Tales retold

10th November 2000 at 00:00
ENCHANTMENT: fairy tales, ghost stories and tales of wonder. By Kevin Crossley-Holland. Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. Orion Children's Books pound;12.99

There's little comfort in these 20 dark, mysterious tales from all over England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, gathered from the short, hard lives of generations past and some present.

Better-known retellings such as "Mossycoat" or "The Frog Prince", mingle with the lesser-known but equally powerful, such as "The Cow That Ate The Piper" (the shocking tale of a piper who steals a dead man's feet for the new shoes on them) and the gravedigger's dream "King of the Cats". Crossley-Holland's earthy, muscular prose is well matched by Chichester Clark's taut, evocative pictures.

IRISH MYTHS: Finn MacCoul and his fearless wife. By Robert Byrd. Macdonald Young Books pound;4.99. THE NAMES UPON THE HARP: Irish myths and legend. By Marie Heaney. Illustrated by P J Lynch. Faber and Faber pound;14.99

Byrd's version of the Finn myth is a colourful, graphic, rousing account of the warrior's encounter with Cucullin, the giant of Scotland, and the intervention of Finn's brave wife, Oonagh. A light-hearted treatment of the text with plenty to smile at in the glorious illustrations.

Contrast this with the much more lyrical, heroic, bloody and dramatic retelling of early Irish literature by Heaney, wife of the poet Seamus, accompanied by the dark, brooding watercolours of Lynch.

This collection, which includes a previously unpublished poem, "Summer" by Seamus Heaney, is divided into the Mythological, the Ulster and the Fenian cycles set out by literary scholarship. The savagery and power of these stories burst out in this admirable colletion.

ROMAN MYTHS SERIES. By Geraldine McCaughrean. Illustrated by Tony Ross. Orchard Books pound;6.99 each

An excellent series, with wonderful pairings of stories, such as Romulus and Remus and Stolen Wives or City of Dreams and Adventures in the Underworld, made wholly entertaining and accessible by McCaughrean's lively and lucid prose and Ross's quick-fire, expressive and witty line drawings. Newly fluent readers can benefit from this no-nonsense, refreshing approach to the myths that underpin much of Western literature. The latest batch of titles includes Athena and the Olive Tree and Zeus Conquers the Titans.

PARABLES: stories Jesus Told. By Mary Hoffman. Illustrated by Jackie Morris. Frances Lincoln pound;10.99

Hoffman tackles some of Jesus's most challenging parables, such as the story of the landowner who pays the same wages to the vineyard workers who do a little work at the end of the day and those who have laboured hard all day. The complexity of these stories is given powerful expression in Morris's beautifully composed, emotionally charged illustrations. Hoffman acknowledges that the meaning in some of these tales is "hard to accept", but offers a series of questions as a useful guide into the meat of them for key stage 2 pupils.

WE GODDESSES. By Doris Orgel. Illustrated by Marilee Heyer. Dorling Kindersley pound;12.99

A feminist perspective on the Greek myths in a series of personal accounts by Athena, goddess of wisdom, Aphrodite, goddess of love and Hera, goddess of marriage. Marilee Heyer's illustrations, derivative of Pre-Raphaelite art, aptly accompany the opulent, sensual characteristics of the text. Informative, imaginative and often amusing.

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