The Girl Who Spun Gold by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

Suggested reading level: Ages 4-8

Folktales of little men who help women spin thread or straw into gold are told with different variations throughout the world. “Rumpelstiltskin” is probably the best known, but this book retells a West Indian version.

Quashiba and her mother are spinning thread in the shade of a tree when Big King rides past. Quashiba’s mother brags to the king that her daughter can spin fields of fine gold thread. The king decides that he will marry Quashiba, but warns her that after one year and one day of marriage she must begin spinning the golden thread and fill three whole rooms. Of course, the time eventually comes and he locks her into the room one night. He actually padlocks the door, telling her that if she doesn’t do it she will stay locked in forever.

A tiny, ugly man floats into the room and tells Quashiba that he will help her make the golden things, with one catch.

“You have three nights to try, and three chances each night. And if you can’t guess my name by the final night and the last chance, then I will make you tiny, just like me. I will carry you off to live in my shade!” (pg.11)

The little man does make all the gold necessary, but Quashiba can’t guess his name. Luckily, though, the king tells her about a queer little man he saw while out hunting. He also tells her the song the little fellow was singing, providing Quashiba the name she needs.

On the third day, after all the gold is made, Quashiba does guess the little man’s name.

Ah! See! Lit’mahn gave out a screech so loud, it turned the moon around. The hat jumped off his head. His ears fell off!

“POP-OP” he goes, in a million bitty flecks of gold that flowed into the night and disappeared. (pg. 23)

Quashiba may not have actually spun the gold and she may not have learned the little creatures name through her own cleverness, but she does have pride and doesn’t speak to the king for three years. Who can blame her? He threatened to leave her locked in a room forever. However, after the years of him begging for forgiveness, she eventually relents and they live “fairly happily ever after.”

I was familiar with the Rumplestiltskin story, but I wasn’t aware that there were similar stories in different cultures. I like that this version doesn’t have the scary little creep trying to take a baby. At least Quashiba is the only one who is really affected by her choice to accept his help. But she’s not much of a role model, she just gets lucky. I’m not sure what the lesson is either really. Maybe not lying about your abilities? But she ended up going from a presumably poor to queen, with no harm done except a few nights of worry. My bigger problem is that her husband was willing to keep her locked up. And she forgives him.

The illustrations are beautiful paintings that capture the spirit of the story wonderfully, specked with gold. Lit’Mahn is distorted and ugly, obviously not at all human. Quashiba is shown as a regal, beautiful woman, and I especially like the picture of her telling Lit’Mahn his name. You can just see her attitude in her stance and the finger she has pointed.

The text is perfect to read aloud. According to the author’s note in the back, she tried to reflect the colloquial, lilting West Indian speech.

Tif, from Tif Talks Books, is the hostess of this great feature, Fairy Tale Fridays. Head over there for her take on Rumpelstiltskin and to share your own thoughts. Next week, it’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Published in 2000.
40 pages.

Challenges: 100+, A to Z

My copy was borrowed from the library and the above is my honest opinion. I am an Amazon associate.


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