My thanks to the Quarto Group and Edelweiss for a review copy of the book.

A World Full of Nature Stories: 50 Folktales and Legends is a beautiful collection of traditional stories, folk tales, and legends from pretty much every corner of the globe, and all of which are centred on different aspects of nature—be they trees and flowers, the seasons, the elements, the skies, the waters, the earth itself or the many creatures, great and small that inhabit it. Divided in seven sections based on their theme (for instance, ‘Fruit, Flower and Seed’, ‘Desert, Mountain, Stone’), these are short and beautifully illustrated stories of magic, legend and wisdom, with some lovely imagery—humans of course but also fairies and flowers, gods and goddesses, the sun and the moon—sometimes in their ‘natural’ state, but at others, anthropomorphised in garments of velvet and gossamer.

Some of these, as is the case of many traditional tales and legends, seek to explain natural phenomenon—the two icy masses on either pole, for instance, or why the seasons are as they are, why oxpeckers eat the ticks and parasites off giraffes, or why buffaloes don’t have upper teeth (I still am ashamed that I just discovered this fact so very recently—thank you Enid Blyton!), or how thunder and lightning or even mist came about. Many also incorporate the sentiment about respecting nature (which one can in my view never reinforce enough times)—such as trees in ‘Mikku and the Trees’ (Estonia) and ‘The Tree God’ (India), while some have the more typical moral messages associated with children’s tales like ‘The Twelve Months’ (Czech Republic), or ‘Honest Penny’ (Norway) (the Honest Penny was an especial favourite, both for the story itself and because it has a cat!). I liked that while these are children’s stories and told for children, they don’t necessarily ‘tell’ their message, but simply show it leaving it to the reader to understand.

It was also good to see the extent of representation in this collection of stories—we have tales from varied places and parts of the world, whether it be Estonia, India, or New Zealand, Ireland, the South Pacific, Ethiopia, Iran and Palestine. I also appreciated that even from India, there is a story from the Khasis in the North East of the country (which even we in India don’t hear so often) while from other parts of the world too, indigenous stories find a space as well.

One of the Pages, via Edelweiss; sadly, they only have the paler toned ones as samples that I could copy; overall, we have very bright, vivid pictures, which I loved

The book includes both familiar and unfamiliar stories—among ones I knew were ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ of course, ‘The Twelve Months’, ‘Stone Soup’ (Portugal), and ‘Fire on the Mountain’ (Ethiopia). (Incidentally, this version of Jack and the Beanstalk’ had elements that were new to me, which was interesting to see.)  The inclusion of ‘The Bee, the Mouse and the Beetle’ which is a version of Jack and the Beanstalk from Ireland, and the hints of familiarity one finds in stories from other cultures are certainly a testament to a shared past.

This review wouldn’t be complete without saying a word, in fact many words, in praise of the lovely illustrations. These are as the book describes them ‘hand-painted with watercolours on cold press paper’ (which, thank you Google), makes artwork less pigmented and more aesthetic. But technicalities apart, I absolutely loved the illustrations—we have some lovely vivid colours which really stand out. I think these would look gorgeous in the actual print version, adding a lot to the book.

A lovely collection which its intended readership would certainly enjoy, but also adults who like dipping into children’s books from time to time or reading folk tales and traditional stories.   

Review copy: kindle ed via Edelweiss; Frank Lincoln Children’s Books, 128pp; 3 May 2022

8 thoughts on “Book Review: A World Full of Nature Stories: 50 Folk Tales and Legends by Angela McAllister (author) and Hannah Bess Ross (illustrator)

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