Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales, vol. 5: The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories

The Woman in the Woods and other North American Stories marks the fifth volume in the series of cautionary fables and fairy tales. The eight tales in this volume are from Indigenous nations, told and illustrated by Indigenous artists, and highlighting tales from Odawa, Chickasaw, Métis/Cree, Métis, Ojibwe, Tania, Navajo, and S’Kallam societies. The editors asked each of the authors to ask for permission from the Elders and/or nations to retell and rework the stories for inclusion in this anthology as they recognized and respected the protocol inherent in the gathering of the stories from the people. Unfortunately, there are no source notes included in the collection, making it of less value to educators, librarians, and storytellers than I had hoped. True, the intended audience is middle school readers, not scholars, but the authenticity of each of the tales should be paramount for them as well. I do appreciate the fact that each of the tribal affiliations has been identified for the tales.

While the tales are rendered in black and white with various hues of grey, the cover itself jumps with colour. Ironically, the story alluded to on the cover is not included in the collection. Editor and cover artist Alina Pete remarked that she had hoped to include the creation story of Sky Woman and Turtle Island, but she could not find anyone that had permission to tell this story. Sky Woman fell to the water-covered world and fell on the back of Turtle. One by one, the animals dive into the water to try and find land until Muskrat is successful in bringing back soil. Sky woman spreads the soil on Turtle’s back to create the world as we know it. She shows Sky Woman dancing for joy and two constellations on the back cover featuring two of the characters from the tales within the covers.

Most of the illustrations in the book itself have simple backgrounds, focusing on the characters of each tale. The different styles of illustrations make each of the stories individual in a collection continuous from tale to tale without any commentary. Most of the illustrations are rendered realistically, although one or two stories have manga-like characteristics and vary between historical and contemporary settings. They also vary in length.

The anthology begins with the Odawa creation story, “As it was told to Me,” retold and illustrated by Elijah Forbes, which demonstrates that the world needs the balance of good and bad to exist. It is followed by a trickster rabbit story about the cost of vanity from the Chickasaw people. “Chokfi” is written by Jordaan Arledge and illustrated by Mekala Nava. The next two stories are located closer to this reviewer. “White Horse Plains,” from the Métis settlement St. Francois Xavier, relates the tale of the dangers of greed and conflict. It is written and illustrated by Rhael McGregor. The second Métis tale is possibly the most familiar character in the collection for me. Written by Maija Ambrose Plamondon and illustrated by Milo Applejohn, “The Rougarou” tells the story of a werewolf like monster and a young boy who befriends the Rougarou. I must admit that while I am familiar with many Rougarou tales, this is the first time I have encountered this one. Alice RL’s Ojibwe tale of “Agonjin in the Water” relates a tale of another story of friendship between a human and a mythical creature: the mythical, Mishipeshu the Great Water Guardian of the lakes and rivers.

The Taino story that follows gave its title to the anthology. It is written and illustrated by Mercedes Acosta and also focuses on the relationship between a woman and a spirit of a young girl who sees the mysterious “Woman in the Woods.” The penultimate tale, “Into the Darkness,” is a Navaho shapeshifter tale about a character so frightful that no one dares to speak its name. It is written by Izzy Roberts and illustrated by Aubrie Warner. The final tale, written by Jeffrey Veregge and illustrated by Alina Pete, is a romantic tale from the S’Kallam people. The Moon in “By the Light of the Moon” falls in love with Octopus Woman, the Queen of the Salish Sea in Puget Sound. The bright light of the Moon makes it possible for the Moon to watch her dance and to send her kisses. The power of the kisses has a surprising repercussion.

The stories are followed by two pages of concise biographies of the creators including their tribal affiliations and, in most cases, their sexual orientations.

Recommended for middle school and public library collections. Because the book is part of the cautionary fables and fairy tales series, most of the stories have strong lessons imparted in the story line, but they are not dogmatic and do allow the power of the storytelling to shine through. I just wish there were adequate source notes—did I say that already?

Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales, vol. 5: The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories
Edited by Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald, Alina Pete
Iron Circus, 2022
ISBN: 9781945820977

Publisher Age Rating: 10-12
Series ISBNs and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation:  Cree, Metis, Navajo, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans, Two Spirit
Character Representation: Cree, First Nations or Indigenous, Metis, Navajo

As the Crow Flies

Charlie Lamonte is thirteen years old, queer, black, and questioning what was once a firm belief in God. So naturally, she’s spending a week of her summer vacation stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp. As the journey wears on and the rhetoric wears thin, she can’t help but poke holes in the pious obliviousness of this storied sanctuary with little regard for people like herself . . . or her fellow camper, Sydney.

