Saturday, December 20, 2008

Maggie Mab and More

Today, December 20, brings us to the winter solstice (the actual time is 7:04 a.m. EST, December 21). A Detroit area Celtic band called Finvarra's Wren does an annual solstice performance. This year they will be at the Ark in Ann Arbor at 8:00 p.m.--just 11 hours before the actual solstice.

From my standpoint, the most important part of their performance will be the inclusion of a book by a friend of mine. Valerie Scho Carey retold a British folktale in her book Maggie Mab and the Bogey Beast (Arcade/Little Brown & Company, 1992). While the book is now out of print, Finvarra found it and will bring it to life as a part of their performance.

Valerie is one of the few authors I know and she is certainly the only one I can say, and I say it with great pride, is a good friend of mine. I first got to know Valerie when her daughter and my daughter were in the same first grade class at Emerson School. Now both of those young women are well into their adult lives, but Valerie and I still get together semi-regularly (though not often enough) for lunch and a good visit.

You may never have the opportunity to sit down to lunch with Valerie Scho Carey, but there is no time like the present to acquaint yourself with her books.

Maggie Mab and the Bogey Beast is the tale of a kind, good-natured old woman who was "poor as the sound of a tin bell." One night Maggie Mab stayed out later than usual helping a farm wife with chores. Even as she set off for home she knew that the bogey beast could be about on such a night, just waiting to do a little mischief. The shape-shifting bogey beast, as everyone knew, could play relatively harmless pranks or turn to mean tricks that had led to some real trouble. As she walks, Maggie Mab's foot suddenly hits something hard that turns out to be an iron pot left in the middle of the road. The pot is full of gold. She decides to haul it home. When she stops to rest, she finds that the gold has turned to a lump of silver. Maggie Mab does not complain nor does she complain when it changes again and again. By now, the reader knows this must be the work of the bogey beast. Will Maggie Mab finally get the best of the beast? This tale is full of wonder, wisdom, and good, old-fashioned humor.

Harriet and William and the Terrible Creature (Dutton Children's Books, 1985) was Valerie's first published book. Harriet and William are twins who seem to have little in common. William prefers to stay at home and tend his garden, but Harriet, who loves adventure, builds a space ship and travels to strange planet with nothing but "rocks and stumps, stumps and lumps" and a dragon-like creature who has eaten all the trees and flowers leaving only rocks to crunch. Perhaps if Harriet can bring back William and his gardening skills things can be improved. In 1985, Booklist saw this as a story about accepting people for who they are. That is but a part of the story, especially if viewed from today's perspectives. It seems to me to also be a story about the importance of saving our natural resources.

Quail Song (Putnam Publishing Group, 1990) is one of my favorites to tell or read. Set in the American Southwest, this Pueblo story features the familiar trickster coyote. However, in this tale, he is tricked by a clever quail. "Ki-ruu, Ki-ruu," quail cries in pain when she cuts herself on a piece of grass. Coyote thinks this a beautiful song and demands that quail teach it to him. The song just won't stick in coyote's head, falling out at every stumble, and he must repeat his demand until finally quail gets the better of him.

Tsugele's Broom (Harper Collins, 1993) is an old Polish tale that Valerie tells me has special meaning to her because it was shared with her by her parents. In this clever tale, Tsugele is a strong willed girl who vows that she will never marry unless she can marry a man as faithful and dependable as her broom. This story caused me to think about what I value in my husband and in a broom. I think if I used my broom more often I could make a better comparison.

The Devil and Mother Crump (Harper and Row, 1987) features an old woman who some folks said was as "mean as the Devil." Others would argue that this baker woman was "meaner than the Devil." When news of Mother Crump reaches Lucifer himself, he decides to find out for himself who really rules the world of mean. Mother Crump settles for no nonsense and outwits the devil himself. This is the longest, most detailed of all of Valerie's books. (The others are all in picture book format.) Each full page of text in this book is faced with a full page illustration by none other than Arnold Lobel who gives added humor and depth to the tale.

As you can tell, I am quite fond of Valerie Scho Carey and of all the books she has written. She has a unique way of bringing old folk tales and new stories to life for readers of all ages.

Bravo, Valerie! Thank you for being my friend.

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