Meet Authors & Illustrators

Diane Wolkstein

   As a storyteller "extraordinaire" Diane entertains her audiences with tales from around the world. She told a recent audience that storytelling has been her way of life for nearly 40 years. Storytelling skills are practiced and learned. Diane learned vocalizations and took training classes. She feels that storytelling today is more a matter of providing entertaining than a true focus on the content. It is hard for people to listen to things that matter.

   In 1978, The Magic Orange Tree was the first story that she told. It is not part of her current repertoire but she did tell us the tale. Her version comes from Haitian culture. "Crick-crack," a girl living with her stepmother, ate three ripe round oranges. Her stepmother threatened her and the young girl went to her mother's grave. In the morning, a little seed grew into an orange tree and it was filled with oranges. The young girl was able to command it to go up and down and when forced by the stepmother to take her to the tree, the girl sang it out of reach. The stepmother promises to reform. Should the young girl trust her? Or should she call down the tree and let a branch kill the stepmother. Like most all of us, the young girl has a desire to be loved.

   In another story, she contrasted the actions of a real mother with four daughters. Three she loved, the fourth she didn't. When she lost the three she loved, the mother ran away weeping and wailing and the girl was left to fend for herself. In this tale, the young girl eventually becomes a queen and when a crazy woman comes into court singing that old familiar song, she is recognized as the queen's mother and is taken in and cared for. These tales have a common theme-the mothers are mean and the children forgive.

   Diane was brought up Jewish and has a rich collection of Jewish tales. As she points out the tales are metaphorical. The story of Ruth for example is about an individual who became a convert to the Jewish religion. The story needs to be put in context as it tells of taking care of the orphan, stranger or the needy. It is a deep story of compassion and love.

   In addition to oral tellings, Diane has authored several books. Reviews for some are listed below. For more information about this amazing storyteller, visit Diane's own site at www.dianewolkstein.com.

 

Reviews

The Banza: A Haitian Story
Diane Wolkstein
Pictures by Marc Brown
   A banza is a little banjo--and this one has magical powers. A goat and a tiger seek refuge in the same cave. The tiger leaves the goat a banza, and when faced with ten hungry tigers the goat sings a brave song to frighten them away. This humorous folk tale is retold and matched with full color illustrations that depict the flora and fauna of the island. A Reading Rainbow Book. 1992 (orig. 1984), Dial Books for Young Readers, $8.95, $8.89, $5.99 and $4.95, Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-8037-0428-3
ISBN: 0-8037-0429-1

Bouki Dances the Kokioko: A Comical Tale from Haiti
Diane Wolkstein
Illustrated by Jesse Sweetwater
   Illustrated with vibrant color and rollicking imagery, this is a richly funny trickster tale. It tells of a king who loved to dance; a contest seemingly impossible to win; a tricky gardener with the clever name of Malice (Mah-LEES); an amiable fall guy whose name has crept into the language; and a dance, the Kokioko, for those with clapping hands and swaying hips. The characters are larger than life, their traits exaggerated in a convincing storyteller's voice. A glossary includes unfamiliar words, and an introduction offers story notes. 1997 (orig. 1978), Gulliver/Harcourt Brace, $15.00, Ages 6 to 10. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   Kaleidoscope, A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8, Third Edition, 2001; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
   Aesop Prize Accolade 1997 United States
ISBN: 0-15-200034-8

The Day Ocean Came to Visit
Diane Wolkstein
Paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
   This Porquoi tale, adapted from a story collected in West Africa, tells how the sun and moon came to be in the sky. At one time, Sun and Moon, cast in the tale as husband and wife, lived together happily on earth. Moon tended her garden while Sun spent his days exploring. When he meets Ocean, he is fascinated by her many stories and invites her home to share her stories with Moon. Even though they've added on to their house to accommodate the very large Ocean, she still overflows, until Sun and Moon must jump very high to escape drowning. Johnson and Fancher's exquisite paintings combine the realistic and the symbolic, presenting the round faces of Sun and Moon (pearly white and yellow respectively) on top of human bodies and giving Ocean a face among the waves; at the same time they include natural details such as the flora and fauna of West Africa. 2001, Gulliver/Harcourt, $16.00, Ages 3 to 7. Reviewer: Susan Stan (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2002; Bank Street College of Education; United States
   Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, Supplement, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States
   Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, August 2001; Cahners; United States
ISBN: 0152017747