(Publisher Description)


As the Crow Flies
By Melanie Gilman
ISBN: 9781945820069
Iron Circus Comics, 2017
NFNT Age Recommdnation: Teen (13-16)


Our Review

As the Crow Flies, vol. 1

Girl Who Married a Skull and Other African Stories

Have you heard the one about the skull who borrowed body parts to pass himself off as a human so he could trick the village beauty into marriage? No? Well, what about when the daughters of Frog and Snake had a playdate? Okay, fine. But surely you’ve heard the story of the crocodiles who voted on whether or not to eat a man that had saved one of their lives? No? Wow, have we got some stories for you!

(Publisher Description)


Girl Who Married a Skull and Other African Stories
Edited by C. Spike Trotman, Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald
Art By Various Creators
ISBN: 9781945820243
Iron Circus Comics, 2018
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)


Our Review

The Girl Who Married a Skull: and Other African Stories

The Crossroads at Midnight

The five short stories in this black and white anthology embody diversity in female protagonists, settings, and types of monsters while exemplifying effective horror tales evocative of a virtuoso storyteller sitting around a campfire with an attentive older audience. They are arresting in their execution and filled with unsettling suspense married with the recognition of various human experiences, especially lonesomeness while surrounded by family and community. Here we discover that not is all what it seems when you seek consolation and friendship in the dark unknown. While none of the tales literally take place at the legendary crossroads at midnight, they all exemplify what could possibly happen when the supernatural is invited into your heart and home.

The 350-page book itself has heft, lending its weight to the seriousness of the material within and the well-developed characters in each story. In the first tale, “The Girl in the Fields,” the reader is introduced to Frankie, a queer teen whose relationship with her religious older parents is volatile. She begins a friendship with a voice and eye through the fence to the peculiar neighbour’s farm. The growing friendship soon descends into a perilous adventure with the monster, who may not be exactly as advertised. This gruesome story is followed by a tale about an entirely different type of monster. College student Christina, in “Mattress, Used,” finds an old stained mattress that is being discarded. Since she has been sleeping on a pile of blankets, she regards this as a major piece of luck. Unfortunately, Christina’s health, well-being, and education are the currency paid for this “find.”

“The Boy from the Sea,” features Nia, a young girl, who is vacationing at the beach with her family. Left on her own, she is befriended by a young boy who only visits at night. His antics and promises arouse suspicion in Nia’s older sister with devastating and long-lasting results. The next tale also takes place by the water with an antagonist much more recognizable as a monster than in the previous tales. The water creature in “Our Lake Monster” began as a popular tourist attraction maintained by a family but when the creature grew and caused a fatality, the family and monster went into hiding. The monster kept growing and the family decided to sell it for research purposes. However, things quickly go amiss when the youngest member of the family disagreed with the decision.

“Kindred Spirits” is the final story, and my favorite. An elderly woman, living in isolation beside a bog, is surprisingly open to a friendly visit from a corpse from the bog. The woman, after communicating with the corpse and the others who subsequently arrive for tea, consults the library and local history experts for information about the cadavers. Armed with the knowledge and understanding of the nature of her nocturnal visitors, she immediately panics but realizes that, perhaps, the situation is not as dire and dreadful as she imagines now that she has friends.

Howard’s black and white illustrations are evocative, spooky, suspenseful, and often grotesque. Her use of crosshatching on white backgrounds adds to the intensity of the stories being told. Howard is skillful with facial expressions, portraying unmistakable realistic and vivid characters of diverse ages, ethnicity, and body types. The atmosphere in each of the tales is distinct but efficiently retains a cohesion to the overall ambiance of the volume. Her ingenious use of shadows creates an effective spooky intensity in each of the tales, establishing and maintaining suspense and tension, often beyond the final panel.

All these tales together offer a glimpse into the unsettling horror that can be awaiting each and everyone of us. While many monsters may be supernatural, the fear and longing driving both the humans and the monstrous is not so far out of bounds, closer perhaps than the famous crossroads at midnight. I highly recommend this graphic novel, which began as a Kickstarter project, for teens and adults who love to read horror and to be frightened safely within the covers of a book.


