The Girl Who Spun Gold

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this evocative picture book, Hamilton (Her Stories; Bluish) spins a new tale from old, as she adapts a West Indian version of "Rumpelstiltskin." The warm Caribbean climes are home to Quashiba, a young spinner woman who becomes wife to the ruler of the land, Big King, having been chosen for her supposed ability to spin gold. When Big King expects her to actually produce rooms full of golden cloth, help arrives in the form of Lit'mahn, a troll-like creature with a wooden leg and a long tail. Lit'mahn extends the familiar "guess my name" challenge and, in keeping with other versions of the story, winds up on the losing end. Readers will enjoy the familiar feel and the gentle cadence of the story here, made all the more rhythmic by the West Indian dialect Hamilton employs ("Don't cha know!"; "For true!"). In opulent illustrations, the Dillons (To Every Thing There Is a Season) take it to the gilt, incorporating copious amounts of gold paint in their creamy acrylic compositions. They frame each right-hand, full-page scene with a luxurious gold-leaf border that extends partway onto the previous page. Gloriously colored garments from an imperial era gone by plus the truly hideous appearance of the wild-eyed, sharp-toothed Lit'mahn add drama and depth to the proceedings. Ages 4-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
A mother boasting to a greedy king manages to make her daughter a queen, but when the time arrives to spin thread into the promised gold, the frightened queen must depend on Lit'mahn, the West Indian version of Rumpelstiltskin, for help. In a lively telling with a West Indian lilt, Hamilton describes Quashiba's first happy year with Big King. But then he locks her in a room and demands that she fill it with golden cloth, "Else you'll stay cooped up in here forever and a year!" Enter the grotesque Lit'mahn, with his promise to make "golden things" there for her. But of course there is a catch. She must guess his name within three nights, or he will "make you tiny, just like me" and carry her off "to live in my shade." Although we know the eventual outcome, the suspense mounts as the king insists on two more rooms filled, and all Quashiba's guesses of names prove wrong. Finally, it is the king's report of his strange encounter while hunting that gives her the answer she needs to best Lit'mahn. "POP-OP he goes in a million bitty flecks of gold that flowed into the night and disappeared." Big King must apologize; it takes three long years before Quashiba forgives him so they can live happily ever after. And Lit'mahn, some say, still comes near. "And when is that? Don't cha know! Each time, they say, when his story be told." Although the telling is in colloquial Caribbean, the Dillons have chosen to visually represent the story in an elegant, exotic style in order to emphasize the magical quality as well as the majesty of the events. The paintings are reminiscent of those in their Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (Dial, 1976) by Margaret Musgrove in the way the figures are spatiallyrelated and in some of the exciting patterns in the fabrics. But here, in keeping with the golden theme of the tale, gold leaf is used extensively, on the end-papers, to set the illuminated letters on each text page, to frame each scene, and to add to the items being magically manufactured. There are also bits of sculpture with African roots, while the villain's head resembles a carved mask. But it is the dominance of patterns that sets the tone of swirling mystery in their inventive variety. Headdresses, robes, rugs, even plants all vie with one another in their attractive complexity. In contrast is the polished ebony of faces and hands, helping convey by gesture and expression the emotions of the protagonists. This perfect match of words and images stands on its own, as well as offering opportunities for comparison with other versions of the tale, such as Paul O. Zelinsky's Rumpelstiltskin (E.P. Dutton, 1986). 2000, Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, $16.95. Ages 5 to 10. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz — The Five Owls, September/October 2000 (Vol. 15 No. 1)
Children's Literature
Hamilton spins an interesting variation on the Rumplestiltskin story. Set in Africa, Quashiba becomes the wife of a king (Big King) when her mother promises that her daughter can spin golden thread from ordinary cotton. Big King marries Quashiba and gives her everything she desires for a year, but then locks her up and demands that she produce gold. Lit'mahn enters and offers his help, but there is a catch, Quashiba must guess his full name within three nights or he will make her tiny and whisk her away with him. The tale follows its traditional form with Quashiba discovering Lit'mahn's true name. In a nice twist she also punishes Big King for his greed, but eventually forgives him. The Dillons have produced a book that truly gleams with gold and other rich colors. The exotic setting is a visual feast, and the colloquial retelling using lilting West Indian speech patterns make this book a great read aloud. 2000, Scholastic, $16.95. Ages 5 up. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-After Quashiba's mother tells Big King that her daughter can spin golden thread, the lovely young woman finds herself wed to the handsome ruler. She enjoys a year of marriage but then must fill three rooms with gold cloth or remain imprisoned forever. Lit'mahn, a tiny devil-like creature that lurks in the shade of old trees, comes to her aid but challenges her to discover his name within three nights or he will carry her away. True to his promise, he fills the storerooms and Quashiba fulfills her part of the bargain. Luckily, on a royal outing Big King hears Lit'mahn chant his full name and shares his odd tale with his wife. The source of this folktale is apparent in the distinctive and lilting West Indian dialect that pervades this humorous and, at times, scary telling. The lavish use of gold within the acrylic illustrations and their frames is sumptuous and the royal formality is further enhanced by the page layout. The stylized and flat depiction of fabrics and backgrounds contrasts effectively with the expressively rendered people. And Lit'mahn, with his jagged teeth and pointy tail, is a cruel-looking creature indeed. The author explains the derivation of this variant on the final page, which also includes an interesting description of the illustration process. Readers familiar with "Tom Tit Tot" and "Rumpelstiltskin" will enjoy this island cousin, but it easily stands on its own as a charming and visually stunning tale of cunning, greed, and quixotic good fortune.-Carol Ann Wilson, Westfield Memorial Library, NJ Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
Hamilton (Bluish, 1999, etc.) turns her elegant style to a West Indian–based version of the Rumpelstiltskin story. Out riding, Big King spies Quashiba, who, her mother told him, could spin a whole field of gold cloth. Taken by her beauty and her mother's boasting, he marries her—and after a year and a day locks her in a room to spin. Lit'mahn Bittyun, a horrid little creature with a long tail, a wooden leg, and sharp teeth, appears and promises to aid her for three nights. If she cannot guess his name after the third, he will turn her into a tiny, hideous being like himself. Quashiba grows angry with Big King for using her so ill, but on the second night, when they dine together, he tells of overhearing a funny little man singing his true name. Thus Quashiba bests Lit'mahn, who explodes "in a million bitty flecks of gold." (It's three years, though, before she forgives Big King.) The Dillons (To Every Thing There Is a Season, 1998, etc.) have taken their hieratic and magical style to new heights here, overlaying pattern after pattern of cloth, drapery, and architectural detail. Burnished color is lavishly overlaid with gold, heightening visual intensity to a fever pitch. The nasty little man is particularly effective, limned as carefully as a poisoned jewel box. (Picture book/fairy tale. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780590473781
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2000
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD360L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.92 (w) x 12.30 (h) x 0.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Virginia Hamilton
Virginia Hamilton
Virginia Hamilton’s books, which combined African-American and Native American lore with contemporary stories and characters, are memorable not only for their inventiveness and rich characterizations, but also for their ability to evoke a wide variety of times, places, and historical figures.


