fables such as The Peacock and the Crane included in this selection.

Mythologica by Steve Kershaw & Victoria Topping

Discover the lives of 50 powerful Gods and Goddesses, Earth-dwelling mortals and terrifying monsters in this journey back to Ancient Greece. A double page spread is dedicated to almost every one of these characters which gives us their name, what the meaning of their name is, facts about them and a summary of their story. Incredible illustrations throughout the book are created using a combination of traditional techniques and modern technology which are truly amazing to look at. Arranged alphabetically and divided in to three sections (Gods, Mortals and Monsters), Mythologica is a great introduction to Greek myths and how they are still relevant today.

The Phoenix of Persia (One Story, Many Voices)​ by Sally Pomme Clayton

The story is based on the Shahnameh, an epic of world literature by Iranian poet Ferdowsi. In a busy marketplace in Iran, a traditional storyteller regales her audience with the tale of Prince Zal and the Simorgh. The Simorgh is a wise phoenix whose flapping wings disperse the seeds of life across the world. When King Sam commands that his long-awaited newborn son Zal be abandoned because of his white hair, the Simorgh adopts the baby and raises him alongside her own chicks and teaches him everything she knows. But when the king comes to regret his actions, Prince Zal will learn that the most important lesson of all is forgiveness. The stunning illustrations are by Amin Hassanzadeh Sharif. In this special edition, the story has been set to music, with each instrument representing a different character. You can download music to go with the book. Children are required to study stories from a variety of cultures and this beautifully illustrated book is an excellent way to encourage that; the extra dimension of downloading the music really adds to the atmospheric feeling of the book. My copy of the book came with an exceptionally good booklet of teacher resources which is packed with ideas for using the book throughout the curriculum - this is a real boon for teachers and adds hugely to the usefulness of the book. A really good all-round resource.

The Wizards and the Whale by Anthinula Tori

This superbly illustrated book is an inspiring story about twelve wizards from different kingdoms all around the world who each receive a call on the wind. They are all invited to Wild Islandwhere the mysterious Worldly Wizard awaits them. Each wizard embarks on their individual journey, leaving at different times of day and night, and employing different methods of travel, to reach this important destination. We learn why, along with the wizards, as the ending of the book emphasises how all in the world are linked. Superb artwork, full of intricate detail, by Jean Tori is an outstanding feature of this beautiful book.

Monsters: A Magic Lens Hunt for Creatures of Myth, Legend, Fairy Tale and Fiction​ by Celine Potard

Take out the special monster-revealing magic lens to explore haunted castles, spooky forests, monster homes and even outer space in this captivating book. As you hold the lens over each page, so all manner of creatures leap out of the pictures to amaze children. With mythological creatures, ghostly spirits and monsters from film and fiction, children are bound to find some they are familiar with as well as discover new things to investigate, encouraging them to read further. The stylish illustrations are by Sophie Ledesma. Brief, lively text tells the story of each, with just the sort of facts children love, from their ghastly origins to their favourite meals. Unusual and full of the joy of stories, encouraging further reading and an interest in fictional characters.

Indian Folk Tales: Eighteen Stories of Magic, Fate, Bravery and Wonder retold by Caroline Ness

The Indian subcontinent is a vibrant and colourful place, full of traditions and tales - and this book reflects that perfectly. . The content is varied with short tales such as The Tiger and the Cat as well as longer stories such as The Blacksmith's Daughter; they are all lovely to read aloud. It's a well balanced collection, with animals, peasants, rajahs and brahmans all having a part to play; luck and fate are the chief concerns, but magic and bravery feature as well. There are 18 stories plus an introduction and notes by folklorist Neil Philip. Jacqueline Mair's richly detailed illustrations are full of life help produce a book full of colour and vibrancy. So often, we hear the same folktales repeatedly, so it's brilliant to see such a new and original collection - and it fits well with the curriculum requirement to study tales from a range of cultures

Under the Bodhi Tree: A Story of the Buddha by Deborah Hopkinson

Many stories have been written about the Buddha, but few specifically for children. Now, Under the Bodhi Tree brings this timeless tale to life for young children. Tracing the life of the boy who was born Prince Siddhartha, this is a lyrical biography befitting a child who wonders at his place in the world, feels compassion for suffering, and wants to help however he can. As readers follow Siddhartha all the way to his fateful meditation beneath the branches of the Bodhi Tree, they'll discover the story of how a child who dreams can one day grow up to reshape the whole world. With beautiful artwork by Kailey Whitman, this is perfect for readers ages 4-8 who are curious about real people who made history.

