Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Here's a fire-breathing rascal wreaking havoc in Susan Roth's Brave Martha and the Dragon. Happily, a young, curly-haired stranger strolls into Tarascon and tumbles the green fellow into the dungeon. Roth's striking collage art incorporates fabric actually worn by the townspeople, who celebrate this ancient Provençal legend with parades and revelry each year.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3Every year in the French village of Tarascon, the people celebrate the bravery of a modest stranger who saved the town from "...a fiery dragon with smoldering eyes and smoke puffing from his nostrils." Roth relates the medieval tale that inspired the festival. Each night, despite the efforts of a variety of watchmen, farm animals disappear. Then the baker's wife fears that her son, Naughty Bernard, is gone as well, but he emerges from a chestnut tree minus the seat of his pants. He confirms that their thief is a dragon. A barefoot girl then comes to town and Bernard's family invites her to stay with them. That night Naughty Bernard follows her and spies on her while she fights the dragon. The next morning, Martha does not want to take credit for her bravery, but Bernard tells the townspeople all about the confrontation. Roth illustrates the story with her signature cut-paper collages. When the beast is finally revealed in all his ferocity, his body spreads over three wordless pages, with scales layered so convincingly that children will reach to lift them. Additions of Provenal floral fabrics give the artwork a timeless flavor appropriate to a folktale. The book's design is a perfect match for the pacing of the text. Pair this title with favorite dragon tales or with stories of incredible female valor. It would also prove interesting in a unit on "hidden" heroes or miracle workers in disguise. Vintage Roth.Wendy Lukehart, Dauphin County Library, Harrisburg, PA
Susan Dove Lempke
The village of Tarascon in Provence, France, is losing its cows, geese, and other animals to a fearsome dragon that comes calling each night. After the dragon almost catches a boy, the town gets another visitor--a tall, thin, barefoot girl called Martha--who confronts the beast, listens to it boast about the animals it has eaten, scolds it ("Shame on you for your wickedness" ), and puts the long sash from her dress to good use. Collage has become an increasingly popular illustration medium for picture books, but Roth's work is particularly fine. Paper and cloth cut into jaunty shapes create pictures of great liveliness and charm. In a concluding note, the author mentions Tarascon's annual Fete de la Tarasque, which "celebrates a miracle said to have been performed by Saint Martha," whose story is told in the New Testament.
Reading more like a mini-mystery than a myth of early Christianity, this book retells the legend of Saint Martha, who, after witnessing her brother Lazarus rise from the dead, went to Tarascon, France, and tamed a dragon that terrorized the village.
In this version, the village has endured many nights of lost livestock when Martha arrives on the sceneas a young girl, willowy and barefoot. She confronts the dragon that very night, tying him up with a sash and imprisoning him. Roth (The Biggest Frog in Australia, p. 750, etc.) presents Martha as a brave female role model (stripped of personality or motive, other than to do good) rather than a religious icon. The colorful collages give the book a "puppet show" feel that sacrifices both the dragon's horror and Martha's spirituality for a touch of spice and dash. That trade-off makes the story accessible to young readers. Combined with the secularity of the retelling, the book needn't scare away those who object to more overtly religious parables.