Tag Archives: Folk Tales

Big Dreams to Achieve: A Review of Oli the Old Owl

Oli the Old Owl by Lee Keene book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a young boy standing in a forest behind two houses. He’s looking at an owl that’s sitting in a tree whose leaves are gone. It’s winter and snow covers the ground. Title: Oli the Old Owl

Author: Lee Keene

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 29, 2021

Genres: Children’s, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 10 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A story of loneliness and fantasy.

Imagination transmogrifying into Reality!

A secret memory that only the little boy will know!

A quaint memory that will stay with the little Sanford.

The Winter of 1998.

December.

Manchester, Tennessee.

7-year old Sanford ambles about….

An active imagination that takes him far and wide!

Questions for which physically, he will probably never get answers to……probably.

Could Sanford encounter a woeful creature with thoughts and abilities to share?

His imagination leads him amongst the bucolic grounds of Coffee County…..

Stories of the Old Owl, who woefully wasted his life, while wishing and thinking.

This Old Owl named Oli.

Oli hides high amongst the trees.

His fears have bedeviled him, and crushed his vim and vigor.

Oli wanted something that very few will achieve, but refused to change.

His insecurity enwreathed him mentally, and would not leave him!

How long can Oli hide?

If Sanford and Oli were to meet, what thoughts might transmogrify?

Review:

Winter is the perfect time to reflect on the past.

I admired the author’s willingness to experiment with children’s fiction. Just about every other book I’ve ever seen that was written for this age groups was a picture book, but this one contained no pictures at all other than the one illustrating the cover. It was also fascinating to meet a character who had not achieved the goal he set so many years before. Stories written for this age groups usually show characters succeeding at whatever they put their minds to do even if they have to fail a few times in the process. These were only two of the ways in which the author purposefully broke the rules, and I found his choices intriguing and refreshing. There is definitely something to be said for modelling emotionally healthy ways to fail to such a young audience.

There wasn’t a great deal of plot development or conflict in this tale. Sanford and Oli spent a great deal of time talking about their feelings and comparing Sanford’s plans for his life with Oli’s disappointment at how things had turned out in his own life. As much as I appreciated seeing male characters talk about their feelings so openly and freely, I did find myself feeling restless with how slowly everything was turning out. It would have been helpful if these two characters had faced an obstacle either together or separately that reinforced their earlier conversations. When combined with the lack of pictures, the slow pace would make me reluctant to read this to young children who haven’t recently dealt with a failure of some kind.

The fantasy elements of the plot were subtle and gentle. They made it all feel like a fable at times, although it didn’t actually seem to be based on any pre-existing fables or legends so far as I could tell. This pattern repeated itself with the handful of Christmas references that were thrown into the storyline but never expounded upon. While this wasn’t a Christmas story per se, it also reminded me of the many different types of tales that are told during and about that season. There is definitely something to be said for leaving so much room up for interpretation as this was something I could see myself recommending to people who don’t celebrate Christmas or generally read the fantasy genre. The little hints of those elements were enough to appeal to those of us who enjoy reading about such topics  but not so much as to dissuade other audiences from giving it a try in my opinion.

Oli the Old Owl was a thought-provoking read.

A Review of A Fictional Fable of Ptolemy Throck and Bobby Piptwitch

Book cover for A Fictional Fable Of Ptolemy Throck and Bobby Piptwitch by Berenice Corney-Thompkins. Image on cover is a drawing of a frog-like creature wearing pants and a suit jacket, sitting on a stump, and looking at a butterfly.Title: A Fictional Fable Of Ptolemy Throck and Bobby Piptwitch (Fictional Fables Book 1)

Author: Berenice Corney-Thompkins

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 17, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Length: 20 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A charming tale of two frenemies and their one-upmanship, A Fictional Fable Of Ptolemy Throck and Bobby Piptwitch will delight children of all ages, and please their guardians too! With absorbing artwork, charismatic and crafty characters, palaverous and periphrastic pleonastic narrative and dialogue, the Fictional Fables series will appeal to fans of Victorian-era compositions as well as contemporary retroists!

Review:

Subtle is the name of the game here. 

I appreciated the way the narrator gently shared the message of Ptolemy’s adventure. He learned an important lesson along the way, but it was shared in such a way that the reader gradually realized what was happening at the same time he did. The storyline revealed certain facts along the way, but there never so much of a whiff of moralizing about it. Rather, the characters naturally grew and changed as a result of their experiences. That is a breath of fresh air in this genre, and I can only hope it becomes a much more common way to show readers the possible positive effects of their actions if they make certain choices in life. 

While I completely understand that this tale was written in a Victorian style that is rarely used in modern picture books, the vocabulary in it made it difficult for me to determine who the audience was and who I should be recommending it to. There were multiple words that many contemporary adults don’t know the definitions of, much less the early grade school audience I believe this was written for based on the content of the plot itself. If the target audience was clearer, I would have chosen a higher rating. 

With that being said, the subtext of this story was marvellous. Ptolemy might have appeared to be a fairly straightforward character at first, but there were more layers to his personality and understanding of social nuance than I first assumed. My favourite scene happened at the end when the audience finally gets a peek behind his happy-go-lucky persona. This was one of the major reasons why I assumed this was actually meant for adults and confused by how it was marketed. 

If you enjoy mature picture books with multiple layers of meanings, A Fictional Fable Of Ptolemy Throck and Bobby Piptwitch is a good place to start. 

