Vasilisa The Wise And Other Tales Of Brave Young Women

I bought this beautiful book as a birthday gift for my daughter, but in reality, it was as much for me as it was for her.

I regret that only one book survived my childhood. I don’t know what happened to the others. Or whether in fact I had any, other than library books. The one book that did survive is a fairy tale book – Dean’s Gift Book of Fairy Tales. A beautifully illustrated, non-Disney collection of stories that I read over and over as a child, delighting in the colourful pictures. If only one book from my own daughter’s childhood was to survive, Vasilisa The Wise And Other Tales of Brave Young Women would have to be it.

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Book Week 2016, with my daughter holding my copy of Dean’s Gift Book of Fairy Tales.

 

Vasilisa The Wise is a stunningly illustrated book, written for girls who are on the cusp of womanhood. It is a retelling of lost fairy tales, where the stakes are high, and the girl is always the hero. Faeries in this book are revengeful, powerful, nasty creatures. The stories are dark, as fairy tales were originally intended to be, and in each one, a brave young girl outwits the dark forces with intelligence, determination, and kindness. She is the one who saves the prince, or a best friend, or family member, and you can’t help but feel that if these girls were running the world, we would have nothing to fear.

The author, Kate Forsyth, is a renowned storyteller. Her novels for adults are widely acclaimed and heavily researched, yet the historical details that convincingly plant the reader in another world are so cleverly woven into the story, you don’t notice they’re there. I loved her novel Bitter Greens, which retells the story of Rapunzel. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to read this version, having grown up in the era of Disney’s Tangled.

My daughter has always preferred books with a strong visual component. I have fond memories of her all-time favourite, The Little Princess by Tony Ross. It reigned supreme in our house for years. The Little Princess had attitude, and was franchised into a tv series which saved my sanity in those early years. As you can see from the picture below, The Little Princess inspired my daughter’s very first book week costume. With book week coming to an end for her this year (it’s high school next year), I’m hoping she’ll invent a costume inspired by Vasilisa The Wise for her last hurrah.

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My daughter’s first Book Week dressed as The Little Princess, with her brother in the background.

One of my favourite things about Vasilisa The Wise are the exquisite illustrations by Lorena Carrington. They are made from many separate photographs, montaged together to create each final image. Some of them contain over 70 individual photographs. The young women in the photographs are the illustrator’s and author’s daughters – something which, as a mother, makes my heart melt. The illustrations lend an other-wordly, whimsical and captivating feel to the book – it would not be complete without them. After each story, Lorena tells how she created the images for that particular tale, and if you’re interested, you can read more about Lorena’s process here.

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Exquisite detail of Lorena Carrington’s photographic illustrations (my photo was taken from a Barcelona rooftop).

There are seven separate fairytales in the book (Kate believes that seven is mystical, magical fairy number), and each is short enough to be read in its entirety in one sitting – perfect for bed time. The stories are lyrically written, with a touch of rhyme and repetition in chants and spells, and sound lovely read out loud. I was lucky to hear Kate recite the story of The Singing, Springing Lark at the Perth Writers’ Festival, and I have to say, she is a very talented oral storyteller.

In her foreword for the book, Kate Forsyth writes:

For many young women, the only fairy tales they know are the ones that have been retold by Walt Disney Studios. Singing teapots, dancing mice and heroines with wasp-thin waists and sweet voices abound. And if they have encountered other fairy tales apart from the Disney collection, they are almost certainly stories that have been told by men. Charles Perrault. The Brothers Grimm. Hans Christian Anderson. The result has been that many wonderful old tales have been drained of their feminine power.

Against a backdrop of dark forests, ogres and faeries, witches and wizards, and kingdoms and castles, Kate and Lorena give young girls back their power, inspiring wonder and imagination in the next generation of women.

Vasilisa The Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women is a truly beautiful book, and a clever collaboration between two very talented artists. It was released in December 2017, and is published by boutique publisher, Serenity Press. I bought my own copy at the Perth Writers’ Festival, where it sold out – but you can purchase a copy from the publisher through this link.

