From School Library Journal
Grade 4–6—"Not so very far from here, nor so very long from now," twins Toby and Tess offer to share their lunch with an old man they meet. Introducing himself simply as Teller, he sits beneath a great chestnut tree and tells them stories in rhyme as an ancient bard or poet might have done. "The Woodcutter's Daughter" is the tale of 12 elfin brothers named for the months who save the heroine from an evil stepmother and stepsister. When they meet Teller again, the children hear "St. Brigid's Cloak" and are given a small scrap of the cloak itself. Later they release a small bird, and Teller rewards them with a story of cruelty and hard-earned compassion called "The Seal Hunter." This story suffers from too much moralizing, but the others move well. Tess dreams of finding treasure buried under the chestnut tree, so their friend tells "The Pedlar of Swaffham." In the final story, the children meet Teller near their father's grave, and he tells "Tam Lin." The old man gives them the Map of Marvels, identifies himself as Merlin (an odd choice, as none of the stories are associated with King Arthur or his knights), and disappears. Retelling these tales as poetry is an interesting idea, and it succeeds fairly well. The imagery, rhythms, and careful rhymes create a feeling often associated with traditional stories. Black silhouettes illustrate the children's encounters with Teller, while black-line drawings illuminate the well-crafted stories. The map suggests stories untold and perhaps undiscovered. This is a lovely, artistically presented book.—Mary Jean Smith, Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN
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In a handsome volume profusely illustrated with a mix of silhouettes and vigorous line drawings, Mitton presents verse renditions of European tales and legends including “The Woodcutter's Daughter” (aka “Little Sister and the Month Brothers”), “Tam Lin,” “St. Brigid's Cloak,” “The Peddler of Swaffham,” and “The Seal Hunter.” Written in ballad-style quatrains with unforced, natural sounding rhymes and cadences, the stories offer enthralling, easy-to-follow plots with clear themes of dreams fulfilled, lessons learned, and challenges successfully met—particularly by courageous girls and women. Mitton links all of his selections with prose encounters between two marveling children and a mysterious old Storyteller who sits on a bench beneath a tree to present each tale, then vanishes. Strongly resembling Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill in framework and tone, this gathering will cast the same sort of profound spell on readers and listeners. Grades 4-6. --John Peters