P.K. Page’s The Old Woman and the Hen
Illus. Jim Westergard

The Porcupine’s Quill, 2009

I wasn’t planning to include a Once Upon a Time read for this Saturday. I thought last Saturday’s Silverwing would have been my last. And what a fine final read that turned out to be.

But while I was browsing in the kids’ section with this challenge in mind, I came across this slim volume. And besides the fact that I’m always interested in the works of P.K. Page, its illustrations won me over immediately.

I’ve loved woodcuts since LeGuin’s early Earthsea books and have even been known to buy a book for them (Diane Schoemperlen’s Forms of Devotion, though fortunately I loved the prose I found there, too). Jim Westergard’s six original wood engravings are perfectly suited for this folktale.

It begins: “Once upon a time there was a poor woman who lived alone and performed small chores for her neighbours in return for food.” See, it’s perfect for this challenge, isn’t it. I should have put it at the top of my reading pile.

And from Pat Barker’s Liza’s England to Joan Barfoot’s Exit Lines, from Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel to Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population, I do love a novel that puts a multidimensional older woman at the heart of the action from the outset.

“At last she arrived at a crossroads and a crossroads is an important place to be. From a crossroads you can go east, west, north, south or, if you just stand still, the world will come to you.”

While you would be able to find P.K. Page’s other works outside of Canada, I’m afraid that this sweet volume may be most readily available to those who are accustomed to sourcing books in this country. Which is a shame. Its elegance, its charm, its simplicity would make a lovely addition to the bookshelves of all those readers who enjoy a good Once Upon a Time story (and, really, who doesn’t?).

What was the last little book that charmed you into taking it home with you?