The Crossroads at Midnight
By Abby Howard
Iron Circus Comics, 2020
ISBN: 9781945820687

Title Details and Representation
Publisher Age Rating:  13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)

Banned Book Club

The Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, is based on the personal experiences of the author, who grew up during a time where South Korea was under a totalitarian government. It begins with Hyun and her mother arguing over her choice to go to school. Her mother wants her to give up school and continue to work in the family restaurant. Hyun ducks out to end the argument and attend her first day of school. Once off the bus, she is surrounded by protestors and police. Tear gas is exploding all around her, people pushing their way through the cloudy air to escape arrest. Hyun makes it to class and the teacher informs her that they need to stay away from Communist activities and not participate in protests.

Hyun wants to remain above the fray and avoid politics. She decides to join the folk dance team. They perform a dance for the school, which ends up turning political. She meets a young man on the team named Hoon who begins introducing her to new ideas. He runs the school newspaper and hides political messages in the articles. Hoon develops a crush on Hyun and the feeling turns mutual. He begins drawing her further into danger. She must decide how far she is willing to go.

The simplicity of the black and white artwork draws you into the horror of the situation. When Hyun first gets on campus, she experiences a moment of contentment. She is on a bus, headed to school, with a smile on her face. The minute she steps out, she is greeted with chants for the President to step down. The scene pulls back to reveal riot police with shields moving towards the protestors. Scenes shift to different angles, adding to the tension and chaos of the scene. There are two scenes of torture in the book. One is brief with the person having scrapes and bruises on their face. The other, while only a few pages seem as if it goes on forever. Part of it is left to the imagination as we see the objects he has been beaten with. The other act is quite cruel with the person’s face being smashed into the ground.

In the beginning, I found the title hard to get into as I had no familiarity or understanding of Korean history. The title Banned Book Club made me believe the story would be about how books changed the lives of students living in a brutal dictatorship. It was this aspect that I kept hoping would appear. After 94 pages the story began to take shape and I could see clearly where the author was going with the narrative. The theme became about how a young girl learns how to stand up and find her voice living with a government who wants to shut down any opposition or free thought. I highly recommend this book and suggest that readers learn about the Gwangju uprising to deepen their understanding. This graphic novel is most appropriate for older teens, but probably will be more appreciated by adults who are interested in historical events.

Banned Book Club
By Hyun Sook Kim
Art by Hyung-Ju Ko
ISBN: 9781945820427
Iron Circus Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: OT

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: South Korean
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories

Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales is the umbrella title for a series of three compilations themed after a specific region of which this one is the third. The first two cover Europe and Africa while the fourth one, on Oceania tales, is in publication. All have been funded through Kickstarter efforts.

I had high hopes for this collection of Asian folktales, but was dismayed to discover that few of them have source notes or any markers for context. The geographic location is mentioned, but no background is provided for readers who may not be familiar with yokai, kitsune, demons, and other supernatural beings from Japan, China, India, Georgia, Laos, Myanmar, Turkey, Iraq and Tibet. I was very pleased, however, with the reworking of “The Ballad of Mulan” which followed the ancient tales rather than the Disney film. Aside from this tale and a few others such as the title story and “Urashima Taro,” most of the stories may not be familiar with young audiences. This is not a criticism, but it is also where source notes could have made this an outstanding addition to the ongoing reworkings of folklore in the comic book format.

The length of the stories varies as does the black and white art work in this anthology. Several of the tales have been modernized to including texting and other nods to contemporary life, but the vast majority have retained the ancient settings; particularly those by a diverse range of illustrators including Gene Luen Yang, Nina Matsumoto, and Carla Speed McNeil. Most of the other creators in this collection are known better through their webcomics and indie titles. The illustrations range from manga-like cartoon-y artwork to detailed and realistic penciling and the application of black and shadows. The mood of the stories is also as diverse as the tales themselves, with a mixture of light and dark themes. Some of the tales are excerpts from longer legends and books such as Yang’s “From the Journey of the Monkey King” from American Born Chinese. All the tales offer warnings or advice for the protagonists and the readers. Unfortunately for many of the protagonists, there is a great deal of pain in learning these lessons. They do, as the overall theme indicates, offer a cautionary edification for the reader.

I wish I could recommend this for library collections but the lack of source notes for this storyteller is truly a stumbling block. There is no need in today’s publishing world not to respect the tales and culture from where the stories originated. Very few of the entries even acknowledge that the individual tale has been adapted.

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories 
By C. Spike Trotman, ed. Kate Ashwin, ed. Kel McDonald
Art by Carla Speed McNeil, Gene Leun Yang, Nina Matsumoto, et al
ISBN: 9781945820342
Iron Circus, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: all ages
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

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Related to…: Inspired by myth, Retelling