Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Two New Picture Books From Jane Yolen

 Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Kelly Murphy.

Yolen's simple text, "Monsters slither, monsters wave/All in a hurry to get to their cave" is glowingly illustrated with Murphy's oil, acrylic and gel paintings.

I was underwhelmed by Yolen's text. The whole poem reads:
"Monsters creep, monsters crawl
Over the meadow and up the wall.
Monsters run, monsters stumble,
Monsters hip-hop, monsters tumble,
Monsters slither, monsters wave
All in a hurry to get to their cave...
Where monsters grab a bite to eat,
Then into the tub to wash their feet,
Then monster prayers and into bed,
But they toss and turn and bounce instead.
Growl Gurgle
Burp Grrrr
Snarl Snarf
I'm not sleepy.

The change in rhythm and the disintegration into sounds at the end - it just didn't work for me. However, I'm always reading with an eye for storytime and while this one won't shine in that area, I can see it working well as a one-on-one bedtime story with the slow building of repetition and drifting off to sleep.

Murphy's pop-eyed monsters add just enough "ick" factor while still giving a cozy feel to the tale. Picture book authors seem to have an irresistable compulsion to write bedtime stories, often featuring monsters, and so few get the balance between sweet and scary just right, but Murphy and Yolen have done a good job here.

Verdict: This isn't going to replace Rosoff's Jumpy Jack and Googily or Noll's I Need My Monster in my affections, but it's a solid addition that patrons will be happy to check out again and again. Recommended.

ISBN: 978-0763642013; Published July 2011 by Candlewick; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

Sister Bear: A Norse Tale adapted by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Linda Graves

I've been excited about this title ever since I first heard about it last spring! Full disclosure: I am fascinated with Scandinavian folklore and fairy stories and especially those tales with bears.

Interestingly, Jan Brett also has a version of this tale, Who's that knocking on Christmas Eve? published in 2002 by Putnam, but Yolen takes a very different approach to the story.

The basic story (the title I'm most familiar with is The Cat on the Dovrefell)...every year a pack of trolls make trouble on Christmas Eve, eating up all the family's good things. One year, a traveler with a bear stops by and with his help the trolls are frightened away.

Yolen's retelling focuses on the bear and its owner, a girl named Halva in this story. She raises the bear from a cub and it becomes tame, learning to dance, wear clothes, and hunt for the family until they call it "Sister Bear". Halva and her bear decide to go and see the king of Denmark and set out in the snow. On Christmas Eve, they stop at the Dovrefell and ask to spend the night in a cottage - but the man, Gusterson, says he and his family have to leave every Christmas Eve because of the pack of trolls who take over the house. Halva refuses to leave and she and Sister Bear settle down for the night in the cozy cottage...until along came the pack of trolls! They eat all the food and make a big mess, but then they start teasing Sister Bear, thinking she's a cat. The trolls are chased out, Halva cleans house, and the family invites her to come back every year! With one last warning to the trolls, Halva and Sister Bear finish their journey to the king, where they are a great success, and every year afterwards they spend Christmas with the Gustersons.

Yolen's lyrical writing captures the sparkling flavor of the Scandinavian tale, with the characters' brisk chatter, clever tricks, and the stupid but dangerous trolls. The retelling hits all the major points of the original story while still being a good length for a read-aloud with younger children.

Linda Graves' illustrations are the perfect fit, with elaborately patterned clothes, glowing firesides and shining snowy landscapes, and a horde of tattooed and terrifying trolls.

Yolen includes an author's note detailing the tale's origins and some of the changes she's made to the story, along with sources and references.

Verdict: Add this one to your fairy tale collection and to your winter storytelling repertoire. A few sound effects make it an alternatively creepy and funny story for older listeners, while preschool children will appreciate a straight read-aloud with the swinging cadence of the text carrying them through the longer story. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780781459583; Published November 2011 by Marshall Cavendish; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates


Anonymous said...

I love Jane Yolen! Thanks for sharing! I am adding both of these to my book lists now!

Brimful Curiosities said...

I haven't read any version of that Scandinavian tale, and Yolen's version looks like a good place to start.

As for the monster book, I'm just not a huge fan of bedtime monster books. Don't want to stir up unnecessary fearful feelings right before the lights go out. (Though my kids do adore I Need My Monster - we just don't read it at bedtime!)

Playing by the book said...

Love the sound of Sister Bear - I hope it will be available on this side of the atlantic too!