On Monday’s blog I reviewed a number of trollish tales that anyone leaning Scandinavian won’t want to miss.
Today I’ve got a new edition of one of Neil Gaiman’s fantastic stories, as laden with Norseness as a bowl of rice pudding.
Odd and the Frost Giants, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
published in 2016 by Harper
This is the epic story of Odd, a young boy in medieval Norway who is fairly down on his luck. With his father drowned during a Viking raid, his leg lamed via a logging accident, his mom remarried to a lazy lout, and a long sluggish winter ahead cooped up with cranky villagers, Odd determines to hike into the forest and live independently in his father’s old hunting lodge.
Sooner than you can say Thor’s Hammer, though, Odd encounters a curious threesome — a fox, an eagle, and a bear. These three are definitely more than meets the eye. In fact, they’re Norse gods, transformed and deposed by some cunning, evil, Frost Giants.
Journey with Odd and his companions to Asgard to right the wrongs in this heroic tale brimming with cups of mead and tricksters tricked, frozen landscapes, a rainbow bridge, and the relentless pursuit of Beauty. Neil Gaiman is a storyteller for the ages, and he spins this one magnificently. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for ages 7 and up.
This edition, illustrated by Chris Riddell, was released last year. Riddell’s masterful ink drawings cast an enchanted, mythical sense. Burly bears, hook-beaked eagles,and tremendous, shaggy, frost giants leap off the pages. The black-and-white images are perfect for the icy setting. Some of the drawings are set on metallic silver paper — a sumptuous, Viking-esque touch. I adore this meeting of text and art.
In 2009, when the book was first published, Brett Helquist did the illustrations. His are extraordinary as well. Here’s a little glimpse of his work:
Whichever volume is accessible to you, then, do yourself a favor and dive into this extraordinary adventure.
Posted in fiction | Tagged adventure stories, book reviews, children's literature, norse mythology, Scandinavian children's books | Leave a Comment »
I have long loved a good troll yarn. I guess it’s the ancient Viking blood in me! These massive, usually dim-witted creatures with any number of heads and toes, pop up everywhere in Norse folklore adding spice to the story and a golden opportunity for the illustrator!
Curiously enough, I’ve noticed a number of troll-festooned graphic novels emerging in the children’s lit world recently. I thought I’d alert you to them in case you share my fondness. Or not. Either way. Plus bring to light some older troll stories you might enjoy.
The Heartless Troll, written and illustrated by Øyvind Torseter, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson
published in 2015 in Norway; first English edition 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books
First up is this graphic novel retelling loosely based on an old Norwegian fairytale called The Troll With No Heart In His Body.
As with many fairy tales it all starts with a king with a bunch of sons — in this case seven — the youngest of which is treated differently than his elder brethren. Prince Fred, the youngest in this household, has to watch his olders vault off on their fine steeds, decked out in resplendent clothes, set to find beautiful brides for themselves. And oh! they promise to fetch him one, too. But of course, an evil troll waylays them and turns them to stone.
Nothing for it but for Prince Fred to set off on an epic quest to free his brothers by destroying the troll’s heart. Problem is, that troll hasn’t got his heart in his body. THAT’s how nasty a fellow he is!
Fred, with the able assistance of a beautiful princess, an elephant, octopus, saxophone and much Bravery, manages everything in the end and he and the princess live happily ever after. Phew!
Torseter’s rendition is as quirky and casual as it comes with fairy tale elements and contemporary ingredients nestling happily cheek by jowl. A great spot of fun for ages 10 and up.
You can read a more traditional telling of this tale, as well as a number of other Norwegian troll tales in this book:
The Troll with No Heart in His Body and Other Tales of Trolls, from Norway, retold by Lise Lunge-Larsen, illustrated with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen
published in 1999 by Houghton Mifflin
With an author and illustrator who share Norwegian heritage and make their homes among the exceedingly-trollish rocky landscapes of Minnesota’s North Shore (one of my favorite places on Earth), this collection of nine tales has a lovely authentic air. 96 pages long. It includes the most familiar, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Serious troll-lovers and fans of all things Nordic will enjoy this.