 

Searching for Answers: A Review of Remote Control

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor book cover. Image on cover shows a photo of a young Afrian woman superimposed on a tree and some robotic gear on her torso.Title: Remote Control

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: January 19, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 156 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From here on in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

Review:

Content warning: Violence, blood, menstruation, death of parents, death of a child. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

There’s never been a meteor shower quite like this one before.

This novella freely wandered between genres and settings. It was a folk tale set in the modern day. The dreamy fantasy elements of the plot sometimes wandered into science fiction territory. It had drones and cell phones, but it also had possibly magical creatures who followed Sankofa around everywhere. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I was often left guessing what might happen next.

Occasionally, I wished Sankofa would have been more straightforward about the connection between the strange seed that fell from the sky during a meteor shower and her becoming the adopted daughter of Death itself. Getting to know her better eventually changed my mind on this topic. Sankofa was quite young when these events happened, so it made sense that she didn’t explain them the same way an adult would. I won’t stop hoping for a sequel that might dive deeply into this part of the world building, but the way it was explained ultimately did make sense given who Sankofa was and what she’d been through.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored what the main character learned during the course of her travels. Her experience with the seed gave her magical powers that even many adults would struggle to understand, and there was no one around to teach her how to use or control them. Seeing Sankofa gradually figure out the rules of her abilities was nearly as satisfying as watching her learn to accept what had happened to her and begin to take the first confident steps into adulthood.

Remote Control was a wonderful novella that should be read by new and old fans of Okorafor’s work alike.

The Day Before Christmas Eve: A Review of The Yule Cat

The Yule Cat - a Christmas Short Story by Eldritch Black book cover. Image on coer shows drawing of a blue cat sitting in the snow outside of a village at night. The cat is staring ahead at the reader. Title: The Yule Cat – a Christmas Short Story

Author: Eldritch Black

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 25, 2020

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Holidays

Length: 46 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Strange, scary rumors are flying about the tiny, snowy town below the mountains. Some say a tiger sprang loose from a circus train and roams the snowy meadows. Some say it stalks in the wintry forests. Some say it’s a monster. 

But feisty Maisie Crompton knows that can’t be true. Such things never happen in their sleepy alpine village. 
Or do they?

For soon, Maisie finds herself crossing the path of a spine-chilling legend. The Yule Cat; a fearsome mythical beast collecting snacks for his winter feast. And should Maisie fail in the cat-and-mouse hunt that follows, she might well become the next morsel on his menu…

From the author of Krampus and The Thief of Christmas, The Yule Cat is a short Christmas story brimming with magic, trolls, spooky mythology, and fun and festive chills for readers of all ages

Review:

Be careful what you wish for.

If only I could read that introduction to this review to Maisie! Her envious attitude in the first scene certainly gave me a strong impression of her. I sympathized with her frustration over having to count every last cent so carefully. The holidays are a tough time to be poor, especially for a kid who is watching her best friend show off an expensive new coat. I know the narrator probably wanted us to hope Maisie would learn a valuable lesson about gratitude for what one has. While I had those thoughts as well, I also hoped she’d get a wonderful Christmas gift that matched all of her dreams.

There were a few things about the climax of this story that didn’t quite make sense to me, especially when it came to exactly what Jólakötturinn (The Yule Cat) was capable of. It was never clear to me exactly what the limits of his powers were. Sometimes he seemed capable of things that he hadn’t been a scene before, so I was never sure what to expect from him. It would have been nice to have a firmer understanding of this creature as he was definitely a scary one!

The world building was handled nicely. I appreciated the fact that the author explained a little bit about the backstory of Jólakötturinn for anyone who wasn’t already familiar with that. That attention to detail continued on with the descriptions of the other characters, too. All of their histories were important in order to fully understand how Maisie ended up in such a dangerous predicament on December 23.

Let me end this review with my favourite quote from this tale. It captured the themes of it all nicely.

“He grows when he senses fear, and shrinks when he’s content.”

In Pursuit of Justice: A Review of The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale

Book cover for The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale by T J Therien. Image on cover is of an arrow with a green background. Title:The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale

Author: T J Therien

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 30, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical

Length: 83 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

The story as you know it is a lie. Discover the true origins of the Robin Hood legend in this fast paced Novella that takes our titular character back to the roots of the early ballads.

Review:

Content warning: violence, murder, and attempted rape. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Everyone deserves justice.

I appreciated how courageous many of the characters were, especially when it came to fourteen-year-old Robyn and Wilma, the woman who saved her from a pretty dangerous situation in one of the earliest chapters. The era they lived in definitely wasn’t a kind one for women or anyone living on the margins of society for reasons I’ll leave up to other readers to discover for themselves. It was cool to see them look out for one another in an environment where drawing attention to oneself could have so many negative repercussions.

This story had a large cast of characters that I had trouble keeping track of. There simply wasn’t enough room for me to get to know everyone well enough to immediately know who they were and how they were connected to everyone else when they popped up again after not being part of the plot for a while. It would have been nice to focus on a smaller number of folks and maybe save the rest for a sequel, if such a thing is in the works.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones showing how Robyn, Wilma, and the other people who met up with them worked together to solve problems that seemed insurmountable. These weren’t the types of folks who the money or social connections to pull strings behind the scenes. Every bit of justice they hoped to seek would only come about through cooperation, a ton of hard work, and maybe a little luck as well. Those are exactly the sort of heroes I enjoy reading about.

Anyone who loves the original Robin Hood tales should check out The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale.