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Not one damsel in distress : world folktales for strong girls

by Jane Yolen; Susan Guevara; Silver Whistle Books.

  Print book : Fiction : Primary school  |  1st ed

A Story Collection to Empower Young Women   (2011-03-06)


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by egamble

In Not One Damsel in Distress, Jane Yolen adapts and retells thirteen stories about brave, clever, heroic women from countries around the world. Yolen's introduction, “An Open Letter to My Daughter and Granddaughters,” declares that this book is for her daughter, granddaughters, and young girls “because it is important to know that anyone can be a hero if they have to be. Even girls. Especially girls. Especially you.” Modern culture has stereotyped the princess so that she patiently awaits her prince charming. However, Yolen tells about fabulous feats of the many heroic women in myths and folktales across cultures – it is a shame that many stories about heroic women were lost or never recorded. When Jane Yolen was a young girl, she would have loved to have read a collection of stories meant to empower young girls with the courage to believe in their abilities and lead with wisdom.

Tales in this collection are relatively short and Yolen retells these traditional stories with witty dialogue and modern expression. “Atalanta the Huntress” - a Greek tale inspired by the goddess Artemis and Ovid's Metamorphosis - is about a little girl who was abandoned in the Calydonian forest by her father King Iasus. Atalanta is protected by Artemis in the forest and she becomes well-known for her nimbleness and her archery skills. Later in the collection, a Polish/Jewish tale called “The Pirate Princess” describes the destiny of a clever and determined princess who becomes separated from her family and her love – the prince. Although she often finds herself alone at sea or held prisoner by rude people, her perseverance and intelligence help her to inherit a kingdom and lead her prince to find her once more. Two tales “Li Chi Slays the Serpent” from China and “The Samurai Maiden” from Japan are about strong and clever girls who refused to be timidly sacrificed to giant serpent gods. In “The Samurai Maiden” Tokoyo uses her skills as a deep-sea pearl diver to defeat the serpent god in his underwater cave, simultaneously restoring her father's dishonored reputation. Finally, I describe the tale about the lady knight from France “Bradamante.” Bradamante is a fierce warrior and an intelligent woman. With the help of Merlin's spirit, she takes up a quest to rescue prince Ruggiero. Bradamante is merciful and spares the life of many who others may have killed. After she rescues Ruggiero, they pledged their love for each other and had many more adventures together.

These stories would be great fun to tell because in almost every tale, someone underestimates our wise woman hero and she surpasses everyones' expectations with her strength, intelligence, and determination. Yolen provides “Notes on the Stories” on p. 104-112 of the collection; she writes about the story origins and how she has made alterations. A bibliography at the end provides several additional titles for the curious reader or teller. In “An Open Letter to Nana,” Yolen's daughter and granddaughters respond to the introduction stating that, “...while we know girls can be heroes, the boys need to know it even more.”


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