Hilda and the Stone Forest, written and illustrated by Luke Pearson
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books
Luke Pearson’s Hilda stories are marvelous, and immensely popular right now. About to come in animated form to Netflix, so they say.
The first book, introducing spunky Hilda, her mom, their pet fox, Twig, and their hauntingly-beautiful, fantasy-Norwegian homeland is, appropriately, Hilda and the Troll. I’ve reviewed it here. It really helps if you read it before launching into one of the later volumes.
In this their fifth adventure, Hilda, Mom, and Twig wind up accidentally whooshed into a mysterious forest occupied by — you guessed it — trolls. So. Many. Trolls. Yikes!
Escape is of the essence, but that is much, much easier said than done.
Run, clamber, dodge, sneak, and run faster in this breathless, dangerous episode. Sheer delight for a wide age range, about 7 to adult.
Bera the One-Headed Troll, written and illustrated by Eric Orchard
pubished in 2016 by FirstSecond
There’s always an individual in every crowd, and Bera is certainly that. Although she’s a troll, she’s a quiet, modest sort, glad to mind her own business and tend her pumpkin patch on a lonely, tiny island. Her boon companion is an owl named Winslowe.
One day Bera hears a raucous, most unpleasant uproar in the cove. Investigating, she’s shocked to see that a human baby has arrived, somehow, and is being most roughly treated by the nasty mer-trolls. Risking their wrath, Bera scoops up that baby and begins an epic adventure to try to return it to wherever it came from.
Bera’s journey is plagued by quite a passel of hideous creatures. Goblins! Wolves! A wretched witch! Goons! Thankfully, she is helped along the way by hedgehog wizards, kindly mice, and Nanna the Great.
By turns, Orchard’s tale is uncanny, menacing, warm-hearted, and heroic, just as all good fantasy should be! Great story for ages 8 and up.
In the Troll Wood, pictures by John Bauer, text by Lennart Rudström; English version by Olive Jones
first published in Sweden; English version 1978 by Methuen Children’s Books Ltd.
John Bauer was a Swedish artist known for his prolific work illustrating legends and fairy tales. He died, tragically, at age 36 in a shipwreck. That was in 1918.
This collection of some of his magnificent work is sadly out of print but a peek on Amazon shows there are a few floating around for sale.
Just take a look at these paintings:
The text tells little stories inspired by the pictures. It’s quite nicely done, with bits of juicy troll lore and outlandish goings-on. In one, an “ugly old woman with long greenish hair and only one tooth” accosts a young boy, only to fade into a twisted tree stump when he calls her bluff. In another, stubborn Grandpa Troll insists on heading out to steal a cow in wintertime although the hunting hounds are out and about. His tail pays a painful price!
My children would have loved this volume when they were quite young, despite the unusual format. We devoured Norse mythology and troll tales. If you can find a copy, try it with apt listeners ages 3 and up.
A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back, written by Ursula K. Le Guin, paintings by Julie Downing
published in 1992 by Orchard Books
Finally, this picture book holds a delightful fantasy by the renowned Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s the story of a young girl whose brother is stolen by trolls!
With her father undone by despair, and her mother occupied with care of the new baby, it’s up to the girl to find and rescue her brother. She does this with the aide of her little Dalarna horse which magically comes to life in full, snorting, thundering glory!
Up the two of them venture to High House, the cavernous home of dozens and dozens of fiendish trolls where the girl has just one night to put their plan to work before the magic wears off.
She’s a brave one! And a clever one! And by day break (which if you know anything about trolls you know is a particularly momentous time) she’s snatched that brother of hers from the heart of troll land.
Paintings replete with ugly trolls, that beautiful red horse, and the cold stillness of a Norwegian winter, help bring this story to life. 48 pages. For brave 5 year olds and up.
I’ve reviewed a couple of other delightful troll stories in the past. My clear favorite is D’Aulaire’s Book of Trolls, reviewed here.
