Friday, December 10, 2010

34. Stories to Tell: Two Collections

The Teddy Robinson Storybook,written and illustrated by Joan G. Robinson, Kingfisher, $13.99, ages 4-8, 240 pages. First published in 1953, Robinson's delightful stories about a big, comfortable teddy bear and his adoring little girl are as cozy to read aloud as a Winnie the Pooh tale. In this newly published collection, Teddy loves to do anything Deborah positions him to do, whether it's bending over a book pretending to read words or trying to count blossoms on an almond-tree after she lays him on his back for a nap. Being a bear and a stuffed one at that, Teddy can only do what he can and often his thoughts get muddled, such as when he tries to count almond blossoms but can't quite figure out how. "He couldn't count more than four because he only had two arms and two legs to count on, so he counted up to four a great many times over, and then he began counting backwards, and the wrong way round, and any way round that he could think of…"

Robinson's daughter, the original Deborah and the owner of the real Teddy Robinson, selected 15 of her favorite Teddy Robinson tales for the book as a tribute to her late mother, the author of many delightful books, including the Mary-Mary series and When Marnie Was There. Give this collection to any small child who has a teddy and her parents will be giddy to thank you. What a sweet way to end a day of play and to nurture all of the innocence of being little -- that magical outlook we protectively guard in our own children, in hope that they never have to grow up before they're ready.

The Storyteller's Secrets, by Tony Mitton, illustrated by Peter Bailey, David Fickling, $15.99, ages 9-12, 128 pages. One day while sitting at their favorite bench under a chestnut tree, twins Toby and Tess see the silhouette of a raggedy man with a twisty old staff walking toward them in the distance. Before they know it, the figure has flumped down on the bench next to them and let out a grateful sigh. The old wanderer introduces himself as Teller, and his eyes twinkle with mystery and mischief. He tells them that squirrels snatched his lunch, and the twins immediately offer to share what their mother packed for them. In return, Teller tells them a story in ballad form about a woodcutter's daughter. From that day on, the twins encounter him many times, often when they least expect it, to hear short tales and receive five magical tokens that Teller says have "story power." One time it's a berry; another time, a scrap of cloak, another, string from a net. They look like rubbish, but Teller assures them they're more precious than gold. If they forget a story, he tells them, look at these treasures, feel them or smell them, and the story will come flooding back. Then one night, Tess has a dream that jewels are buried under the chestnut. When the twins go to the tree to look for it, they find Teller waiting for them on the bench; he's come to tell them a story about treasure, but how would he know what Tess dreamed? That day before leaving, Teller snaps off their last token, or "story speller," a tiny twig from his staff and shares with them a trick: hold onto the twig, he says, then shut your eyes and count to five. For a fleeting moment, gold coins appear, then turn into fallen leaves from the chestnut tree. Who could this strange and wonderful man be?

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