Stories of the Islands

Holiday House. Oct. 2023. 176p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780823449781; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780823455737.
Gr 6 Up–Three Indonesian folktales—“Keong Mas,” “Bawang Merah Bawang Putih,” and “Timun Mas”—are reimagined in this anthology, which seeks to give power and autonomy to traditionally passive female characters. A selfish older sister, finding herself cursed by her younger sister, must seek to help someone other than herself before her curse can be lifted; a widower turns his anger, rooted in grief, on his daughters, who must stop taking responsibility for their father’s happiness in order to find their own; and a happily unpartnered woman finds herself a caregiver of a young girl after she misguidedly agrees to an inadvisable deal and has to use her intellect to escape from it. The stories read quickly, and their wispy, rounded, and paradisaical illustrations are further romanticized in appearance through the use of lush, tropical, and forested settings colored in bejeweled hues of violets, golds, and teals. While some pages make ample use of white space, others use fluid spreads, panel-breaking art, and irregularly shaped, polygonal panels that add interest while leading up to unconventional happily-ever-afters. Characters have various skin tones, ranging from pale to dark, and diverse body types are included, as is blended family representation. The front matter includes a table of contents, while among the back matter is an author’s note and a prose version of each of the original folktales.
VERDICT A beautiful collection of folktales that succeeds in depicting strengthened female agency while promoting a healthy consideration for others.

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