The Jesse Tree by Geraldine Mc Caughrean

Geraldine McCaughrean is a superlative reteller of traditional stories. She has a real gift for keeping true to the essence of the original tale whilst writing in a way that makes compelling reading for today's audience, giving an excellent insight into the culture of the original. The little boy is very persistent as he watches Mr Butterfield, the carpenter carve a new Jesse tree inside the church. Although he wants to get on with his work, over a period of days, Mr Butterfield tells some much-loved stories from the Bible, including the birth of Jacob, the story of Samuel and an account of the prophet Elijah. Despite the man's reluctance, the stories keep coming and gradually small miracles begin to happen. It's a clever and appealing way to string together the stories, which are true to the original and excellent to read aloud. Bee Willey's wonderfully expressive characters people the illustrations and bring them alive.

Through the Water Curtain and other Tales from Around the World selected by Cornelia Funke

Travel around the world enjoying a selection of tales, many of which will be new to you. Cornelia Funke enjoys folk and fairy tales and her love for them is manifest in this selection of both lesser-known stories that challenge the traditional 'happily-ever-after' as well as more familiar tales. Her personal viewpoints on the stories adds an extra interesting element. Tales new to me include The Boy Who Drew Cats; The Areca Tree; Golden Foot and The One-Handed Murderer (I'd like to see more clearly where each story originates though). This is an attractively presented hardback book with gorgeous foiling and pictures on the cover which make it an ideal gift.

Folktales of Mexico: Horse hooves and chicken feet: traditional Mexican stories edited by Neil Philip

We are probably less familiar with Mexican folktales than with those of many other cultures, so it's lovely to see a complete book dedicated to them. Neil Philip has taken the stories from authentic sources and retold them for today's children. Many of the elements will be familiar from other folktales but they have a stronger element of religion, specifically Roman Catholicism, than is common in other cultures. There are 14 tales here and at the end of the book there are comprehensive notes on each tale, which are really interesting to read. The stories include a witch who turns seven brothers into seven blue oxen and a young man, thrown overboard to drown, rescued by a mysterious shadow. Jacqueline Mair's vibrant and dreamlike paintings are based on Mexican folk art, complementing the folktales perfectly. A lively and well told collection and an excellent introduction to some less known tales.

Magical Myths and Legends chosen by Michael Morpurgo

All the favourite types of mythical people and creatures will be found in this excellently curated anthology. There are brave heroes, battling beasts, mighty gods and magic spells; stories that have stood the test of time and are just as popular as ever. There's even a retelling of Gawain and the Green Knight written by Sir Michael himself. Eye-catching colour illustrations by a range of different illustrators bring an excellent variety of style, each one reflecting the setting of the story perfectly. There are stories here to appeal to everyone, whether for a bedtime story or for children to read alone. A beautiful book which would make a lovely gift; one that will be treasured and read over and over again - one lovely aspect of myths and legends is that they tend to grow with children; as they grow older and reread them, they focus on different aspects of the tales.

Power to the Princess by Vita Weinstein Murrow

Here we have 15 princesses from fairytales, brought up to date with their own very modern twist on life, perfect for the current generation. This superb and unusual anthology is illustrated with contemporary pictures by Julia Bereciartu. What is a princess? Read these stories and you will learn that a princess is many things - someone who helps others, a person open to new ideas, someone who helps others and more besides. Meet today's Cinderella, Snow White, Thumbelina and more. The stories focus on issues including self-image, confidence, LGBTQ, friendship, advocacy and disability. Whether you share these stories by reading aloud to younger children (or to read in class), or whether older children read them alone, there are plenty of relevant messages for today, all retold with a twist of freshness and humour. A cloth-bound hardcover book, it's a perfect gift.