Esther's Story
Diane Wolkstein
Illustrated by Juan Winjngaard
   This sensitive memoir/journal of a young girl thrust into a frightening and strange situation will have great appeal to growing girls who must deal with their own often-confusing fears and dreams. The author credits oral legends from Rabbi Yaakov Culi's Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, as well as "her own musings," for some of the unusual contents of the book. It begins with an eleven-year-old Hadassah and her troubled Uncle (not Cousin, in this version), who gives her the additional name of Esther--Ishtar, the Persian goddess of love and war, "the first planet to appear every night in the sky" whom she thinks "is very brave to appear all alone when it is dark." At twelve, she is seen and considered as mature by a royal functionary and is taken off to the palace. At sixteen, she is called to the King and, rather than being chosen for her shy, modest beauty among the parade of young women, she is depicted as wearing a red dress to a private royal audience, placing a pink rose from her hair into the King's hair, complimenting him on his beauty and tickling him! Things one would tell only one's diary and perhaps hide from the rest of the world, indeed! This Esther is not brave, she confesses, but afraid and yet seeing no choice but to do what she must do. And she asks her people never to forget this story, which she concludes when she is a white-haired seventy-year-old. The pictures are quite realistic and darkly opulent, and the softcover book should be a favorite with pre-teens. 1996, Mulberry/Morrow, $14.93 and $4.95, Ages 7 to 11. Reviewer: Judy Chernak (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   Best of the Bunch, 1996; Association of Jewish Librarians; United States
   Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001; H.W. Wilson; United States
   Religion for Youth, 1996; American Library Association-Booklist; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
   Aesop Prize Accolade 1997 United States
   Sydney Taylor Book Awards Honor Book 1996 United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
   Children's Crown Award, 1998-1999; Nominee; Grades 3-6; United States
ISBN: 0-688-12127-6
ISBN: 0-688-12128-4
ISBN: 0-688-15844-7

Little Mouse's Painting
Diane Wolkstein
Pictures by Maryjane Begin
   Little Mouse is blessed to have three great friends. There is Bear, with whom she picks nuts and berries. There is Squirrel, with whom she has tea and flowers. There is Porcupine, with whom she enjoys admiring nature, especially the sky. One day, Little Mouse decides to make a painting. She spends the day on her own, painting a landscape of the sun shining on a berry bush and a flower. It's a well-done painting and the subject matter is clear--why is it, then, that Bear sees a bear in the painting, Squirrel sees a squirrel, and Porcupine sees a porcupine? What is an artist to do when her audience sees something different than she intends? What is the painting really all about? Maryjane Begin's paintings are a clever representation of Diane Wolkstein's sly, but comforting story of friendship and art. 2002, SeaStar/North South, $15.95 and $5.95, Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 1-58717-124-4
ISBN: 1-58717-125-2