Posted in fiction, graphic novels, picture books | Tagged book reviews, children's literature, fairy tales, graphic novels, John Bauer, norse literature, picture books, Scandinavian children's books, trolls | 3 Comments »
I think we could all use a smile, and today’s books are overflowing with good cheer, simple pleasures, yummy goodies, and even a wish or three.
So break out the jam tarts and peppermint tea, cuddle up together, and journey towards joy.
The Littlest Family’s Big Day, written and illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin
published in 2016 by Random House
Pure, tender charm spills from this book like blueberries from my grandmother’s pie!
This little family of bears reminds me quite a lot of Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams’ Little Fur Family. Does anyone remember that book?
We’re paying a visit to these bears on quite an eventful day. They’re settling into a new home. Meeting their creaturely neighbors. Then exploring the outdoors, feasting upon strawberries, and returning to a snug home after a wee bit of an adventure.
Like a spoonful of sugar for your day, this is a sweet story to share again and again with ages 2 and up. Love it!
Paul and Antoinette, written and illustrated by Kerascoët, translated from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
published in 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books
Paul and his sister Antoinette are as different as plum cake and salsa.
Antoinette goes at life with reckless abandon, piling jam and chocolate on her toast like nobody’s business, exulting in worms, galloping through mud puddles.
Paul, on the other hand, is a deliberate, sensitive, quieter soul who feasts on new knowledge sponged up slowly, enjoys tidiness, tinkering, and thinking.
Life with one another, then, has its challenges, but at the end of the day, with patience and love, they manage. Antoinette’s jolly Everything Tart definitely helps matters along! Whipped cream mountains of good cheer, here, for ages 3 and up.
Hedgehugs and the Hattiepillar, written by Steve Wilson, illustrated by Lucy Tapper
published in 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.
Horace and Hattie Hedgehug are back, these two dear friends. This time they’re out and about exploring the beauty of the great outdoors when they spy something oh-so-interesting. Small. Shiny. Smooth.
This interesting little pea turns out to be an egg, and out crawls a “wriggly, stripy thing” that proceeds to eat. A lot! And then spin itself a “soft, silky bed.” And then make a grand entrance as something terribly exciting, “something beautiful, colorful, and wonderful.”
Horace and Hattie decide that eating a great lot, then curling up to sleep in a lovely, soft, silky bed sounds like a terrific idea. They hope they’ll emerge from this just as colorful and wonderful!
I’ll let you see what comes of their grand experiment. I think you’ll agree that it sounds like a hypothesis any number of us would be pleased to test out! Darling, cheerful fun for ages 2 and up.
Pug Man’s 3 Wishes, written and illustrated by Sebastian Meschenmoser, translated from the German by David Henry Wilson
first published in Germany in 2008; English version published in 2016 by NorthSouth Books
For dry, droll humor, you just can’t beat Sebastian Meschenmoser. This book will tickle the funny bones of young children and adults alike.
Pug Man is a curmudgeonly fellow at best, but this morning everything is going wrong. Groggy and unmotivated after oversleeping, Pug Man goes through the motions of getting ready for the day only to find no milk in the fridge, no coffee in the cup, and a soggy, dripping newspaper.
Seriously bad day.
Much to Pug Man’s consternation a bippety-boppety-boo chipper little fairy appears at that moment, determined to Cheer Him Up!!! With saccharine glee she offers him three marvelous wishes!
Pug Man makes use of those wishes. You’ll have to see just what he wishes for! A funny tale for ages 3 and up, and especially well-suited to any anti-morning persons!
Motor Miles, written and illustrated by John Burningham
published in 2016 by Candlewick
Coming from one of the most beloved children’s lit author/illustrators, this story brought me cheer at the first glimpse of the cover.
Burningham’s carefree line, scribbly hair, smart auto, and sunny fields bring back memories of reading the Mr. Gumpy books umpteen times with my children, and loving them just as much every time.
This book is not about Mr. Gumpy, despite those visual similarities. It’s about a dog named Miles. Miles “was a very difficult dog.” Have you experienced one of those??
Here is John Burningham with the real, difficult, Miles!