Cinderella of the Nile (One Story, Many Voices) by Beverly Naidoo

This is a refreshing change to the traditional story of Cinderella, bringing fresh new light and an engaging story with a difference. This is the earliest-known version of Cinderella and it's certainly new to me. Rhodopis was a beautiful Greek girl who was stolen from her parents by bandits and taken to Egypt. In her new home, she meets storyteller Aesop but soon she is moved on again - where she meets three cruel sisters. The twist to the tale comes when Horus, the falcon, sweoops in and steals her slipper... with unexpected results. Marjan Vafeian has illustrated the story with stunning modern illustrations full of shape and colour. An unusual and engrossing version.

Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin retold by Sean Taylor and Khayaal Theatre

Nasruddin is a wise man wise man, remembered for his funny stories, sometimes witty, sometimes wise, and often he is the butt of a joke. Why does Mulla Nasruddin carry his front door with him? Why does he prefer silver to gold? And just why does he ride his donkey backwards? The answers are all here in these excellent retellings that are superb to read aloud. You will marvel, you will wonder - and you will thoroughly enjoy. There are twenty-one hilarious stories and riddles, famed throughout the Middle East. His stories will make you think and they repay attention; it's lovely to see them featured in such an attractive book, to ensure they become better known in our country. Vividly coloured illustrations by Shirin Adl are the perfect foil for the stories. Read and enjoy.

Unicornucopia: The Little Book of Unicorns by Caitlin Doyle

The perfect gift for any unicorn fan, tis is the ultimate book on unicorns and everything assoiated with these mythical creatures It's pretty right from the start with an eye-cathing cover and rainbow coloured page edges. This little hardback packs in over 200 pages of legends, spells, facts, crafts, recipes and more. The recipes and crafts are excellent, with a wide variety to keep everyone happy.

Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales illustrated by Minalima

This hardback book is simply stunning right from first look with its foiled cover. As soon as you open it, you are drawn to the interactive elements which appear so liberally through the book; I couldn't resist looking at them before I started to read the fairy tales! It's not just The Little Mermaid - there are 12 much-loved tales in all which also include, among others, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snow Queen, The Princess and the Pea and The Ugly Duckling. These timeless tales will always have an essential place in literature, and need no introduction. The book is illustrated with absolutely stunning drawings and interactive artwork from MinaLima. The interactive features are beautifully designed and include a dial with six mermaids, a duckling transforming into a swan, a fold-out undersea scene and The Snow Queen’s palace. Accompanying these are plentiful colour illustrations. This is one of a series and they will make a wonderful collectible to be revisited time and time again.

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Christopher Corr

This is a lovely book to help children celebrate Chinese New Year and learn how every animal earned its place in the Chinese zodiac. Their role is to share in the Great Race as they follow the story of the animals. Can they guess who will come first to win the ultimate prize? Why will Cat will never forgive his friend Rat? This is an ancient folk tale that has been passed from generation to generation, now presented in a really appealing format with lively, playful and colourful illustrations by the author.

Match and Learn: the Greek Gods from Petita Demas

Find out who the Greek gods were and what they did in this unusual book. First off, children can use the 12 colourful stickers and locate each of the gods and goddesses so they can complete their page in the book - a good way to introduce them. Each god and goddess has its own double page spread and these are linked by a series of stories which feature some of the characters in each. There is also a brief description of each along with information about their families and favourite things.

Tales for the Telling: Irish Folk and Fairytales by Edna O'Brien

I have been receiving some lovely books from Palazzo Books recently. These well-presented clothbound hardbacks with lovely illustrations are perfect to build up a collection of books to return to over and over again. This book, with its superb illustrations by Michael Foreman, is no exception. Irish folktales are always mesmerising and the retellings in this collection of 12 stories are excellently done. With daring deeds, handsome heroes and mythical creatures, there is plenty to appeal to everyone. The well-balanced selection of stories include `The Magic Apples', 'The Leprehaun', `The Swan Bride', `Paddy the Piper' and `Two Giants.' Many of the illustrations are full page, and they perfectly reflect the joy and vivacity of the story telling. A good representative selection of Irish stories which continues a great storytelling tradition.

Arthur, High King of Britain by Michael Morpurgo

Fantastic stories, retold by a master storyteller - what could be better? Michael Morpurgo has set the start of the book in the Scilly Isles, scene of so many of his wonderful stories. Lost at sea, he is rescued by Arthur Pendgaron, High King of Britain. What follows are lyrical retellings of stories of heroic knights and deeds of great chivalry, but also bewitchment, evil and betrayal at the king's court in Camelot. The stories are beautifully told, the perfect introduction to these enduring tales; they will engage readers and stimulate their interest. Michael Foreman's beautiful illustrations set the scene to perfection.

Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

Every child should have a well-written and comprehensive collection of fairy tales in their own library. The book needs to be attractive and enticing, with lots of illustrations to capture the attention. They are such an important part of growing up, and this new collection fits the bill perfectly. There are 10 imaginative and beautifully composed retellings of popular fairy tales in this hardback book - Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Rumpelstiltskin, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, The Swan Brothers, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Red Riding Hood, The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Hansel and Gretel. All the favourites are here, and the stories contain plenty of detail.

Gods and Monsters: The Myths And Legends Of Ancient Worlds by Stella Caldwell

This lavishly illustrated book really brings to life the legendary creatures, battles and heroic deeds of mythology. Drawings and photographs of ancient artefacts are linked awe-inspiring CGI scenes from classic myths to give us an all-round picture of these ancient marvels. Included in the book are many famous gods and heroes including Thor, Zeus, Anubis, Aeneas, Sigurd the Dragonslayer, Heracles and many more. Sumptuously illustrated, this is a great book to stimulate interest.

The Dragon's Hoard: Stories from the Viking Sagas by Lari Don

These Viking stories are full of elements to engage children - there are warriors and battles, heroes and heroines, berserkers, monsters and zombies plus plenty of magic. There are 11 stories in this collection, tales Vikings themselves told, giving children a real feel for the history and culture of the Vikings. A fantastic introduction to Viking mythology, these illustrated tales will have children captivated. Superbly illustrated by Cate James, whose atmospheric and detailed pictures really set the scene - full justice is done to them with whole page illustrations. These exciting stories are perfect to complement both the KS2 history curriculum and the English strand of myths and legends.

Myths and Legends by Sandra Lawrence

Many favourite myths and legends are included in this attractive landscape format book. Readers can escape into different cultures and religions, meet powerful gods and brave heroes and travel on fabled quests from tales of old. There are five sections - Gods and Heroes; Creation Myths; Mythology and the Natural World; Mythical Journeys; Legendary Love Stories. Each story is succinctly told, making this an excellent introduction and a good way to stimulate interest in these wonderful tales. Each one is illustrated by Emma Trithart, and the attractive layout of the pages makes for a really appealing book. The book is produced by 360 Degrees, the non-fiction imprint of the Little Tiger Group.

Tales from Africa (Puffin Classics) by K P Kojo

As part of the National Curriculum, children are required to read tales from other cultures, and this series from Puffin Classics makes an excellent introduction. Find out how selfish Lion gets his comeuppance, go to a Frog wedding in the Sky Kingdom, discover the days when the earth's creatures were all mixed up and much more in tales which reflect the very best and the very worst of human nature. K P Kojo, the Ghananian author with a wealth of experience in writing for children, brings a special insight to thee stories, which are perfect for reading aloud.

Tales from the Caribbean (Puffin Classics) by Trish Cooke

A collection of favourite tales gathered from the many different islands of the Caribbean, one of the world's richest sources of traditional storytelling. From the very first Kingfisher to Anansi the Spider Man, these lively retellings are full of humour and pathos. Each book in the series includes endnotes with a glossary, additional information as well as ideas for activities that children can do to explore the stories further; this will be very useful to teachers. These are excellent retellings, told with zest and enthusiasm, really capturing the spirit of the Caribbean.

Tales from India (Puffin Classics) by Bali Rai

A varied collection of 20 stories from India's rich folklore heritage. From wicked magicians to wise old priests, charming princes and beautiful princesses, to greedy tigers and wily jackals, these magical tales are full of adventure and trickery, and infused with deeper messages about morality, Life and the world around us. Founded on the work of folklorist, Joseph Jacob, and from tales from India's Mughul period,

The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

I well remember having Andrew Lang's colour fairy books as a child - they had a real impact on me. This is a beautiful edition, with leather binding, gold edges and a lovely cover illustration, which any child will treasure and I would love to see the whole series issued in this format to make real collectors' items. This is the first in the series and dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century - but the retellings are as fresh and lively as ever. This enduring collection of the best-known fairy tales is drawn from the folklore of many nations and includes engaging black and white illustrations that enliven the text. Inside you will find such favorites as Cinderella, Jack the Giant Killer, the Princess on the Glass Hill, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, and dozens of others. Perfect to start building a child's keepsake library. Published by Barnes and Noble, ISBN 978-1435162174, April 2017.

