Category Archives: traditional stories

Q is for Queens

“Ah, we shall soon see that!” said the queen mother, however, she said not a word of what she was going to do . . .  Illustration for “The Princess and the Pea,” by Edward Dulac from the Snow Queen and Other Stories from Hans Christian Andersen, 1911.

“Ah, we shall soon see that!” said the queen mother, however, she said not a word of what she was going to do . . .” Illustration for “The Princess and the Pea,” by Edward Dulac from the Snow Queen and Other Stories from Hans Christian Andersen, 1911.



Metaphorically speaking–and fairy tales are metaphorical, so let’s do!–Queens are women in midlife.

They have aging issues as they watch their beautiful daughters blossom.

They have princely sons to marry off to a worthy bride—by hook or crook.

They have husbands with midlife crises whom they must nurture or manipulate back into a healthier relationship.

And, suddenly, they have stepdaughters more charming and lovable than their own snooty brats!

So, they behave just like living, breathing human women do in our 40s and 50s.

No snickering, gentlemen! At least not until you’ve read about fairy tale kings!

Have you shelved these queens?

Brothers Grimm, Snow White, illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia. Harper Design, 2012.

“Clever Manka” and “The Lute Player” may be found in . . .
Phelps, Ethel Johnston, Tatterhood and Other Tales. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1993.

The Princess and the Pea retold by Xanthe Gresham, illustrated by Miss Clara. Barefoot Books, 2013.





“The Lute Player” is also on my CD Ghostly Gals and Spirited Women. If your Texas library does not have a copy, let me know and I’ll see that they get one.


P is for Pushkin

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This tiny lacquer box from Mstera (2″ wide) illustrates The Tale of the Dead Princess, or The Princess and the Seven Bogatyrs. Unlike Pushkin’s other tales, it was not previously a Russian classic, but rather the Grimm’s Snow White retold by a consummate writer. Now, Russians claim it as their own!




Like Browning or Spenser, Longfellow or Poe, Russian poet Alexander Pushkin created a body of narrative poetry. He drew from the Russian Wonder Tales, setting them in the more “academically respectable” form of poetry and paving the way for the high art of opera by Rimsky-Korsakov and others. Look for Tsar Saltan, The Golden Cockerel, Ruslan and Ludmilla, Tale of the Dead Princess, Fisherman and the Golden Fish . . .

I often introduce Russian folktales with imagery from Pushkin’s evocative Prologue to Ruslan and Ludmilla, spoken in prose: “By the shores of a bay, there is a green oak tree . . .

Not to be pushy, but here are some Pushkin books you might like:

Lowenfeld, Julian Henry, author and translator, My Talisman: The Poetry and Life of Alexander Pushkin (English and Russian Edition). Green Lamp Press, 2010.

Pushkin, A.  S., Pushkin’s Fairy Tales. P-2, 2007.

Pushkin, Alexander Sergeyevitch Pushkin, Collected Narrative and Lyrical Poetry, translated by Walter Arndt. Overlook TP, 2009

O is for Old Dry Fry

Virginia Frances Sterrett illustrated Penn Publishing Company's 1928 edition of Arabian Nights.

Virginia Frances Sterrett illustrated Penn Publishing Company’s 1928 edition of Arabian Nights.




Ever’body knows Old Dry Fry! He’s the preacher who choked on a piece of fried chicken and died. Each character who encountered his body tried to hide it to avoid being accused of murder. It’s an hilarious, rollicking tale told in the American south by black and white storytellers alike, and it fits the culture and environment perfectly!

But the tale’s roots outstretch America’s short history, digging back at least a millennium  to Scheherazade’s “Tale of the Hunchback,” and the storyline likely arose centuries before that legendary storyteller’s rendition.

Matter is not created from nothingness, and neither are stories that matter.

Here are some sources that might matter to your readers and listeners:

Johnson, Paul Brett, Old Dry Frye. Scholastic, 2001.

Yolen, Jane, Favorite Folktales from Around the World. Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folktale Library, 1988.

Scheherazade’s Children, edited by Philip F.Kennedy and Marina Warner. New York University Press, 2013.





“Old Dry Fry” is also on my Storytelling World Honor CD, 1001 Years of 1001 Nights. If your Texas library does not have a copy, send me their address and I will get one to them.

