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Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls Hardcover – May 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 4-7-This collection of folktales from around the world presents a range of tales that all feature strong women. While the majority of stories (7 out of 13) are European in origin, most are relatively unfamiliar. Only four of the tales, "Atalanta the Huntress," "Fitcher's Bird" (a Bluebeard/Mr. Fox variant), "Burd Janet" (a Tam Lin variant), and "Molly Whuppie," are likely to be recognized by readers. Yolen's retellings are consistently engaging and well written, whether she is dealing with the history of the White River Sioux in "Brave Woman Counts Coup" or "Nana Miriam," a culture hero of the Songhai of Niger. Ample source notes and explanations of Yolen's additions and changes are included as is a thorough bibliography. Unfortunately, the cover painting of a buxom girl on a ship seems much more suited to a "damsel in distress" collection than to these stories that eschew the helpless female. However, the interior illustrations are better.
Ellen A. Greever, University of New Orleans, LA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The title says it all: this is a spirited collection with a lively pace. Yolen's introduction, written as an open letter to her daughter and granddaughters, and her notes and bibliography frame the collection well. Like a bezel that holds a gem, her beginning and ending pieces remind us that girls know how to be heroes (but that boys need to know it, too) and that every time and culture has stories of female heroes that need to be heard again and again. So Yolen tells tales that may be familiar--among them, Germany's "Fitcher's Bird," related to "Mr. Fox and Bluebeard," in which the young Erna saves herself and her sisters from the clutches of an evil wizard. Other tales will be less well known: in a tale from Romania, Mizilca serves in the sultan's army in her sick father's place; and in a tale from Argentina, Maldonada's kindness to a puma and its cubs saves her. The stories sing and soar in Yolen's supple language, and each is contained enough for a read-aloud. Illustrations not available in galley. GraceAnne A. DeCandido

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 - 10 years
  • Grade Level: 2 - 5
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; 1st edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0152020470
  • ISBN-13: 978-0152020477
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born and raised in New York City, Jane Yolen now lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts. She attended Smith College and received her master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts. The distinguished author of more than 170 books, Jane Yolen is a person of many talents. When she is not writing, Yolen composes songs, is a professional storyteller on the stage, and is the busy wife of a university professor, the mother of three grown children, and a grandmother. Active in several organizations, Yolen has been on the Board of Directors of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, was president of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1986 to 1988, is on the editorial board of several magazines, and was a founding member of the Western New England Storytellers Guild, the Western Massachusetts Illustrators Guild, and the Bay State Writers Guild. For twenty years, she ran a monthly writer's workshop for new children's book authors. In 1980, when Yolen was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree by Our Lady of the Elms College in Chicopee, Massachusetts, the citation recognized that "throughout her writing career she has remained true to her primary source of inspiration--folk culture." Folklore is the "perfect second skin," writes Yolen. "From under its hide, we can see all the shimmering, shadowy uncertainties of the world." Folklore, she believes, is the universal human language, a language that children instinctively feel in their hearts. All of Yolen's stories and poems are somehow rooted in her sense of family and self. The Emperor and the Kite, which was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1983 for its intricate papercut illustrations by Ed Young, was based on Yolen's relationship with her late father, who was an international kite-flying champion. Owl Moon, winner of the 1988 Caldecott Medal for John Schoenherr's exquisite watercolors, was inspired by her husband's interest in birding. Yolen's graceful rhythms and outrageous rhymes have been gathered in numerous collections. She has earned many awards over the years: the Regina Medal, the Kerlan Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Society of Children's Book Writers Award, the Mythopoetic Society's Aslan Award, the Christopher Medal, the Boy's Club Jr. Book Award, the Garden State Children's Book Award, the Daedalus Award, a number of Parents' Choice Magazine Awards, and many more. Her books and stories have been translated into Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Afrikaans, !Xhosa, Portuguese, and Braille. With a versatility that has led her to be called "America's Hans Christian Andersen," Yolen, the child of two writers, is a gifted and natural storyteller. Perhaps the best explanation for her outstanding accomplishments comes from Jane Yolen herself: "I don't care whether the story is real or fantastical. I tell the story that needs to be told."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