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I was lucky to buy a copy – and have it signed by both Kate and Lorena – before they sold out at the Perth Writers’ Festival, 2018

21 thoughts on “Vasilisa The Wise And Other Tales Of Brave Young Women

  1. I’ll have to order a copy today! The illustration on the cover reminds me of Jan Pienkowski’s illustrations for Joan Aiken’s ‘Necklace of Raindrops’ and ‘Kingdom under the Sea’ – (which I guess, in turn, reference Rackham’s silhouette fairytale illustrations…)

    Years ago I borrowed an amazing collection of ‘strong women’ fairy tales from the library, published by Usborne. It included stories from all over the world – not the stock standard Grimm, Perault etc. When I went to buy a copy, it was no longer available, and then the library weeded out their copy (sigh). One of the stories in the collection was East of the Sun, West of the Moon. A couple years ago I found a beautiful long retelling of this with words and illustrations by Jackie Morris. I snapped it up, intending to read it to my daughter, but when I started reading it (to myself), I realised she was still too young for it – it’s very much a coming-of-age retelling that would be great for say, someone soon to go to high school (that’s a rec, in case you missed it!)

    Thanks Marie, for a great review.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Shannon. Your daughter would love Vasilisa The Wise. It’s so special to find a book that has not only strong, female stories, but beautiful illustrations too.
      I had a look to see if they stocked East of the Sun, West of the Moon in my local library, but it wasn’t there – but I’ll search harder, because it sounds like a great recommendation. Thank you 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Marie, for such a beautiful post that was about much more than this particular beautiful book. I had two boys who enjoy graphic novels – the Treehouse books, Bad Guys and such. I think I need to find this book for myself tho. One day soon 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Lily! Thank you for your lovely comment 😊
      The Treehouse books were a huge hit in our house too – and one of our kids even did a class project on it, making up their own illustrated treehouse story (which I’ve put into their ‘keepsake box’.
      It’s getting harder as the kids get older to keep up their fascination level in books, so when the really special ones come along, I can’t help getting excited about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, how fun to catch a glimpse of your lovely daughter! I haven’t written about it yet, but I’m a sucker for children’s books. I have a very large collection in my shed. I still buy them…for myself!!! But, I have so many fond memories of reading time with my daughter. Cynthia Rylant was one of her favorites…and she’s one of my idols… The Old Woman Who Named Things is a treasure. Do you know Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney….highly recommended. Glad to see you blogging!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Michele.
      Any excuse to pop some cute photos into a blog post 😉
      I’m going to miss book week when primary school is done and dusted for our family this year. It’s always such a colourful, happy day, with the teachers staying in costume all day too.
      I haven’t yet heard of the authors you mentioned. Are they from The States? I just checked the library catalogue and there are plenty of books available by Cynthia Rylant, but not Barbara Cooney, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, of course, just “pop” those photos in whenever you can. Didn’t know you popped over there too. Of course, they are always popping in the U.K. We don’t pop much in the USA…pop corn, pop gum…about it. Oh boy…it’s truly worth it to buy the Miss Rumphius…google it…you’ll see. The message is dear to my heart…make the world more beautiful. Cynthia wrote a ton! We looked cookie store cat and bookstore dog, but, again, old woman is in my heart.

        Liked by 1 person

      • We well and truly ‘pop’ over here 😆
        I’ve made a note to look further into the books you recommended. I’m off to the library today – I’ll see if the books are available elsewhere in the Western Australian library system, and arrange an inter-library loan.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful review of an exceptional collection of stories, Marie. I, too, love the way Lorena’s otherworldly images complement Kate’s evocative storytelling. Kudos to Serenity Press (and Monique Mulligan’s powers of persuasion) for publishing this treasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review Marie 😁 What a beautiful book and published in Western Australia, yay! When I was a child, fairy tales intrigued me, I couldn’t get enough of them. My Dad disapproved of the genre and I had to smuggle them into the house, lol. I saw this review because Pamela Freeman shared it on her Facebook page.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rose. You’ve made my day! It’s lovely to hear that word is being spread about this beautiful book 😊.
      I can’t believe you were discouraged from reading fairy tales as a child, but then I hadn’t realised how much importance and meaning lay behind them until I was an adult.
      I listened to an ABC interview with Kate Forsyth recently (but recorded in February at the Perth Writers Festival) which gave great insight into the purpose of fairy tales. I’m encouraging them even more in our home now!
      Thanks for stopping by 😊

      Like

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