The Forest Family

160 pages,
ISBN: 0887764851

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Children's Books
by Jeffrey Canton

We are happy to introduce our new Children's Books Editor, Jeffrey Canton. Jeffrey has been involved extensively in the Canadian Children's Lit community over the years, and was formerly with the Canadian Children's Book Centre. His reviews have appeared in a number of Canadian newspapers and magazines. He lives in Toronto.

Behind every folk or fairy tale, myth or legend, lurks another story. A different turn of the tale, perhaps? Another version from some other place or time? An alternative ending? Joan Bodger has spent a lifetime exploring the world of story and the way in which we weave tales together. For her new book, The Forest Family, she has collected several timeless narratives from around the world. Using the Brothers Grimm classic, "Snow White and Rose Red", as the frame, she spins a marvellous tale of romance, adventure, and enchantment.

Deep in the King's Forest dwells the Forest family. Woodcutter Bernardo is wise in the ways of the forest. Sylvania, his wife, is not only a skilled medicine woman and herbalist, but also a storyteller extraordinaire. Rosy and Daisy have inherited their parents' love of the woods. Life is good and the Forest Family is happy. But things change-for better and for worse. The King decides to cut down many of the old trees to provide fuel for his forges. Then, when he resolves to raise an army to conquer a distant land, and Bernando, enchanted with the idea of embarking on a great adventure, enlists, the consequences are devasting.

War changes Bernardo utterly, as war is wont to do, and when he returns home years later, his anger and pain and the horror of war cause him to break up his family. He can no longer be content with the sylvan world, and he doesn't know how to forge new bonds with his family. In turn, Sylvania, Rosy, and Daisy have come into their own during the separation and can't turn back the clocks either. But as the four discover in this thoughtful journey into the heart of the imagination, telling stories and sharing experiences can provide some answers to the eternal questions.

Wheels within wheels, stories within stories... readers of all ages will find their own paths to follow as they explore the wonders of Joan Bodger's imaginative woods. Don't worry that you might not know where you're headed-Bodger provides an excellent trail map to this storytelling adventure in an insightful appendix that not only points to her sources, but will set readers on quests of their own making. Bodger is particularly skilled at reinterpreting folk tales from the British tradition, like the King Arthur legend. For years, she has made an annual winter pilgrimage to Arthur's Britain, and she brings to life the nuances of those tales in her evocative retellings of "The King of the Cats" and "Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady". There's also a remarkable retelling of the Old Testament story of Ruth and Naomi, which Bodger has set in late eighteenth-century Yorkshire.

What helps to make The Forest Family a special book are Mark Lang's stunning black and white linocut illustrations. Lang, who illustrated the reissue of Bodger's Where the Heather Lies, has let his imagination soar. He delves into the hidden nooks and crannies, light and dark, that lie at the heart of Bodger's stories, and breathes life into them with illustrations that are filled with the same sense of wonder and enchantment that Bodger stirs up.

"A thieving magpie brought me a claw full of jewels to arrange and rearrange in endless patterns, until they made this story," Bodger writes in her preface to this compelling adventure. The Forest Family is a gem that will be treasured by children and adults alike. It represents the pinnacle of a lifetime's achievement in storytelling. Normally, when you listen to a story, you carry away only the memory of the telling. The Forest Family is a book that you will want to carry with you, wherever you go, all your life long. A classic in the great tradition in the making! 


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