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The Magic Storysinger
From the Finnish Epic Tale Kalevala
Retold and Illustrated by M.E.A McNeil
From Judy Silverman - Children's Literature
Most Americans know very little about Finland or about its heroic book of stories called the Kalevala. This book aims to remedy that lack of knowledge. The story of the hero Vaino and his love for an Air Maiden who sets tasks for him is told here in a simple, lively style well suited for an epic. Heroes travel and are injured, rest and are healed, learn about the world and its treasures. Beautiful maidens love and are loved, set tasks and see tasks completed. Death's daughter brings the hero to her mother, who traps him with a spell that puts him in a "drowsy swoon." The geese have taught him a transforming spell, so he escapes from Death's domain; the deer have taught him an escape spell, so he finds his way home. The illustrations fit the words perfectly, giving us a haunting picture of this far northern land. "The magic is in the songs, the songs are within the storysinger, and the storysinger is within ourselves." A terrific read-aloud for all ages.
From Publisher's Weekly
This retelling of the Finnish epic Kalevala unfolds a search for true love against an elaborate blend of myth and sorcery. Vaino, born to the daughter of the air, is an old man when, via unorthodox procedures, he comes out of his mother's womb ("He turned the lock with his toe, slid the bolt with his finger, crawled through the door, and with his knees he pushed himself headlong into the ocean"). A storysinger with a talent for magic, he has only to sing his desires for them to be realized, and yet he is unable to convince young women of his charm. His first love leaps into the sea to avoid marriage to him, while the second demands seemingly impossible tasks before taking a blacksmith as her husband. Incorporated into Vaino's adventures are Finnish creation tales, legends about the origins of fire, iron and the wealth of Finland, until the narrative is a patchwork of stories. The text is overly complicated at first, but humor and vivacious language eventually assert themselves as it becomes clearer that Vaino's is a mustical, magical realm where anything might happen. Stylized gouaches in unusual shades capture both the comic and mythic undertones. All ages.
Flavorful -- As a storyteller, I was most impressed. Lots of translations are out there -- some too scholarly to want to wade through, and some too dumbed down. McNeil's version is a pleasure. It keeps the flavor and tone of the epic and its poetry in a very tellable style.
A difficult myth, now accessible for young readers -- This rendition of the Finnish epic won the Aesop Accolade Prize from the Children's Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society. I am in awe of the clear and authentic storyline relayed in this publication, knowing the complex nature of the original narration.