A giraffe and a cat. Origami gone wild. A fantastic book of transformative tales. A word-lovin’ ol’ woman, and a sword-wielding girl.

The first of these two came to me via Shelagh Rogers’ The Next Chapter on CBC. (It’s worth repeating; her enthusiasm about all kinds of storytelling is wholly contagious.)

Dancing Cat Books, 2010

Rebecca Bender’s Giraffe and Cat
Cormorant Books’ Dancing Cat Books (2010) 

The art in this picture book charmed me from the start (acrylic on texturized illustration board).

And I love that the endpapers are coloured like the giraffe’s skin.

But the story is really sweet too. You know how it goes: getting along can be difficult.

If you could ask the bird? Bet he’d say that he can’t stand the giraffe.

Ask the giraffe? “And if the giraffe could tell you, he’d say he can’t abide the bird.”

(Lots of times, picture books undercut a young child’s ability to add unexpected words to their vocabulary: the use of ‘abide’ tickles me.)

So, the giraffe and the bird (both males, by the way) go their separate ways.

But…the story is not over yet.

My favourite spread is that with the giraffe munching on sticks with his mouth open and the bird slurping up a worm, each of them thoroughly annoying the other, though each looks completely self-satisfied with their snack, eyes closed and savouring their snacks.

You can take a peek here, but the artwork is more vibrant on the page.

Tundra Books, 2003

Another recommendation that came to me via The Next Chapter, was Nella and Ernst Hofer’s paper art, with a retelling of The Wild Swans by Ken Setterington (2003).

(He is one of the group who gathers regularly to recommend children’s books to listeners; I nearly always jot down one of his suggestions.)

But the paper art? It’s wicked cool. (Origami gone wild was completely misleading, I know, but I do love folding!)

This is actually scherenschnitt, and it’s more about cutting than folding.

If you’re not sure what that is, you can check it out here (these are Swiss folks doing it, but there is yodelling).

Other works with artwork by Nella and Ernst? 

The Snow Queen (2000) and Anna Katarina (2006).

Changing Woman and Her Sisters: Stories of Goddesses from Around the World.
Retold by Katrin Hyman Tchana
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Holiday House (2006) 

Holiday House, 2006

From the cover illustration throughout, the images in this volume of stories are striking and intricate. Even confined to the flat of the page.

But there’s more to it; if you read the artist’s notes, you discover that the collage element of the artwork often takes a third dimension (as with a small tuft of wool inside a sun, which alludes to a deity’s link with shepherds).

The stories are distinct and memorable. There are random acts of cruelty perpetrated upon characters herein. And, at times, these are enacted by the very people that the victims had thought they could trust inherently.

At first, I was startled by the damage these people caused, the havoc wreaked, and I wondered how my listeners (two Buried-In-Print girls, 11- and 8-years old) would respond. (I don’t want to include any spoilers, but there is definitely bloodshed.)

But my young listeners took it in stride and we simply read on in the volume. After all, it most often is the people who are closest to us who injure us most deeply. And these tales, timeless and archetypal, offer something for their readers in the wake of such betrayals and losses.

In fact, my young listeners so enjoyed these tales that it took a good think for them to decide that the Bone series still maintained the title of Best Summer Reading. (If you know Jeff Smith’s series, if you know what fanatical loyalty it inspires, you’ll be doubly amazed at the response these tales garnered.)

Not only did we read some of the tales twice, but this is one volume we will be adding to our personal library for future petting and perusing. The library copy is nice, but this is a keeper.

Wonder what tales are included?

Changing Woman: A Navajo Deity
Macha, Goddess of Horses: A Celtic Goddess
Sedna, Woman of the Sea: Supreme Deity of the Inuit People
Kuan Yin, The Compassionate A Buddhist Goddess
Isis, Mistress of Life and Death An Ancient Egyptian Goddess
Ix Chel, The Moon Goddess: An Ancient Maya Goddess
Amaterasu, The Sun Goddess Supreme Shinto Deity
Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, An Ancient Sumerian Goddess
Durga, The Warrior Goddess, A Hindu Deity
Mawu, The Creator Supreme Being to the Fon People

Abrams Books, 2010

Barry Deutsch’s Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Abrams Books, 2010 

Mirka is an eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.

Maybe that’s enough to make you want to read Hereville, because girls like Mirka don’t often get to take centre stage in graphic novels.

But maybe you would also like to know that she knows how to fight trolls.

It’s really the troll-fighting part of it that captured my interest. I mean, come on: troll-fighting?! And she’s eleven?

Anne of Green Gables chased cows out of fields and I thought that was entertaining: troll-fighting is way cooler.

Nonetheless, it’s not all about trolls. Mirka is chassidishe (which is defined, in an unobtrusive note in the margin of the same page, as religiously observant), so readers can learn the basics about shabbos from the changes in her weekly routines in the context of her troll-battling ways.

Hereville offers an accessible introduction to the principles of Orthodox Judaism, presenting them clearly enough to satisfy readers 8 and up (or perhaps 6 and up if precocious) within an adventure tale designed to hold readers’ attention.

Speaking of trolls, the one in this story would likely be a favourite with younger readers, but I actually enjoyed the pig even more. As much as I appreciate the resolution surrounding the tale of the troll, the incident with the pig sharply reveals Mirka’s tenacity and her strength early in the book; that’s what made me want to read on.

If you’re looking for intelligent, resourceful and determined eleven-year-olds in fiction, you’ll be pleased to make Mirka’s acquaintance. There’s a preview here to give you a taste.

And if you have a troll problem that you’re unable to resolve, she might be able to help you out with that too, but for that you’ll need the 139-page version of the tale.

Recommended by Natasha

Companion Read: Hope Larson’s Mercury (2010)