The Storyteller's Secret

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Tony Mitton, ill. Peter Bailey
David Fickling
978 0 385 61509 9
Jun 2009
What's so good about this book? Lots of things, but the structure is particularly neat, since it conjures up the experience of a live storytelling event. The reader, or listener, fulfils the role of audience for the storyteller, who is known simply as 'Teller'. The author vividly portrays for us the village setting and the character of the storyteller who appears one day and opens up new ways of thinking.

The verse style is accessible, direct, trippy and light, and it often makes you smile. 'It is a story handed down/from many a year ago/The tale's been told by many a tongue/but I have told it so.' Some of the stories grab you by the throat, for example the unusual 'The Seal Hunter' with its haunting black line illustrations, and 'The Pedlar of Swaffham' about a man who not only follows his dream, but also makes the most of another man's dream about treasure buried at the foot of a plum tree. 'Tam Lim' is a story that sets you on the edge of your seat as you urge the female protagonist to be sufficiently brave and strong. It works well interposing the verse with prose lines that set the scene for the next story.

The episodic presentation is mesmerising. Although the Teller returns each day with a new story rather than moving on to the next village to tell the same or similar story to a different audience, there is a clear sense of the two children participating in the unfolding narrative, and growing as a result. And in the same way that storytellers often provide tactile objects for the audience to share (my best experience of this was at the telling of an Armenian story, where the audience was presented with little red jewels from a pomegranate), so this book provides the reader and listener with a fragment from each of the five stories: 'and each holds a spell:/a curious story/to cherish and tell.'

I smiled at the author's self-promotion of his art, demonstrating this through the children's reactions: 'they knew now that a story from Teller was not to be missed.' You may well find that you set out to read one tale and are urged to carry on by your listeners, drawn into the music of the book like the children of Hamelin. It's also beautifully presented, with a part-cloth binding in sumptuous purple.

Reviewed by ALISON BOYLE

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on August 11, 2009 10:36 AM.

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