Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World, written by Lari Don and illustrated by Francesca Greenwood, is a collection of thirteen folktales in a wide range of time and place. While the language is a little flat, for the most part I found it an enjoyable read. And it’s yet another alternative to all those princess-rescued-by-the-boy-hero that used to be the norm.
The cultures/regions included are:
The tales are relatively short, ranging from six to twelve pages, with most in the 6-8 range. They therefore move along sprightly and, in usual folktale mode, don’t spend a lot of time on description, either with regard to character or setting. I wouldn’t have minded just a little more of the latter due to the global nature of the collection, but that doesn’t mean the tales are stripped of their cultural touch points. For instance, the main character in the Chinese story “Chi and the Seven-headed Dragon” makes inventive use of sticky rice to defeat the creature that has been appeased by weekly sacrifices of young girls.
Meanwhile, in “Inanna and the Box of Monsters,” an old Sumerian myth, we get some nicely unusual monsters (instead of the usual western ones), such as the “enkum,” who:
was blued, like the sea on a sunny day, and covered in long hair all over his body … wiry and curly and [it] wound around anything near the enkum.
Kids will, of course, recognize the French version of Little Red Riding Hood, though its focus on Red using having to go to the bathroom as a means of escape (“If I sit on the bed, I’ll have a little accident. I’ll wet the bed, then the quilt will be all damp and stinky.”) will offer some funny freshness. And the ending will most likely throw those who know only the tamer versions for a loop, with the very matter of fact explanation that “There was no happily ever after for her granny, because no one has ever really come out of a wolf’s body alive.”
In fact, my one caution is that there is a good amount of death and darkness in here, such as Red’s poor grandmother and all those girls fed to the dragon before Chi kills it. In the Venezuelan story, “Kopecho and the Two Suns,” the main girl volunteers to kill one of the two suns that are drying out the planet, luring it into a deep pit and standing by as “the sun screamed as he fell.” Ouch.
I wouldn’t have minded, as I said, a bit more richness of language and sentence structure, a little more sensory detail. But the style is certainly fine for not only a folktale but also for reading aloud to young children. Except for the caveat about some of the darker moments, Girls and Goddesses makes for a nice pick up for just that purpose, or for young readers on their own.