The Perfectly Royal Princess Handbook by Caitlin Matthews

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the lovely cloth-bound cover with its delicate illustrations and traditional feel. Few girls are born princesses but many young girls aspire to become them. They can take their first steps on the journey with the help of Princess Petal, as they find out about etiquette and deportment, meeting your fairy godmother, dealing with enchantments, finding a prince, and attending balls. The book is beautifully presented and illustrated, and draws on many well-loved fairytales for inspiration. Princess Petal is a friendly character and girls will love to read this book.

Fairies: A Spotter's Handbook by Alison Maloney

Are there fairies at the bottom of your garden? Well, if there are, this book will help you spot them! The book tells us that fairies are everywhere if you know how to find them, so get spotting! Enter the magical world of fairyland and uncover its mysteries; find out where fairies make their homes, peek inside the fairy queen's castle, and encounter captivating sparkle and spells everywhere. For some extra fun, children can spot the hidden fairies throughout the book. Another beautifully produced book, delightfully illustrated. An ideal gift and a book to treasure.

A Year Full of Stories: 52 folk tales and legends from around the world by Angela McAllister

This treasure trove of stories is a beautiful book, with a cloth bound cover and scintillating illustrations. Not just around the world, but also year by year, the book starts with Father Frost, a Russian story for New Year's Day, and concludes with The Feast, an African story of r December 26th. This superb collection collects together folk tales from home and legends and myths from distant lands to commemorate the changing seasons, cultural events and international festivals throughout the year. It will make an excellent teaching resource, giving teachers ideas for right through the year to celebrate cultural diversity; it is a lovely book to have at home too, to follow through the seasons.

Magical Celtic Tales by Una Leavy

Storytelling has always been at the heart of Celtic societies and tales have been passed from generation to generation. This collection includes some well known, such as the Irish legend of Diarmaid and Gráinne, and others less-known but equally mesmerising like The Magic Pail from Cornwall. The book encompasses all the Celtic lands, all of which are rich in myths and legends; it includes Brittany, The Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales. The lyrical retellings are brought to life by Fergal O’Connor’s detailed and atmospheric illustrations. Read of giants and dragons, of fairies and princesses: all beautifully illustrated and told for a new generation of children. A beautiful book.

Tell Me a Dragon by Jackie Morris

As mythical beasts, everyone has their own ideas about how a dragon looks and behaves. This lovely book describes and illustrates many different varieties of the creature, showing in expressive words woven around the stunning pictures exactly why their owners find them so entrancing. They range from a dragon as big as a village to a tiny dragon with whisper-thin wings, from a snaggle-toothed dragon to a sea-dragon which races dolphins on the waves - ending in a page inhabited by every dragon in the book! A truly magical book which will appeal to the dreamer in everyone.

A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice (Walker Racing Reads) by Chitra Soundar

Prince Veera and his best friend, Suku, are left in charge of King Beema's court when the king goes off on a hunting trip. Each day the king's subjects come before the boys with their problems and petty disagreements. Can Veera and Suku settle the dispute between the man who sells a well - but not the water in it - to his neighbour? Or solve the mystery of the jewels that have turned into pickles? And what about the old washerwoman who is set the task of washing the king's elephants until they turn white? It's a fascinating collection of stories, very out of the ordinary and posing some interesting moral dilemmas which make a great basis for discussion.

Pattan's Pumpkin by Chitra Soundar

Pattan's Pumpkin is an Indian flood story. When Pattan plants and nurtures a plant, it grows and becomes a huge pumpkin that is bigger than the goats, bigger than the elephants and reaches the summit of the mountain. In a tale reminiscent of the flood story from the Bible, a tremendous storm arrives and the waters rise, Pattan’s quick thinking and imagination help him devise a clever plan that enables him to rescue the whole village from impending disaster. The vivid and striking illustrations by Frane Lessac bring the story to life with dramatic detail and lovely depictions of people and animals. Beautifully told, this reads aloud to perfection and is an interesting addition to a library of myths and legends.





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