Salad Bowl of Storybooks
ONCE described as a "melting pot," the United States is referred to more often these days as a "salad bowl" or a "stew pot." The following recently published books celebrate the richness of cultural diversity suggested by that revised description. Picture booksSkip to next paragraph
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A pair of unusual mermaid tales combine folklore and art. For Sukey and the Mermaid (Four Winds, $14.95, ages 5 to 8), Robert D. San Souci dipped into South Carolina Sea Island lore and emerged with this gem of a tale of a girl's encounter with a mermaid who helps her triumph over difficult circumstances. San Souci is a storyteller par excellence, and his tale's lilting African-Caribbean cadences are perfectly matched by the powerful grace of Brian Pinkney's scratchboard illustrations.
Mexican poet Alberto Blanco serves up an original folk tale set in the Sonora Desert in The Desert Mermaid/La Sirena del Desierto (Children's Book Press, $13.95, ages 5 to 12). Accompanied by artist Patricia Revah's vibrant needlepoint tapestries, this bilingual story relates a lonely mermaid's trek from her desert oasis back to the sea. Along the way, she relearns the forgotten songs of her people. Though occasionally heavy-handed, the story has a thoughtful message about the importance of art.
The scene shifts to the Louisiana bayou for Patricia C. McKissack's A Million Fish ... More or Less (Alfred A. Knopf, $14, ages 4 to 8). This outrageous tall tale features an African-American boy named Hugh Thomas who, after an extraordinarily successful fishing trip, ends up nearly empty-handed except for a whopper about the ones that got away. The bold strokes and larger-than-life style of Dena Schutzer's sunny paintings reflect the exuberance of McKissack's yarn.
Treasure Nap (Houghton Mifflin, $13.95, ages 4 to 8), Juanita Havill's affirmation of the sweet continuity of family life, is really a story within a story. When Alicia asks for her favorite family tale, her mother relates how Alicia's great-grandmother was given three special things (a serape, a pito or wooden recorder, and a bird cage) during a visit to her grandfather in the mountains of Mexico. She describes how she then brought this "treasure" to the United States. Later, Alicia is allowed to open t he trunk and play with her great-grandmother's things - after all, her mother says, "It's your treasure, too." Echoing the story's shift from present-day to the Mexican village of long ago, Elivia Savadier's watercolors vary from gentle pastels to brightly bordered pages and a vivid folk-art style.
In a trio of photo essays, photographer Susan Kuklin records the lives of three children - Sanu, an African-American girl, Eric, a Hispanic-American boy, and April, an Asian-American girl. First-person text and abundant photographs give How My Family Lives in America (Bradbury, $13.95, ages 4 to 8) a sense of immediacy and make this an especially welcome introduction to diverse cultural and ethnic traditions.
Drawing on his Abenaki heritage, storyteller Joseph Bruchac teams up with Jonathan London for Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back (Philomel, $15.95, all ages), a series of poems based on a variety of American Indian myths about the 13 moons of the year. Thomas Locker's sweeping landscapes provide an exquisite backdrop.
Another native-American legend, this one Canadian Inuit, is woven into Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak's Hide and Sneak (Annick Press, $4.95 paper, ages 4 to 7). Allashua is warned by her mother of the Ijiraq, a creature that loves to hide little children so they're never found again.