Doesn’t bother to come when called. Balks on the leash. Barks unnecessarily. Turns up his nose at his food. His owners, Alice Trudge and her son Norman, are fond of dear Miles, but a bit at their wits end until Mr. Huddy from next door offers to build Miles his own little car.
Miles loveloveloves his little roadster. In a jiffy, his attitude clears up, his appetite returns, and he and Norman carry off a bundle of jolly adventures to boot!
This is a lark of a story, guaranteed to spark imaginations and put a big smile on the face of readers ages 2 and up.
Posted in fiction, picture books | Tagged bad dogs, book reviews, children's literature, family, happiness, harmony, humorous stories, picture books | 4 Comments »
Several weeks ago I came across an article on the BBC highlighting a new book of photography by Steve McCurry. The theme of McCurry’s project, displayed in this stunning book, is reading. Readers, to be more precise.
I immediately requested it through my library and have thoroughly enjoyed meandering through it.
On Reading, by Steve McCurry
published in 2016 by Phaidon Press
Even if you don’t know the name Steve McCurry, you know his photography. One of National Geographic’s most heralded photographers, McCurry’s most famous shot is probably Afghan Girl, taken in 1984.
On Reading is the result of his personal interest in capturing the faces, postures, environments of people around the world caught up in the act of reading. For forty years as he’s globe-trotted, he’s had his eye out for these images.
Paul Theroux, in his foreword, comments that “readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment…It seems to me that there is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading.”
Indeed, McCurry wondrously captures the focused absorption of readers old and young, rich and poor, from widely disparate cultures in this collection. It is gorgeous, immensely satisfying, and heartening.
McCurry himself was inspired by the earlier work of Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész who spent over 50 years observing and photographing readers. His work was likewise published in a book entitled On Reading, published in 1971 by Grossman Publishers. I checked that one out from my library, too!
The compelling, black-and-white photographs in this small book span the years 1915-1970. About half of them are from the 1960’s and most were shot in New York City and Paris.
The differences in the worlds and perspectives of these two books, despite their common theme, is remarkable. The work of Kertész has a much more spur of the moment, snapshot sense, whereas McCurry’s are bold, immersive, with subjects generally much closer to us.
Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963
I love seeing the small dramas taking place on all these tiny stages in the world. On a particular day now long gone, an anonymous person was caught up in reading during one unscheduled moment, now frozen in time for us to contemplate.
Esztergam, Hungary, 1915
McCurry and Kertész both saw so much in this ordinary, transportive, monumental act. I love the way photographers help me see, and particularly how these two have helped me see the magic of reading woven through time and across cultures.
Posted in non-fiction | Tagged Andre Kertesz, book reviews, cultures, photography, reading, Steve McCurry | Leave a Comment »
Wolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell
published in 2017 by Feiwel and Friends
My top pick for Valentine’s Day might seem unusual at first glance, but believe me — this is a book about love! Love within a family — anchoring, steadfast — and sacrificial love for the stranger. It touched my heart deeply.
Cordell’s wordless story features a little girl living in a northerly home where wolves dwell and blizzards swirl. On her way home from school one day, snow begins falling so fast and furious that she becomes utterly enveloped in it. Lost.
She’s not the only one. One frowsy wolf pup gets separated from its pack. As the little girl plods her way along, she comes across it, shivering, scared, whimpering. From far across the snow-covered hills she hears the mournful howling of the pack.
What to do?
The safe thing, of course, is to apologize to the pup and keep on her homeward journey! She’s cold and forlorn herself. Fatigued from pushing through that deep snow. Night falls early. Wolves are toothy! It’s certainly much more sensible to worry about her own self rather than that scruffy pup.
But scooping him up in her arms, she sets off across the snowy wasteland. It’s quite a journey and Cordell’s masterful pacing and artwork sweep us right into it. Not only do we experience the physical exertion, but also a powerful range of emotions.
I was stunned by all that is stuffed into this small tale — beauty, heroism, courage, kindness, gorgeous wolves, the warmth of home, and above all one little girl’s willingness to put another’s needs ahead of her own. Brilliant, for ages 3 and up.