228 of 257 people found the following review helpful By L. Gilbert on May 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I loved the idea of this book, and I gave the book 1 star for the idea. I was anxious to purchase it for my daughters when I found it in the library. I am very glad we were able to borrow it and I didn't buy it. I feel portions of this book are inappropriate for children of any age. These stories could easily have been told without adding so much disturbing imagery to them. One example is in "Fitcher's Bird" where we find, "The tub was filled with the cut-up bodies of dead girls, who stared at her with sightless eyes." This is not an image I want in my own mind, much less that of my little girls. In "The Girl and the Puma," the author states, "Some turned to cannibalism, devouring the flesh of those people who had died before them." In "Burd Janet," a central theme is a person being "sacrificed to hell." In Mizilca, a young woman disguises herself as a man and at the end of the story, "she turned around and opened her shirt, so that there was left no doubt in the Sultan's mind that she was indeed a young woman...and beautiful." Not the type of behavior I want modeled for my daughters.

Another issue is specific to certain girls and is rather picky, but adoptive parents should be forewarned. Our younger daughter was abandoned at birth in China before we adopted her, and I came across many references that would only be harmful to her. I would give a very strong warning to parents of children with abandonment issues, as this is a central theme of several of these stories. We love the Chinese story, "Li Chi Slays the Serpent" and have read excellent retellings of it. However, in this version, the author writes (unnecessarily, in my opinion),'"Dear parents, since you have brought forth six daughters and no sons, it is as if you were childless. I am nothing.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Kerner on May 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Jane Yolen has struck in the gold yet again with this collection of folktales starring clever, brave, daring, courageous women from all over the world. There is a lovely poignancy in her introduction and in the response from her daughter and granddaughters, showing how absolutely right she is to revive these stories, to sing out these tales that celebrate the power of women through the ages. Like Ms. Yolen, I too was Robin Hood and Arthur when I was a girl, desperate to play the hero and not knowing any heroic women to model myself on. Well, my sisters, here they are, a grand selection of them, Atalanta and Bradamante, daring Princesses and bold, clever wise women from many cultures. Their stories are all told with the sure and lilting voice - or voices, for she is a wildly talented writer and able to make each tale ring with its own cultural music - of a trusted modern bard. Thank you, Ms. Yolen, for giving new life to these tales with your consummate artistry.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By L O'connor on August 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent collection of stories featuring clever, adventurous heroines. some of the stories were already familiar to me, like Burd Janet and Molly Whuppie, but others I'd never read before, like The Pirate Princess, and The Samurai Miaden. Unlike previous reviewers, I didn't find the stories either boring or too violent. the stories come from a wide variety of different cultures, but all feature enterprising, strong heroines. This book should appeal to any girl who would like to read about less passive heroines than Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Kakilefe on November 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have read a lot of folklore - my undergraduate degree was in folklore, basically. Her stories do diverge from the stereotypical male-hero stories.

In her other books, Jane Yolen has shown respect to males and given males the chance to be heroes, so the extreme feminism the previous reviewer claimed to have seen seems sought for. In the light of this collection, Jane Yolen obviously did an introduction discussing the fact that such heroines were not widely spread stories in our culture. Her saying this doesn't mean she's starting a feminist extreme group or expecting people (children!) to read these stories with feminist concerns.

These stories are geared towards the child who likes fantasy a bit - perhaps the regular Harry Potter fan. Children who found it boring will probably be more enthralled with a mystery or historical fiction story.
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137 of 181 people found the following review helpful By Erin VINE VOICE on December 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Although Jane Yolen is an excellent story-teller (her descriptive language and easy dialog make for a very fun read), I didn't enjoy this collection as much as I might have.
The book begins with an "open letter" to the author's daughter and granddaughters which contains quite a good summary of the various women warrior-types throughout history and throughout the world and hints at sources where you can find more information. However, she also makes several alarming statements that colored my reading experience.
First, she states that stories about heroic women have been "hidden... disguised... mutilated... truncated." Now, I'm not a scholar of folklore, or even an avid reader of it, but even I was familiar with many of the tales she included in her book. So I feel that Yolen may have been a bit over-dramatic on this point.
Another alarming statement is her explanation of why she only uses the term "hero" even though her protagonists are female--"Because heroines... sound like lesser or minor heroes, just as poetess and authress sound as if they are not as good as their male counterparts." This sentence caught me by surprise, since, as a woman, I would take no more offense at being described as an authress as I would at being described as a "chica" rather than a "chico" in a Spanish class. Using a specialized word such as "heroine" simply allows more clarity if it better suits the purpose of the author.
At any rate, I felt that this letter revealed the author to be super-sensitive to feminist issues and perceives her gender to be attacked at any hint of a difference between men and women.
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