N is for Kay Nielsen













Danish illustrator Kay (“Kigh”) Nielsen began his career at a time when colorful art could be reproduced successfully in books. He illustrated East of the Sun and West of the Moon, some of Perrault and Grimm and his fellow Dane, Hans Christian Andersen. Riding the wave of technology, he designed the “Ave Maria” and “Night on Bald Mountain” segments of Fantasia.

Dismissed by Disney before the film was released, Nielsen was barely able to make ends meet. His work fell out of favor and, after his death in 1957, it was offered to museums in America and Denmark, but none were interested.


These days Kay Nielsen’s art is prized in editions such as these:


Nielsen’s Fairy Tale Illustrations in Full Color (Dover Fine Art, History of Art). Dover Publications; Green Edition, 2006. (Paperback)

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North, illustrated by Kay Nielsen. Calla Editions, 2008.

Larkin, David (editor), Kay Nielsen. Peacock Press/Bantam, 1975.

I’m curious to know why Nielsen was dismissed by Walt Disney in 1941. I’ve never seen an explanation.                  Anybody know?

M is for Mr. Fox


Henry Ryland’s “Mr. Fox” in the 1892 edition of Joseph Jacobs’ English Fairy Tales.

High school girls are surprised to hear traditional stories that include sexual violence, yet it is important for a girl to consider how Lady Mary’s boldness–or one’s own!–can overcome depraved evil. It is, in fact, the single most important attribute when it comes to safeguarding oneself.

In this tale, we also see a justifiably fearful Lady Mary hide herself when being bold would not pay off. Instead, she waits for the moment when her boldness will completely destroy Mr. Fox.

Take the tale’s advice: Be bold, be bold, but not too bold, lest thy heart’s blood run cold!


Be bold! Take hold of one of these books:

Jacobs, Joseph, English Fairy Tales. Everyman’s Library, 1993.

The Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Maria Tatar (Norton Critical Editions). W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.

Yolen, Jane, Favorite Folktales from Around the World (Pantheon Fairy Tale & folklore Library). Pantheon, 1988.

L is for La Llorona


32451089Texas’ most famous ghost is La Llorona, the weeping woman. Oh, she’s said to lurk along waterways in the borderlands to California and deep into Mexico, too, but we know her true haunt is south Texas.
Every town has it’s own version of the story: why she drowned her children, how many children there were, on which nearby river she has been spotted.

Whenever I tell the story, several children wave their hands urgently. “Miss! Once when my uncle was about 12 , he went to see his grandmother. She lived near this river, see, and one night he went outside . . .”

Are any of these books haunting your shelves?

Anaya, Rodolfo, La Llorona: The Crying Woman, bilingual edition translated by Enrique la Madrid and Illustrated by Amy Cordova. University of New Mexico Press, 2011.

Cisneros, Sandra, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. Vintage, 1992. (Also available in School and Library Binding and in Spanish.)

Hayes, Joe, La Llorona/The Weeping Woman, illustrated by Vicki Trego Hill and Mona Pennybacker. Cinco Puntos Press, 2006.


“La Llorona” is on my Storytelling World Gold-Award-winning CD, Ghostly Gals and Spirited Women. If your Texas Library does not have a copy, send me their address and I’ll make sure they get one.

K is for Kids, 7 of them and a wolf.

Herman Vogel illustrated an 1894 edition of Grimm's Kinder und Hausmarchen.

Herman Vogel illustrated an 1894 edition of Grimm’s Kinder und Hausmarchen.

“The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids” is the ultimate stranger danger story. Kindergarteners faithfully chant with Mama Goat “When I leave…, lock the door…, and don’t open it up again for anyone else but me!” They are stunned by the wolf’s treachery. They bounce anxiously as he searches the home, swell at the baby’s assistance, and heave a sigh of great relief when mama retrieves her kids. Whew!

Isn’t it better for children to hear about wolves preying upon goats than to learn about human predation on a news program?

This is where courage is born: in scary stories.

I hope your 398.2 shelves hold a telling or retelling of this tale.

Grimms Fairy Tales (of course!)

Grimm, Jacob, The Wolf and the Seven Kids, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft. Troll Communications, 1980.

