A mysterious storyteller mesmerizes two children, Toby and Tess, with the tales he tells under the chestnut tree in the village green. The five tales—"The Woodcutter's Daughter," "Saint Bridget's Cloak," "The Seal Hunter," "The Peddlar of Swaffham," and "Tam Lin"—are prompted by some event in the children's lives and follow the morals of virtue rewarded and greed punished. Each tale is told in rhythmic quatrains that read well aloud. Only "The Seal Hunter" seems heavy-handed in its moral message, which impedes the flow of the story. From each of the stories the Teller gives the children a small talisman (a piece of St. Bridget's cloak, a splinter of wood from the peddler's walking stick) and reveals himself to be Merlin, a jarring revelation as the tales are not connected to King Arthur. These items are to be regarded as more precious than gold and reminders of the power of the story. Black ink drawings and silhouettes are nicely integrated into the stories and are very effective on the crisp white pages. The lack of source notes is a minor flaw, but the poetic approach to the stories is a clever one and the book is a well designed whole. It would make a good supplement to a storytelling collection. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
Twins Toby and Tess live with their mother in a cottage by the village green, and she sends them out with a picnic lunch to sit beneath the huge old chestnut tree. A twinkly-eyed old man materializes there, and in exchange for the children's sharing their lunch with him, he tells them a story. His name, aptly, is Teller, and over time he appears again, with more tales. Each time, he gives them a bit of something to remind them of the story he told: a dried berry from "The Woodcutter's Daughter," a bit of cloth from "St. Brigid's Cloak" and so on. His tales are told in vigorous rhymed verse, with prose sections knitting it all together. Bailey's black-and-white illustrations, in lithe line in Teller's tales and silhouette in Toby and Tess's frame, provide elegant visual counterpoint. Teller turns out to be a recognizable and beloved mythic character, and he leaves the children with the seeds of future stories and echoes of those past. Varied types are used judiciously to highlight both prose and verse; kudos to the designer for the harmonious whole. (Folktales/poetry. 8-12)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—"Not so very far from here, nor so very long from now," twins Toby and Tess offer to share their lunch with an old man they meet. Introducing himself simply as Teller, he sits beneath a great chestnut tree and tells them stories in rhyme as an ancient bard or poet might have done. "The Woodcutter's Daughter" is the tale of 12 elfin brothers named for the months who save the heroine from an evil stepmother and stepsister. When they meet Teller again, the children hear "St. Brigid's Cloak" and are given a small scrap of the cloak itself. Later they release a small bird, and Teller rewards them with a story of cruelty and hard-earned compassion called "The Seal Hunter." This story suffers from too much moralizing, but the others move well. Tess dreams of finding treasure buried under the chestnut tree, so their friend tells "The Pedlar of Swaffham." In the final story, the children meet Teller near their father's grave, and he tells "Tam Lin." The old man gives them the Map of Marvels, identifies himself as Merlin (an odd choice, as none of the stories are associated with King Arthur or his knights), and disappears. Retelling these tales as poetry is an interesting idea, and it succeeds fairly well. The imagery, rhythms, and careful rhymes create a feeling often associated with traditional stories. Black silhouettes illustrate the children's encounters with Teller, while black-line drawings illuminate the well-crafted stories. The map suggests stories untold and perhaps undiscovered. This is a lovely, artistically presented book.—Mary Jean Smith, Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN
Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)
Meet the Author
Tony Mitton is a widely anthologized children's poet, as well as a teacher and performing poet. His Royal Raps won the 1997 Nottinghamshire Libraries/Dillons Children's Book Award. His recent collection of poetry, Plum, won the Publishers Weekly 2003 Cuffies Award for Best Book of Poetry. Tony teamed with illustrator Ant Parker on several books, including Dazzling Diggers, Roaring Rockets, and Terrific Trains. Ant Parker studied drawing and printing at the Bath Academy of Art in England and has taught papermaking, printing and bookbinding workshops for children.