Friday, July 06, 2018

You Go, Girls! Not One Damsel In Distress by Jane Yolen

The title of Jane Yolen's new edition of Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) tells it all.

In this collection of fifteen folktales from around the world, there are no princesses languishing in towers, no maidens rescued from dragons, evil wizards, ravaging wolves, witchy stepmothers, or devils in disguise.

In tales from Africa, medieval Germany, ancient Greece, the distant mountains of China or the sands of the desert, brave young women combat river beasts, cruel fathers, Sioux warriors, and sultans with sneaky gender tests. These heroes (Yolen eschews the terms heroines or sheroes) are peasants, pirate lasses, or princesses who outrun, out-battle, and outwit their foes. Some are well known--Atalanta, Mollie Whuppie, and Bradamante--and others are not, but all are young women who relied on their courage, strength, will, and wit to do great deeds and help themselves along at the same time.

Author Yolen's well-researched and finely honed narratives straightforwardly take her protagonists and their cultures as they are, without apology for a world in which fathers leave daughters to die in the woods or devilish wizards abduct kind girls. Her heroines themselves make no apologies and take no prisoners, but get down to work to save themselves and others.

True to the folklorist's creed, Yolen's appendix notes cite her multicultural sources and parses some of the metaphoric villains: in the tale "Marsha and the Bear," she suggests that the Bear is indeed Russia gobbling up Azerbaijan and Marsha is the patriot who foils the attack. In this revised edition of Yolen's 2000 collection, Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls middle readers will find excitement and spirited inspiration.

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