A writer of prodigious gifts, Virginia Hamilton forged a new kind of juvenile fiction by twining African-American and Native American history and folklore with contemporary stories and plotlines.

With Hamilton's first novel, Zeely, the story of a young farm girl who fantasizes that a woman she knows is a Watusi queen, she set the bar high. The book won a American Library Association Notable Children's Book citation. Hamilton rose to her own challenge, and every new book she published enriched American literature to such a degree that in 1995 she was awarded the ALA's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for lifetime achievement.

Born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and raised in an extended family of farmers and storytellers (her own father was a musician), Hamilton's work was inspired by her childhood experiences, family mythology, and Ohio River Valley homeland. In an article about the importance of libraries in children's lives, she credits her mother and the "story lady" at her childhood public library with opening her mind to the world of books.

Although she spent time in New York City working as a bookkeeper after college, and traveled widely in Africa and Europe, Hamilton spent most of her life in Yellow Springs, anchored by the language, geography, and culture of southern Ohio. In The House of Dies Drear, she arranged her story around the secrets of the Underground Railroad. In M. C. Higgins, the Great, winner of both a John Newbery Medal and a National Book Award, she chronicled the struggles of a family whose land, and life spirit, is threatened by strip mining. Publishers Weekly called the novel "one of those rare books which draws the reader in with the first paragraph and keeps him or her turning the page until the end."

In her series of folk-tale collections, including The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, and Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales, Hamilton salvaged and burnished folk tales from cultures across the world for her stories; stories that suffused her fiction with its extraordinary blend of worldly and otherworldly events, enchantment, and modern reality. Virginia Hamilton died on February 19, 2002.

Good To Know

Hamilton's first research trip to a library was to find out more about her family's exotic chickens, which her mother called "rainbow layers," because of the many tints of the eggs they laid.

In 1995, Hamilton became the first children's writer to win a John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur "genius" grant.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 12, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Yellow Springs, Ohio
    1. Date of Death:
      February 19, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Yellow Springs, Ohio
    1. Education:
      Attended Antioch College, Ohio State University, and the New School for Social Research
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent Reimagining

    This is a beautiful retelling of a classic fairy tale. The artwork is stunning, and I love the sing-song Caribbean-influenced dialect. Highly recommended for fairy tale fans.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2007

    Like Rumpelstiltskin but more detailed

    This book shows that any and every nation can have a varied version of the same fairy tale, fable or legend, yet add to it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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