Telling moments

30th January 1998 at 00:00
STRANGE AND SPOOKY STORIES. Retold by Andrew Fusek Peters. Illustrated by Zdenka Kabatova-Taborska. Barefoot Pounds 12.99

TALES OF WONDER AND MAGIC. Collected by Berlie Doherty. Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. Walker Pounds l2.99

FAVOURITE FAIRY TALES. Retold by Sarah Hayes. Illustrated by P J Lynch. Walker Pounds 12.99

BREAKING THE SPELL: TALES OF ENCHANTMENT. Selected by Sally Grindley. Illustrated by Susan Field. Kingfisher Pounds 12.99

AESOP'S FUNKY FABLES. By Vivian French. Illustrated by Korky Paul. Hamish Hamilton Pounds 12.99

Traditional stories are alive and well. Geoff Fox selects the most enticing collections and, left, catches up with a master storyteller.

I like the words to sing like the words of songs, and the stories to linger in my head like music," writes Berlie Doherty in introducing her Tales of Wonder and Magic. All these collections of stories have the power to echo in the minds of young readers and listeners, if not always through the rhythms of their prose and verse, then through illustrations which range from the haunting to the exuberant.

In Strange and Spooky Stories, Andrew Fusek Peters's skill as an oral storyteller is evident in his retellings of traditional tales some from Britain, several from Central Europe. There are repeated patterns, lean narratives, vital speech and often stark conclusions leaving the reader to wonder over what is left unsaid. Zdenka Kab tov -T borsk , the Czech illustrator, matches the stories with stylised figures and landscapes conjuring that sense of "otherness" which is a potent element of tales from distant cultures; no matter how young, we may be helped by stories to define ourselves through differences as much as similarities.

You could read Peters's stories aloud in the classroom with enormous pleasure, or you could readily adapt them for your own re-tellings and leave the book around for those who want to revisit a story in their own time.

Much the same is true of Tales of Wonder and Magic, Berlie Doherty's selection of retellings from writers such as Virginia Hamilton, Gillian Clarke and Helen Waddell. Many are classics: "The Black Bull of Norroway", "The Seal Wife" and "Tamlane", for example. These versions are already in print elsewhere, but their availability in a single collection is very welcome, especially as they are magically enhanced by the illustrations of Juan Wijngaard. He marries style to locale, from Aboriginal Australia to Black America to the Pacific Coast of the Native Canadian.

Narrow vertical border paintings carry motifs culled from the story. The full page images are often eerily beautiful, even disturbing in the manner of Hieronymous Bosch.

Walker's Favourite Fairy Tales is an invaluable reissue. Of all the fairy tale collections, it is arguably the most memorable and most enticing. P J Lynch has the same classic power to mesmerise young eyes as Arthur Rackham.

Breaking the Spell, in contrast, is made up largely of newly commissioned stories by such writers as Joan Aiken and Jamila Gavin; but the tales have a traditional feel with their sharp contrasts of folly and wisdom, loyalty and treachery, pride and humility - and not a trace of moralising. Vivian French's contribution reads particularly well aloud, and this quality characterises her Aesop's Funky Fables, a title which should not deter buyers.

Her prose is alive with comic energy, and she uses rhymes, raps, and refrains that insist upon youthful participation. Classrooms will light up, given a teacher with a weakness for performance.

Korky Paul's leering wolves, grinning foxes and spinning hares whirl frenetically around the words, balanced by the occasional lugubrious tortoise or flock of sheepish sheep. There's no drawing breath until the last gasp of the last line.

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