Oom Razoom; or, Go I Know Not Where, Bring Back I Know Not What
Diane Wolkstein
Illustrated by Dennis McDermott
   This fairy tale, allegedly starring Alexis, the king's archer, exploits all the traditional storyteller's devices: a naive, good-natured young man; a beautiful girl; the evil king who sends Alexis off on an impossible task (the book's subtitle); a rather promiscuous genie; an ending replete with happy-ever-afterness; and magic, magic, magic. Although set in some once-upon-a-time Middle European kingdom with onion-domed buildings, the telling is modern--as unornamented as the illustrations are detailed and decorative. The blending of the visually exotic and the verbally mundane tends to enhance the overall appeal and also to call our attention to the archetypal human qualities depicted. It's a fine story to use, once the initial fun in reading vanishes, for reflecting on some of its inherent human values. Is Alexis really the hero? He reminds me of the "hero" in Mozart's The Magic Flute who is rescued from a dragony death by three women, after crying out for help. Alexis's job is to kill birds for the king's eating pleasure, hardly a heroic occupation. He spares the life of a particularly beautiful talking bird who instantly turns into Olga, an equally beautiful woman, who marries him on page two. From here on it's her magic, and her mother's, that makes all the good stuff happen. All our apple-cheeked youth has to do is to follow instructions. His only independent act is to command the magical army to fight the king's forces--a typical male activity. Taken as a subtle tongue-in-cheek tale whose anticipated happy ending predicts that King Alexis will rule wisely, "with the help of his wife, Olga, very wisely," we are left with the impression that the women have the real smarts and power but that it's actually "a man's world," even if that world is only a facade. The illustrations help convey this impression by presenting Alexis as a very young man in an overly large coat, while painting Olga as a more mature, elegantly gowned, self-assured woman. The pages are crowded with details of costumes and the utensils of village and court life that are framed to emphasize architectural features (arches, doorways, windows) and help maintain interest in the extensive cast of decorative fairy-tale characters. Thus there is little need to be concerned about the lack of personality development. The last page shows a contented genie, Oom Razoom, off to a peaceful retirement gazing at a Mona-Lisa-like Olga as if to reassure us that her talents make his magic uncalled for. In story line and illustration, this may well be enjoyed as a modern morality play. 1991, Morrow, $14.95, Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Kenneth Marantz (The Five Owls, September/October 1991 (Vol. 6, No. 1)).
ISBN: 0-688-09416-3
ISBN: 0-688-09417-1

Sun Mother Wakes the World: An Australian Creation Story
Adapted by Diane Wolkstein
Pictures by Bronwyn Bancroft
   This Creation story begins in darkness and silence. A voice wakes Sun Mother, who brings light to awaken the sleeping earth, plants, and trees. Then the voice sends Sun Mother into dark caves, to bring forth insects, snakes, animals, and other creatures. Sun Mother then returns to the sky. The animals fear the dark she leaves behind, but she returns to visit each day. When they quarrel, she allows them to choose their own forms. Then she gives birth to Moon and Morning Star, for light at night. Finally they give birth to the first man and woman. Sun Mother welcomes them, but tells them that they must keep the earth alive and look after their birthplace. Bancroft, an indigenous Australian, draws upon the symbols and colors of the Aboriginal Dreamtime tradition in her double-page painted illustrations. They maintain much of the mystery of the verbal narrative, exploiting encapsulated shapes, dot patterns and designs, simple animal outlines, and strong color contrasts for mystical but emotionally moving exotic imagery. A note on the Dreamtime tries to explain this concept, which is so different from Western tradition. There is also an extensive note on the author's sources. This story is interesting to compare to other Creation tales and it's interesting as an explanation of the ecological concerns of native Australians. 2004, HarperCollins Publishers, $15.99 and $16.89, Ages 4 to 8. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-688-13915-9
ISBN: 0-688-13916-7

White Wave: A Chinese Tale
Retold by Diane Wolkstein
Illustrated by Ed Young
   When a lonely young farmer finds a beautiful snail shell, he discovers that he has been blessed with the companionship of the moon goddess, White Wave. And so his loneliness disappears and is replaced by joy. Unfortunately, he desires more the he is given and loses everything. Ed Young's illustrations are done in black and white pencil on a creamy textured paper with just a hint of red. His elegant drawings perfectly suit the ethereal mood of the text. What an elegant and classy book! 1996, Harcourt Brace, $16.00, Ages 6 to 9. Sally J. K. Davies (Children's Literature).
Best Books:
   Capitol Choices, 1996; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
   Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001; H.W. Wilson; United States
   Kaleidoscope, A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8, Third Edition, 2001; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
ISBN: 0152002936

 

Added 04/01/05

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If you're interested in reviewing children's and young adult books, then send a resume and writing sample to marilyn@childrenslit.com.

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