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July 19, 1987|KRISTIANA GREGORY

MOSS GOWN by William H. Hooks; illustrated by Donald Carrick (Clarion: $13.95; 48 pp.; age 8-up). Ever since the first English Colony in America was settled in the 16th Century, storytellers from the eastern regions have borrowed from Elizabethan culture. "Moss Gown" is one such folktale flavored with elements from Cinderella to Shakespeare's "King Lear." Appalachians still tell a parallel version, "Rush Cape" but instead of Spanish moss, their heroine's enchanted dress is made with mountain rushes.

William Hooks' rendition is based on stories he heard during his childhood in the Tidewater area of North Carolina. His heroine is Candace, banished by a father who misinterprets her love and scorned by two wicked sisters scheming for the family fortune. When Candace hides in the swamp, she is comforted by a witch who weaves her a magical gown from rags and moss. The rejected girl then journeys to a white-pillared mansion where First Cook takes her in as a scullery maid. Soon a "three-day frolic with picnics and balls" gives Candace the chance to wear her gown and meet the handsome Young Master.

Like Cinderella at the dance, the dress turns her into a "beautiful stranger" but at dawn, to everyone's despair, Candace disappears. True to fairy tale tradition, Prince Charming and his Lady eventually find each other, the tragedy of a father's heartbreak is resolved and all live happily ever after.

Donald Carrick's watercolors are wonderful in their portrayal of plantation life. Black slaves are drawn with dignity and scenes reflect a mystic romance. This is a lovely book, an American folktale to do us proud and, of course, enchant children.

TALKING TO THE SUN: AN ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, selected and introduced by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell (Holt, Rinehart & Winston: $18.95; 112 pp.; age 6-up). Luxurious, evocative artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York accompanies this splendid anthology of poetry, from haiku to American Indian verse to African chants.

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