Category Archives: Fairy tales

Through the Water Curtain

Cornelia Funke didn’t like fairy tales as a child. I’m just about with her on that. I did read them, possibly even liked them, but when you think about it, there isn’t much to actually ‘like.’ Is there?

As Cornelia points out in her introduction to her new collection of classic – but less well known – fairy tales, children are less sensitive than us adults tend to believe. I hope that is true, because there are some gruesome stories here, along with some lovely ones too.

I wasn’t really planning on reading all the tales in Through the Water Curtain. But with one thing and another, I discovered I was sitting there, reading one story after another. So much for that.

But I did actually skip one. It was too gruesome for me, adult though I am, and everything. I permitted myself to leave that particularly bloodthirsty and unpleasant tale right where it was. No doubt someone else will find it and enjoy it.

Cornelia Funke, Through the Water Curtain

This is a gorgeous volume, with a cover that I have found myself stroking repeatedly, all in blue and green with gold. Anyone would love to receive one of these for Christmas.

As Cornelia points out, women get a raw deal in fairy tales. There are so many silly young princes and their father the King, and far too many females quite content to marry the cleverest young man, no questions asked.

The pattern of these stories is much the same as in all fairy tales. With one or two exceptions, however, they are mostly new, to me, and to many westerners. Cornelia has long collected tales from all over the world, and in Through the Water Curtain she offers readers plenty of new material.

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The Glass of Lead & Gold

Cornelia Funke’s The Glass of Lead & Gold is that best of things, a beautiful, small volume consisting of a Christmas story that can be read at any time. Written in English and illustrated by Cornelia herself, it is set in her Reckless world.

In an alternate, past London, we meet Tabetha, an orphan trying to survive by searching for ‘treasure’ in the Thames mud. Just before Christmas she’s asked by a stranger to look for a sliver of glass. A specific sliver, for which he will pay well.

There is a ‘soup kitchen’ and a troll, as well as a one-armed waitress, and together they work some Christmas magic.

Cornelia Funke, The Glass of Lead & Gold

I reckon anyone would love to discover this in a stocking, or to have it to read in the months leading up to Christmas. It’s small and could lead to better things, just like the sliver of glass.

Hansel & Gretel

There are good witches. You knew that.

In Bethan Woollvin’s Hansel & Gretel we have the traditional fairy tale turned on its head. The witch is kind. The children are naughty.

Bethan Woollvin, Hansel & Gretel

This actually makes for a fun story. It makes you think.

Those children run amok, until the witch doesn’t know what to do. Well, she does. Really.

😉

Wonderfully different illustrations in white, grey and black, with orange.

The House with Chicken Legs

I rather envy Sophie Anderson her grandmother. Without that grandmother, we wouldn’t have had this quirkily titled debut novel, The House with Chicken Legs. But I can see that even without this marvellous story, Sophie’s Prussian grandmother would still be worth having. She was the one who brought with her, as one of very few belongings, a book of fairytales as she left Europe after WWII to settle in Wales, which is where she introduced Sophie to Baba Yaga.

A house that moves, and on chicken legs no less, felt vaguely off-putting at first. And I’ve never been sure of this Baba Yaga person. But I also knew I needed to read the book.

Sophie Anderson, The House with Chicken Legs

It’s a story about 12-year-old Marinka who lives with her grandmother, Baba Yaga, in this odd house, where they help guide the dead to the other side. Because of the house moving whenever it feels like it, Marinka doesn’t go to school and she has no friends. It’s really this which makes for the problems. Marinka wants to be normal, but her grandmother has omitted telling her one very pertinent fact that makes the girl even less normal than you’d think. (No, I’m not telling you!)

In a way this is your traditional tale of a child who wants something very much, disobeys old rules, causing something unexpected, and worse, to happen, and having to learn to live with the consequences.

I never expected to grow fond of a house. Especially not one with chicken legs. But when it…

Well, I’m not saying any more.

This is a warm and different story about finding yourself, and also about standing firm when you feel you must do something a bit different.

And all that food! I blame Sophie’s grandmother.

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Hilary McKay has re-written ten well-known fairy tales with her usual charm and warmth. I love them!

There is just one thing though; if you start a child off with these as their first fairy tales, I honestly don’t see how you can then give them a more ordinary version of the same tales later.

Sarah Gibb, Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

I have read countless varieties of most of these stories, and they are much the same. Some are older and more traditional, while others might have been modernised and are easier to read aloud. But none are like Hilary’s, and I would love to read them to a child. And if it was a child who already knew the basic tales, I rather imagine they would experience the same warm glow from Hilary’s version as I did. That in itself could be a discussion point.

Let’s see, I especially loved Chickenpox and Crystal (that’s Snow White, to you), and The Prince and the Problem (The Princess and the Pea). And The Roses Round the Palace (Cinderella) and Over the Hills and Far Away (Red Riding Hood and the Piper’s Son).

And if I mention any more, it will look as if the whole collection was my favourite. I ‘quite liked’ all of them…

There is a flavour of the Casson family over these royal family tales. It’s nice to find that queens can be sensible in the Hilary McKay way. And to have a story featuring a noddle-offer is quite something. (I believe it’s what Kings use to remove the heads of Princes who have an interest in the King’s daughters.)

I absolutely refuse to tell you more about these tales. It would mean spoilers, and you don’t want that. You want to read this collection, and you want to come to it fresh, to see what Hilary has done with our old favourites. How she has made them into new favourites.

This is really something.


The illustrations by Sarah Gibb almost require a post of their own. They are the most glorious, traditional style, black and white pictures that you need for fairy tales.

And the cover! It incorporates all or nearly all the tales. You see Red Riding Hood, but you don’t yet know what Hilary has done to her.

Sarah Gibb, Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

The ones not yet chosen

Is it silly to review a book you, my readers, can’t read? I’ve got so caught up with Maria Turtschaninoff that I’m not only working my way through her books, but I want to tell everyone else about them too.

Maria Turtschaninoff, De ännu inte valda

So to begin with, I’m simply glad I’ve managed to source her un-translated books, especially after my rant a couple of weeks ago. Of six novels, two have been translated into English. The other four don’t even make it into Swedish bookshops, despite being written in Swedish, because Maria is from Finland.

De ännu inte valda (The ones not yet chosen) is her first published book. It’s fairly short, and aimed at younger readers than Maresi or Naondel. While fantasy, it is half set in the real world, and half in some other place. We meet step-siblings Martin and Emmi, who really don’t get on. Each of them would prefer to be left alone; he with his mum and she with her dad.

But now the parents are going off, leaving the two with Emmi’s aunt. And as so often happens under these circumstances, a fairytale muse pops through the window one evening and the two children accidentally-on-purpose leave with her, and discover a whole new world.

It’s a story world, where the muses are charged with catching every inspirational thought authors have, and help them fill their stories with the right characters. It’s an important task, as it wouldn’t do to put the wrong characters into a story.

No sooner have Emmi and Martin arrived, than it becomes clear this world is under threat, and they realise that they are the only ones who can fix it. But they are still fighting each other, so first have to learn to cooperate, and that both of them can be right. And wrong.

This is a lovely story and it’s such an obvious plot in a way, that I’m surprised I’ve not encountered it before. It makes sense, because how can you leave characterisation to a mere writer? You want a specialist.

And needless to say, this is also a plot that urgently requires a translator.