Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

Stunning illustrations and characters of color make this Cinderella-story stand above the rest.

by John Steptoe
Caldecott Honor Book
Picture book, fiction
Interest level: elementary
5 out of 5 stars

John Steptoe’s detailed and rich illustrations grab your attention from the very start. For me, they turned an okay version of a Cinderella story into a more worthwhile reading experience. His intricate lines and rich colors match the elegant style of the tale he was inspired to write.

I am somewhat unclear about how authentic Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters is to the genre of African tales. A paragraph at the start of the book indicates that it is merely the inspiration for Steptoe’s book, so I would caution against using this book as an example of an African folktale.

I do see that it would be a great addition to a study of Cinderella-stories. The story of conflict between siblings to be chosen by royalty is seen in many children’s books, but the main characters are usually white. Steptoe features black characters and the image of African royalty, which needs to be seen in more folktales and literature studies.

The Princess and the Warrior

Duncan Tonatiuh crafts his own version of the origin story of the two volcanoes that are located just outside of Mexico City.

Picture book, folktale
Interest level: K-5; Reading level: 2.9
Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor, 2017
5 out of 5 stars

Outside of Mexico City there are two majestic volcanoes, Iztaccihautl and Popcatepetl. Duncan Tonatiuh tells the legend of their origin in a well-crafted picture book that pays tribute to the images found in the ancient Mixtec codices. In the Author’s Note in the back of the book, Tonatiuh outlines the research behind the creation of the book, and a bibliography is included.

The story focuses on the love between a beautiful and kind princess named Izta and a brave soldier named Popoca. Many suitors traveled from far away trying to woo Izta with expensive and rare gifts, but she was not interested in them. Even though she was a princess, she preferred to spend her time with people in the field, teaching them poetry.

Popoca comes to see her and promises to love her for who she is and to always stay by her side no matter what. They fall in love, but the king wants Popoca to prove himself worthy to marry his daughter. So Popoca goes off to battle an enemy tribe. As the enemy is about to be defeated, they hatch a plan to defeat Popoca’s spirit and send word to Izta that he has died in battle. Believing this lie, she drinks a potion and falls into a sleep that she cannot be awoken from.

When Popoca returns victorious, he is distraught to find his love could not wake up, so he carries her to the top of a mountain believing that the cool air will revive her. As he laid her on the mountaintop, he knelt beside her and refused to move, even when the snows came and covered them both.

In time, where once there was a princess with her true love by her side, two volcanoes emerged. One is known as Iztaccihuatl, or sleeping woman. The other one is known as Popocatepetl, or smoky mountain. Iztaccihuatl continues to sleep. But Popocateptl spews ashes and smoke from time to time, as if attempting to wake his sleeping princess.

Throughout the story, Tonatiuh has included some foreign words in the Nahuatl language, since that is the language that Popoca and Izta would have spoken. A glossary is in the back to provide translations.

This is a well-done origin story that should be included with any lesson on stories in the oral tradition. Tonatiuh’s attention to detail with regard to the illustrations and language make this book stand above others.

The Princess and the Warrior
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4197-2130-4

My Grandfather’s Coat

This is a very well-done retelling of a Yiddish folksong, “I Had a Little Overcoat.”

My Grandfather’s Coat
retold by Jim Aylesworth; illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Scholastic Press, 2014
ISBN 978-0-439-92545-7
Picture book, fiction, folksong
32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Dewey: 398.2
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.4
Lexile measure: 910
YHBA 2016-2017 picture book nominee
4 out of 5 stars

My Grandfather’s Coat is a retelling of a Yiddish folksong, “I Had a Little Overcoat.” The story begins with a young man coming to America on a ship. We see him posing as they pass in front of the Statue of Liberty. This boy becomes a tailor, meets a woman, and asks her to marry him. When she agrees, he makes a handsome blue coat to wear on his wedding day. He wears the coat until he wears it out, and then he cuts it smaller and makes a jacket.

The story features several repeated refrains. The first repeats:

My grandfather loved the jacket, and he wore it, and he wore it. And little bit by little bit, he frayed it, and he tore it, until at last…he wore it out!

Once he wears it out, the second repeated refrain begins:

He went right to work, and he snipped, and he clipped, and he stitched, and he sewed, and out of the still-good cloth of his smart jacket, he made…”

The fabric transforms from coat, to jacket, to vest, to tie, to kittens’ toy, to a cozy nest, until at last it is nothing at all, except as remembered in this story.

Barbara McClintock’s ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly accompany the story. There is an old-fashioned feel to the style which matches the folk story. McClintock has also done an excellent job aging the characters in the story in realistic and recognizable ways. She has also incorporated changing fashions and changes in the grandfather’s sewing machines to show the progression of time.

Children will enjoy this addition to the folk story genre because of the repetition and the transformation of the coat. Young children can predict what the next version of the garment may be.