The Ballad of Belle Dorcas by William H. Hooks,
illustrated by Brian Pinkney
(Suggested reading level: Grades 2 - 4)
This is a wonderful re-telling of a traditional American story, but one I've never heard before. According to the author, this is one of the many "conjure" tales he was told when he was a child in the tidewater area of rural North Carolina. He remember listening with "awe and tantalizing shivers."
Belle Dorcas is free issue, the daughter of a slave woman and her master who was granted her freedom at birth. She works in the master's home, but her mom is dreaming of the day when Belle will marry a free issue man and live in her own home on her own land. Despite being courted by a number of eligible free men, Belle falls in love with a slave, Joshua, and gains permission to marry him. She gives up everything for love. When a new master plans to sell Joshua,...
"The Ice Maiden" by Hans Christian Andersen
This is one of the longer works of Andersen and one of the longest fairy tales we've looked at. It tells the story of Rudy, who we first meet as a little boy selling toy houses his grandfather makes. We learn that both his parents are dead, his mother killed when she fell into a glacial crevice. She had been holding the infant Rudy at the time but he was saved. This was the first "kiss" by the ice maiden who is determined to possess him.
It is she whose mighty power can crush the traveller to death, and arrest the flowing river in its course. She is also a child of the air, and with the swiftness of the chamois she can reach the snow-covered mountain tops, where the boldest mountaineer has to cut footsteps in the ice to ascend. She will sail on a frail pine-twig over the raging torrents beneath, and spring...
"Thumbling" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
The story of Thumbling is an odd little fairy tale. It starts like many others with a couple wishing they had a child. At last their wish is granted, although their son is only as long as a thumb. He's not helpless however, and convinces his father to sell him to two strangers who plan to exhibit him in a town. Thumbling escapes from those two only to decide to hitch a ride with a pair of robbers. He tells them that he will help them steal from a pastor, but when the get to the home, Thumbling disrupts their plan. Not that it does him any good. He ends up getting eaten by a cow and after he screams loud enough the cow is killed because the pastor thinks it is possessed. Unfortunately, before Thumbling can escape from the stomach, the stomach is taken by a wolf who eats it. Thumbling speaks to the...
"The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Andersen
Earlier this year, I asked people to share what their favorite Christmas story is and several mentioned this tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It's one I've heard of but I'm not sure that I ever actually read it before.
The Little March Girl is a poor child wandering the streets trying to sell her matches, since begging was illegal during Andersen's time. It's New Year's Eve and horribly cold; she has no shoes, no hat, and she's shivering, but she can't go home because she will surely be beat for not bringing any money back.
The tired girl sits down in a corner formed by the walls of two houses. She finally takes out a single match and lights it to warms her hand by. Then she sees the first of three visions, a large warm iron stove. With the second match, she sees a roast goose, a traditional holiday meal that her family could...
"The Elves and the Shoemaker"
by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
This is one of three elf stories that follow each other in the Grimm's Household Tales. This one is the funnest to me and it takes place just before Christmas, so it's appropriate to the season.
There a poor shoemaker who has only enough leather to make one more pair of shoes. He cuts the shoes out in the evening and goes to bed. The next morning when he went to start his work, two finished shoes were on the worktable. The quality was superb and the shoemaker was able to sell them for more than the usual price, allowing him to buy leather for two pairs of shoes. Once again, he cut them out the night before and in the morning they are finished. He sells them for more than usual again and buys more leather, and on and on it goes until the shoemaker and his wife are quite wealthy.
"The Snowman" by Hans Christian Andersen
This is such a sad story. It starts with a snowman enjoying the nice crisp winter air, and then a bitter old dog comes around and starts to taunt the snowman. The dog first tells the snowman that the sun will make him melt eventually and then directs the snowman's attention to the stove indoors. From there, it becomes a tale of unrequited love.
During the whole day the Snow Man stood looking in through the window, and in the twilight hour the room became still more inviting, for from the stove came a gentle glow, not like the sun or the moon; no, only the bright light which gleams from a stove when it has been well fed. When the door of the stove was opened, the flames darted out of its mouth; this is customary with all stoves. The...