Summer reading and "Bound" by Donna Jo Napoli

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Summer is drawing to a close here in Canada and I’ve just returned from a fabulous four-week holiday spent cruising British Columbia’s gorgeous Central and South Coasts. There are a lot of wonderful things about boating but one of my favorites is that a lot of time can be devoted to reading! The kids and I always bring along a big stack of library books, purchase a few books along the way and make the most of the free drop-off/trade-in shelves at most marinas. Needless to say we never run out of reading material!

One of the books I brought along this year was Donna Jo Napoli’s young adult novel Bound. Initially intrigued by the book’s cover, one month after reading it I am still entranced by the story! Set in a small village during China’s Ming period, Bound is a Chinese version of Cindrella. Reviewer Jennifer Mo says:

This is not your familiar, comfortable Cinderella story. There are no magic wands or pumpkin coaches, and happily ever after happens only in, well, fairy tales. Real life offers few of these sugar-spun fantasies, particularly for three unsupported women in a Ming dynasty Chinese village. Fourteen-year-old Xing Xing, her stepmother and her half-sister Wei Ping are each bound: socially, ideologically and financially. The physical, crippling binding of Wei Ping’s feet is a metaphor for an encompassing system of patriarchal privilege. But in another sense of the word, to be bound is also to be heading towards something — not so much a fate, as a rare and precious choice of fates.

Donna Jo Napoli writes for all ages, from picture books through young adult books (great reads for adults too!); and is the recipient of many book awards. Her writing ranges from contemporary fiction to fantasy to historical novels (my favorite!); and her books have been translated into over 13 languages. She also writes mathematics and science tales, as well as books geared toward helping deaf people learn to read. Several of her books are re-tellings of fairy tales: Hansel and Gretel in The Magic Circle, Rapunzel in Zel, Jack and the Beanstalk in Crazy Jack, Rumpelstiltskin in Spinners, and Beauty and the Beast in Beast, which Napoli sets in ancient Persia.

Letting Her Hair Down

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Caribbean RapunzelIn her recent New York Review of Books survey of contemporary Rapunzel interpretations, novelist Alison Lurie points out both how enduring and how flexible fairy tales are. Rapunzel is in vogue these days. Lurie gives all the relevant details of Rapunzel’s recent manifestations and offers lots of pithy observations, but the article doesn’t include links to the books themselves. So here they are; read Lurie’s article and check these out!

In the young adult novel Golden: A Retelling of “Rapunzel”, one of Simon and Schuster’s fairy tale retelling series, this one by Cameron Dokey, the poor girl’s tower-length locks are an infuriating nuisance. The Tower Room by Adele Geras (Harcourt Paperbacks) is set in a 1960’s English boarding school probably modeled on the school Geras (and Princess Diana) attended. One of Donna Jo Napoli’s series of retold tales, Zel (Puffin) is set in 16th century Switzerland. Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel (Hyperion) is a picture book by Patricia Storace, “lavishly illustrated” by Raúl Colón. (Here’s a PaperTigers gallery of illustrations by Colón!) Letters from Rapunzel (HarperCollins) is a teen novel about a girl who sees the myth’s relevance in her own life and re-names herself Rapunzel; here’s a 7-Imp interview with author Sara Lewis Holmes. Barbara Ragasky’s Rapunzel (Holiday House), with much lauded illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, may be out of print but is available online. Lynn Roberts’ Rapunzel: A Groovy Fairy Tale (Abrams), says Lurie, appears to be set in 1970’s New York.

The long hair, the witch, the tower, the inadequate jealous mother, the adopted child and adoptive parents, the rescuing prince–the themes of Rapunzel have been re-told for our times with great verve and vivacity, and Alison Lurie’s thorough and entertaining perspective is not to be missed.