Quentin Blake’s magical, whimsical illustrations are the best raison d’être for this eclectic and unsourced collection of stories.
Although some of the motifs will certainly be familiar—three princes, evil stepmothers, ogres—most of these complicated and often bloodthirsty stories are not. Yeoman does not offer any sources, although he says in the introduction that they come from all over the world. A quick search reveals that “The Blue Belt” is Norwegian and that “Prince Baki and the White Doe” is Tibetan, but it would have been good to know that from the volume itself. Not all of the tales have happy endings or completely resolved storylines, either. In “The Princes’ Gifts,” the beautiful maiden cannot choose among the three and shuts herself up in a tower, as do the bereft princes. Females in general tend to the dark side: “The Old Man and the Jinni” features a nagging wife who is left down a well; the maker of “The Magic Cakes” gets turned into a donkey, as she has done to others (but she is allowed to resume her own form later and is never heard from again).
The pictures, full-page color and vignettes in black-and-white wash, are full of spirit and energy, their vivacious line drawing the eye again and again—the stories, however, may not be such a draw. (Folktales. 8-12)