June 2003

A world of inspiring tales for boys

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Acclaimed storyteller Jane Yolen opens this powerful collection of 14 folktales with a letter to her sons and grandson: "This book is for you because for the longest time boys didn't know that being a hero was more than whomping and stomping the bad guy. They didn't understand that brains trump brawn almost every time; that being smart makes the battle shorter, the kingdom nearer, the victory brighter, and the triumph greater." Yolen is right. The young heroes of the folktales collected in this attractive volume demonstrate that cultures around the world have always valued compassion, intelligence and kindness. The stories span the globe, from China to Norway, Burma to America, Afghanistan to Finland. Each includes a striking, full-page illustration by artist Raul Colon. As an added bonus, the collection contains notes on the origin of each tale, as well as a bibliography.

In the opening story from China, titled "The Magic Brocade," Wang Xing, the youngest son of a weaver, turns down an offer of gold and instead risks his life for the happiness of his mother, whose beloved brocade has been lost. Unlike his older brothers, Wang Xing is willing to ride over the Mountain of Flame and through the Ice Sea to recover the brocade. Both he and his mother are richly rewarded for his loyalty and bravery.

One of my favorite stories in the collection, "The Young Man Protected by the River," is from Angola. In this tale, Kingungu, a young orphan, has become a slave to a heartless master. But Kingungu finds hope in a nearby river, which comes to him in his dreams, telling him that he will find three baskets in the water. In this story about making the right decisions, our hero chooses well, picking the smallest basket, which gives him "medicine-things" the tools and knowledge he needs to become a healer. With this knowledge, the boy is able not only to do good for others but to buy himself out of slavery. Yolen reminds her readers of the story's theme: "Remember to follow your dream." A perfect gift for any occasion, this collection is sure to help boys do just that.



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