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The Storyteller Hardcover – June 28, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—Folktales involving water abound in all cultures, but this tale is unusual in using water as a metaphor for story: just as we need water to nourish our physical selves, we need stories to feed our spirits. In Turk's fable, a lone storyteller remains in a Moroccan city where the water sources have all dried up. When a young boy seeks water, the water-seller has only a bowl to give him, but the storyteller tells him a tale that miraculously fills the bowl. In a series of nested stories, the boy's thirst is quenched, and by retelling the stories Scheherazade-style to a sandstorm in the form of a djinn, he is able to save the city and also replenish its water supply. In predominant hues of brown and blue, Turk's bold, semiabstract mixed-media illustrations conjure up swirls of sand and waves of water, evoking the environment and its people. The spreads contain concentric borders representing each of the stories as it is told. Using age-old literary elements and a loose, contemporary art style filled with symbolism, Turk successfully melds two equally important concerns of our time—the need to keep storytelling alive and the need to protect and conserve our drinking water. VERDICT This lush and lovely title is highly recommended for its aesthetic qualities as well as its multiple curricular tie-ins, including geography, environmental studies, language arts, and art education.—Susan Stan, Professor Emerita of English, Central Michigan University
* “The art of storytelling is celebrated as a life-giving force in this enthralling picture book. . . .Original storytelling with the feel of the best folklore.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
“Visually stunning with a storyline to match, Turk is beginning to make good on his talents. This is a man with storytelling in his blood and bones. Our children reap the rewards. A can’t miss book.” (Betsy Bird, Fuse #8 blog)
* “Turk combines primitive sketches and simple patterns to create sophisticated multimedia spreads. Fountains of blue pour from the mouths of storytellers, cementing the message that stories,like water, are life sustaining. The revelation of the final narrator brings this multifaceted tale to satisfying closure.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
* “Using age-old literary elements and a loose, contemporary art style filled with symbolism, Turk successfully melds two equally important concerns of our time—the need to keep storytelling alive and the need to protect and conserve our drinking water. . . . This lush and lovely title is highly recommended.” (School Library Journal, starred review)
*“Rich illustrations rendered in watercolor, ink, and pencil engulf the pages with desert golds and deep indigo, blending folk-art and contemporary styles. .. Turk’s layered ode to storytelling’s magic begs to be shared aloud with a group . . . [in] this beautiful, original folktale.” (Booklist, starred review)
“A veritable nesting doll of a narrative . . . this story about the power of story is a call for reconnection with tradition, oral and otherwise. Turk’s illustrations transport the reader to a Morocco of the past and present, capturing the timelessness of the country juxtaposed against the cautionary message about disappearing customs.” (BCCB)
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Top Customer Reviews
I also highly recommend watching Evan Turk's video on how he created these amazing pictures. My daughter wanted to watch it twice. She was so taken by Evan Turk's work that she wanted to try painting with a Kelani pen like he did. After she went to bed I ordered her a Kelani pen for Christmas! Thanks for the inspiration on so many levels Evan Turk!
Once, in the great country of Morocco, storytellers flourished and the cities’ fountains flowed with cool, clear water. As time went on the people became comfortable and forgot about the storytellers, and so they disappeared over the years. So too did the fountains dry up, until one day a boy went looking for some water. What he found instead was an old storyteller. As the man told his tale he would end his story with a story within a story and the boy would find his brass cup filled with liquid. Even as this was happening, however, a desert djinn saw the drought as an opportunity to reclaim the cities that had previously held him back with their fountains. Yet when the djinn was set to level his town, the boy managed to delay him with his storytelling. And as he wove his tale, the people were able to refill their fountains until finally storytelling and water ran freely in the cities once more.
My brain is not what it used to be. Remind me again. What’s that term for a story that tells a story that tells a story that ends only when the innermost story doubles back and each tale is finished in turn? Is there a word such a thing? I suspect that the storytellers amongst us would know. The most obvious similarity to this book that comes to mind is, of course, the tale of Scheherazade. Indeed, the boy uses his stories to trick the djinn. And what could be a more natural comparison? In both tales it is storytelling that proves to be the saving of us all. Our thirst is quenched and we are tied to our history like never before. The obvious question then is whether or not Turk’s text is too complex for kids to follow. Sure, he distinguishes between the tales with different colored fonts, but will that be enough to allow them to remember what came before as they plunge deeper and deeper into the narrative? I think there may be some confusion at work, certainly. I wouldn’t necessarily hand this to a three or four-year-old. However, Turk’s text takes pains to remind the reader where the tale was before. The art helps as well. Confusion, such as it is, will be held to a minimum.
I first knew of Turk’s work when he illustrated Bethany Hegedus’s Grandfather Gandhi. In that book he integrated real spun cotton threads into the art, knowing full well the importance spinning had to Gandhi and his followers. In this book, weaving is the craft of choice so I wondered, not without reason, if woven threads would make their way into the art. As it happens, there are plenty of water-soluble crayons, colored drawing pencils, inks, indigo, sugared green tea, and even art created by heat gun and fire in the illustrations, but nothing so simple as thread. Turk mentions this on his publication page and he puts a little note to the reader there as well. It reads, “Look for a blue glimmer of hope to appear around each story!” and a small blue diamond appears. Naturally, I was curious so I looked. Sure as shooting, after each story’s text a diamond appears. However, as the stories appear within stories within stories, the diamonds grow more elaborate and decorative. Then, as the stories end one by one, the diamonds simplify once more. I began searching the art for more diamonds and here Turk doesn’t disappoint. If you look closely at the borders of the book, you see that the diamonds appear when there is hope and fade from blue to brown diamonds when hope dries up. As the storytelling increases the borders fill in more and more blue, just as the townspeople fill their fountains with bowl after bowl of water. Point out to a child reader the diamond motif and you are sure to be surprised by all that they find hidden in these pages.
I should probably say something about Turk’s art itself. When I reviewed Grandfather Gandhi I had difficulty putting into words precisely what Turk does with his images. So I looked at the book’s professional reviews. His art causes reviewers to use terms like “dynamic visuals”, “stylized” and “strikingly patterned”. They say his art displays “bold, expressive imagery” or that he “mixes carefully detailed renderings with abstracted expressions of emotional struggle.” I agree with all of that but no one mentions his faces and hands. The patterns here are striking and upon closer inspection they yield such marvelous details it wouldn’t take much for this art to spin wildly out of control, opting for an abstract approach to the proceedings as a whole. Instead, Turk centers his art through the hands and faces of his characters. Look closely and you’ll see what I mean. The old storyteller’s hands are gnarled and wonderfully expressive, even as his audience of one clutches a single brass bowl. The hands of a cunning neighbor stroke her child as she schemes, while a princess, escaping on the night before her wedding, holds up her hennaed hands in despair. Hands. Heads. Hearts.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about diversity in children’s literature. Specifically, some of that discussion has concerned those books written by white people about other cultures. It’s not a new phenomenon but what is a bit new is the increasing understanding that if you are going to use another culture, you need to do your homework. If, for example, you are setting a story in Morocco, then you need to make the readers understand why you made that choice. That it wasn’t arbitrary. This is yet another of the many reasons I’m so impressed with Turk’s work here. That he sets his story in Morocco (contemporary Morocco, by the look of it) is deeply purposeful. The Author’s Note at the end explains further. From this we learn that Morocco’s public storytellers or hlaykia have told tales for “nearly one thousand years” and yet “Only a handful of master storytellers remain”. All is not lost, though. Renewed interest in storytelling has surfaced, specifically at a restaurant called Café Clock in Marrakech. Turk then closes with a small Bibliography of sources on everything from storytelling to carpet weaving. The book then is not an appropriation of an “exotic” culture done on a whim but rather a considered, thoughtful selection that serves as an ideal setting for a tale about storytelling then, now, and in the future.
It was once part of a children’s librarian’s training to know how to tell a story from memory. Here in America it was even considered part of a children’s librarian's heritage, though in the last few decades it has been fast forgotten. There are still pockets that remember, though. That’s why books like Turk’s give me the oddest little sense of hope. As I mentioned before, storytelling everywhere is seeing renewed interest. It seems odd to say, but this book, wrapped as it is in classic motifs and themes dating back hundreds, even thousands, of years, is one of the freshest, most timely picture books I’ve had the honor to read in a long time. Visually stunning with a storyline to match, Turk is beginning to make good on his talents. This is a man with storytelling in his blood and bones. Our children reap the rewards. A can’t miss book.
For ages 4-8.
Pros: A beautiful tale that explores the power of stories in humans’ lives. The unique blue-and-gold themed illustrations may put this book on the Caldecott contenders’ list.
Cons: While this has the feel of a folktale, it is not a traditional story. The publisher calls it “an original folktale”. A bit difficult to classify the genre.