Easy to Read Wonder Tales, and Easy to Read Spooky Tales
Veronika Martenova Charles’ “About the Author” page says that she, “creates stories for children that are inspired by her own travels around the world as well as her fascination with the stories and folklore of many lands.” She has published ten “Easy to Read Wonder Tales” and ten “Easy to Read Spooky Tales.” One of my students brought the first of the “Wonder tales,” It’s Not About the Apple, to school so, as is my wont, I thought I’d see what these are about. I checked out two of each flavor from our local library.
These books are written with an early elementary level vocabulary. If you are curious about what that means, we encourage you to go the Amazon book preview to see some pages from the books (“Tiny Girl” has several pages of sample text).
The “Wonder Tales” begin with three modern-day friends doing or saying something that reminds one of them of a fairy tale. In the succeeding three chapters, each of the friends gets to tell a different version they have heard of a well-known tale. In It’s Not About the Apple, they tell different “Snow White” stories; one from Greece, one from Armenia, and one from Italy.
In It’s Not About the Tiny Girl, each of the three stories is reminiscent of “Thumbelina.” The story from Chile is about a boy who is born in a peanut. The story from Japan is about an inch-tall boy who uses a needle as a sword to defeat an ogre. The Native American story is about a clever Baby-man. So it’s really not about the tiny girl.
Given the intended audience, I was a bit surprised by the “Spooky Tales” seal and a few of the illustrations.
For children who like a few chills and thrills, most of the stories in Don’t Go Into the Forest and Don’t Enter the House might be just right. It can be relatively easy for children who are accustomed to fairy tales to handle a story about strange creatures who try to trap people for various purposes, as long as the story resolves well. However, one feature of the spooky books that could be disturbing is that the last story in each of the books is not resolved. In the Afterword there is a series of questions prompting the reader to speculate on how the story could end, such as: What do you think happened to the main character? Did he get caught? Do you think this story can have a happy ending? How could the boys have escaped? Children of early elementary age may not be ready for spooky stories without resolutions. I question the wisdom of giving children reason to fear things like going into a forest or a spooky looking house, or happening upon a talking skull without somehow ending by telling them that it turned out there was really nothing to fear. Especially if they are expected to read these on their own without an adult beside them to discuss the stories with afterward.
One of the stories in Don’t Enter the House, crosses the boundary from the realm of imaginary creatures into the land of ghosts. In this one, a young girl goes away on a fishing trip with her father. When her friends start to worry that she hasn’t come home yet, they go to her house. The missing girl appears, then disappears, then strange things happen that make the friends run screaming from the house. Later they find out that the girl and her father must have drowned. They never come back, but their empty boat is found, so what the girls saw at the house must have been their friend’s ghost. Afterward, the storyteller reassures one of the listeners that ghosts are just make-believe, but I think this one could be more disturbing than the others for some children.
Overall, my assessment of the books I read in this series is that the “Wonder Tales” seem shallow but harmless. Perhaps. It is interesting to know that there are different versions of our well-known tales all over the world. However, these are told in a matter-of-fact way that leaves out the aspects of virtue and character development found in many of the old familiar stories. I can see the possibility of a child devouring all ten “Wonder Tales” books, yet coming away still hungry for a healthful feast for the soul.
The world is full of better choices for early readers than the “Spooky Tales.”