The Lines on Nana’s Face, written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books
This is truly one of the dearest books I’ve seen in a long time.
It’s Nana’s birthday and her granddaughter is excited to celebrate with her. She knows how much Nana loves to have her family all together. Yet this little girl has a niggling concern.
Sometimes it’s hard to read Nana’s face and know if she’s entirely, completely happy because of all the lines wrinkling across it.
Nana assures her that those lines don’t bother her a bit, because “it is in these lines that I keep all my memories!” Doubtful, her granddaughter quizzes her on each wrinkle. Which memory is tucked in that one, Nana? And in this one?
Nana easily relates the happy — and one sad — memories creased into her beautiful face. That includes one of the most precious memories of all.
Ciraolo’s palette of luscious pinks, sunshine yellow, warm biscuit browns, and glowing spring greens washes through this book like a glad smile. The rounded baby shapes of granddaughter and dignified angles of grandmother fit together, hand-in-glove, while life swirls and curls happily around them. A treasure of grandmotherly love to share with ages 2 and up.
Love You, Too, written by Alastair Heim, illustrated by Alisa Coburn
published in 2016 by little bee books
Mama pig and her little porker move through a merry day together in this charmer. From morning wake-up and pancake breakfast, to jolly outings, baths, jammies and stories at day’s end, these two thoroughly enjoy one another’s company.
It’s the call-and-response text in this book that separates it from the rest, and it’s an absolute blast! “When I say ‘I love,’ you say ‘you.’ I love…YOU! I love…YOU!
Passing the words back and forth with young children in this singy, swingy rhythm can’t help but bring out the smiles!
Alisa Coburn’s pigs are hugely endearing. Her delicate line and candy-colored palette fill the pages with breeziness and jovial energy. Great fun for ages 2 and up.
Delivery, by Aaron Meshon
published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Grandma looks at her calendar at the start of this almost-wordless story and spots a big red heart on it marking a very special day. It’s coming up quick! She’d better hurry!
Bustling away in the kitchen, Grandma zips together trays full of lipstick-red, heart-shaped cookies, then packs them tenderly in a box and seals it with love. The delivery man takes it from her doorstep, and we’re off!
Off on the wildest, craziest, most exciting delivery route ever! By truck and ship, train and helicopter! Even by whale-spout and dog-sled! The package must go on! Hand it off! Hold on tight! Move it along!
Meshon’s exuberant imagination and bold, stylish designs will utterly entrance young children. At story’s end is perhaps the most surprising picture of all! Don’t miss it — it’s on the endpapers.
Packed with smiles and love, for ages 2 and up.
I Heart You, written by Meg Fleming, illustrated by Sarah Jane Wright
published in 2016 by Beach Lane Books
This sweet book is flush with tenderness, as soft and gentle as a lullaby.
Animal mamas and babies snuggle in burrows, romp in grassy patches, gather in nests, while a quietly-rhyming text describes all the ways those babies are loved.
All this takes place near a bright red house with a large garden where another mama and her little girl are picking raspberries. In the dusky twilight, they enjoy loving one another, too.
It’s a mellow, sweet refrain to share with little ones 18 months and up.
There are more Valentine’s-oriented titles in the Subject Index, if you like. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Posted in fiction, picture books, wordless books | Tagged book reviews, children's literature, families, grandmothers, love, parents and children, picture books, Valentine's Day | Leave a Comment »
I’ve drawn the winner of What Will Danny Do Today? It was lovely to read everyone’s wishes for what to do on a free day! If only I could grant each of those!
At any rate, the book winner is…my dear friend, Julie Steller! Julie, I guess we need to have coffee soon so I can get that to you!
I have books full of mother-love and grandmother-love and another gold-star winner from Matthew Cordell, all coming up on Monday, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Happy stories. Troll stories. Bonkers breakfast stories. And some gorgeous photography perfect for book-lovers. All coming in the next weeks. I love sharing these gems with you and being part of a wonderful, worldwide, reading community. How cool is that?!
Posted in fiction, picture books | Tagged book reviews, children's literature, picture books | 1 Comment »