Grimm, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm and Molly Stevens, The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats: A Fairy Tale, illustrated by Claudine Routiaux. Abbeville Press, 2001. (Part of Abbeville Classic Fairy Tales series, The Little Pebbles.)

J is for Jack

Ray Hicks told Jack Tales passed down for generations in the Harmon and Hicks families. Ray died in 2003.

Ray Hicks told Jack Tales as passed down for generations in Tennessee’s Harmon and Hicks families. Ray died in 2003.

Jack is probably the best known Fairy Tale protagonist in the western world, largely due to his blockbuster hit, Jack and the Beanstalk. However, that’s not his only tale. It’s not even his only name! Grouped as “Jack Tales” are many, many stories from all around the world. Wherever a lazy, hapless young man with a nagging mother sets out on a task, get’s lucky and wins the treasure, the kingdom, or the princess, you have a “Jack” whether he is called Hans, Aladdin, Ivan, Petit Jean (the Cajun “ ‘Ti-Zhon”), Juan Bobo or simply “the fool” or “the noodle.”

Do you have Jack Tales in your 398.2?

Bernier-Grand, Carmen T., Juan Bobo and the Pig, pictures by Ernesto Ramos Nieves. HarperCollins, 1994.

Davis, Donald, Southern Jack Tales. August House Publishers, 2005.

Ransome, Arthur, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, pictures by Uri Shulevitz. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1968.

I is for Ivan (Bilibin. We’re on a first name basis.)

Illustration by Ivan Bilibin for The White Duck.

Illustration by Ivan Bilibin for The White Duck.

When I’m telling Russian folktales, Vasilisa steps into the theatre of my mind wearing a richly embroidered sarafan. Ivan Tsarevich, in caftan and pointy-toed boots, proudly rides the grey wolf through a fir forest to an onion-domed palace. Baba Yaga’s log hut on chicken legs boasts a steep thatched roof with colorfully stenciled eaves and window frames. Even barefoot Ivanushka wears his Kosovorotka, his side-buttoned shirt. For me, that rich imagery came from the brush of Ivan Bilibin. A costume and set designer as well as an artist, he created the theater my skazki protagonists play on.

I hope you have an edition of Russian Wonder Tales illustrated by my friend Ivan (!) in your library. His  art has been used in such collections for over a century!

Afansyev, Alexander, Russian Fairy Tales, translated by Post Wheeler and illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. The Planet, 2012 (paperback).

Avery, Gillian, Russian Fairy Tales, illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics, 1995.

Bilibin, Ivan IAkovlevich Bilibin, Ivan Bilibin. Aurora Art Publishers, 1982. (Note: This is an expensive art book!)

In the 1970s, the Russian Ministry of Finance commissioned Goznak Press in Moscow to print a series of Russian fairy tales with Afans’ev’s text and Bilibin’s illustrations in beautiful, large format booklets on heavy paper. You can almost always find the books in Russian or English on ebay for $10-$20. Look for the Frog Princess, Sister Alyonushka and Brother Ivanushka and The White Duck (together in one book), Marya Morevna, Fenist the Falcon, and The Tale of Tsarevich Ivan, the Fire-Bird and Grey Wolf.

G is for Godfather/Godmother Death


Godfather Death, unsigned illustration from the Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales.

How might a tale evolve over time and travels? In Grimm’s 1812 collection, Godfather Death trains his ward to be a healer and gives him an herb that will save lives. But, he warns, the young man must follow Death’s guidance on when not to save a life, namely, when Death himself is standing at the foot of the bed. When those he loves become ill, the healer turns the bed around and saves them–though not without consequences! This tale migrated to America, and by the time Dobie recorded it for a 1935 collection, Death had become “Godmother Death.”

Do you have these collections in your 398.2 section?

Grimm, a complete collection, any edition.

Dobie, J. Frank, Tongues of the Monte. Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1935. (Or the 1980 UT Press reprint. If you have the original, it’s worth a lot!)

Dobie, J. Frank, I’ll Tell You a Tale. UTPress, 1981. (Created from his other collections, this anthology includes “Godfather Death.”)


Look me up at the Texas Library Association Conference this week. I’m in booth 2511.