A humanizing origin story for the Louisiana New Year’s Eve folk figure Madame Grands Doigts.
Mademoiselle Grands Doigts is a young, white maiden known for her beauty, her generosity, and the long fingers that lend her her name. As suitors line up, a jealous bunch of Cajun mean girls gets in the way and cooks up a gris grif. After a night of dancing, Mademoiselle Grands Doigts awakens cursed, her fingers covered in warts and her skin “scaly like a crawfish sack.” Confining herself to an attic, she lives on, giving gifts on New Year’s Eve to good children. In an afterword, author Downing says she wanted to offer a less-scary take on the story, one that focuses on the Madame as a young woman who remains unchanged on the inside despite her curse. Stanley’s hazy, deep-hued painted illustrations are appropriately moody. But modernizing the story to emphasize the cursed woman’s generosity doesn’t overcome a problematic, perhaps unavoidable plot point. With only her physical appearance having changed, Grands Doigts goes from sought-after maiden to a shut-in. More effective, and much creepier, is the last readers see of the curse makers: “Into the swamps they fled, such a wolfish horrid sight, / and if you listen closely, you’ll hear them howl at night.”
For those unfamiliar with the Cajun story, this update may be a welcome respite from the flood of Santa Claus and snow-fairy books crowding the holiday shelves. (Picture book. 5-8)