Monday, March 8, 2010

Women in Folklore Month: Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World

Today I'm highlighting one of the more extensive collections of fairy tales to feature "strong, smart, brave heroines." Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World by Kathleen Ragan is multicultural, not limiting itself to European fairy tales.

The reader reviews are varied on this book, but it is a solid addition to the field and remains on my shelf. The primary criticism is that the heroines are not strong enough but the tales should be taken in the context of their cultures and history. These are not modern feminist stories of inspiration, mind you, but tales that have inspired women way before feminism was a movement.

Product Description from the publisher:

One hundred great folk tales and fairy tales from all over the world about strong, smart, brave heroines. A definitive sourcebook of folktales and fairytales and the first of its kind to feature a variety of multicultural heroines. Dismayed by the predominance of male protagonists in her daughters' books, Kathleen Ragan set out to collect the stories of our forgotten heroines: courageous mothers, clever young girls, and warrior women who save villages from monsters, rule wisely over kingdoms, and outwit judges, kings, and tigers. Gathered from around the world, from regions as diverse as sub-Saharan Africa and Western Europe, from North and South American Indian cultures and New World settlers, from Asia and the Middle East, these 100 folktales celebrate strong female heroines. In "The Mirror of Matsuyama," we see the power of a mother's love overcome even the silence imposed by death. In "Moremi and the Egunguns," a fearless girl faces messengers from the land of the dead. Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters is for all women who are searching to define who they are, to redefine the world and shape their collective sensibility. It is for men who want to know more about what it means to be a woman. It is for our daughters and our sons, so that they can learn to value all kinds of courage, courage in battle and the courage of love. It is for all of us to help build a more just vision of woman. Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters breaks new ground by reexamining our notions about heroism. This book will appeal to parents who want to foster positive role models for their children. An invaluable resource of multicultural heroines for any school library.

Review from Library Journal:

Disappointed by a lack of readily available folktales featuring women as heroines to read to her daughters, the well-traveled Ragan set about collecting tales from around the world for this anthology, which can be read and appreciated by youngsters and adults alike. More than 100 stories are included in the collection, which is arranged by broad geographic areas. Asia and the Pacific are widely represented, but there are only 14 stories from North and South America. Brief comments by the editor follow each story, and endnotes describe the sources. This convenient collection, more comprehensive than Maid of the North: Feminist Folk Tales from Around the World (1981), for example, is appropriate for school, public, and academic collections. Patricia A. Beaber, Trenton State Coll. Lib., Lawrenceville, NJ

Review from Booklist:

Troubled by the scarcity of female protagonists of any kind in children's books, let alone strong, smart, and resourceful heroines, Ragan transformed her search for good stories to read to her young daughter into a full-scale research project, reviewing some 30,000 folk and fairy tales from all around the world. The 100 she selected to create this jewel of an anthology feature "courageous mothers, clever young girls, and warrior women," heroines that save lives and bring peace to their communities not through brute strength, although endurance is a frequent feat, but through creativity, intelligence, eloquence, wisdom, kindness, perseverance, and loyalty. Ragan is to be commended for her diligence and good taste: she has found captivating stories about wonderfully shrewd and fearless heroines from all across Europe, including Iceland, Scotland, Greece, and Yugoslavia, as well as Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, and the Pacific. Ragan's concise yet discerning commentary follows each tale, making this affirming and long overdue collection as edifying as it is entertaining. Donna Seaman

I will be featuring several books about women and fairy tales or folklore throughout the month. You can preview several of them at Women and Fairy Tales on Amazon Listmania.

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