Compiled by Alice Curry, illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski, with a Foreword by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,
A River of Stories: Tales and Poems from Across the Commonwealth
Commonwealth Education Trust, 2011.
What a fabulous anthology! Seaside, riverside and wellside stories; rain, dewfall and rainbows; a sea-devil from Grenada; gosile ghosts from the Solomon Islands; Rain and Fire arguing in Namibia; Hermit crabs marching in the Bahamas and mother and son crabs walking crookedly in Sri Lanka; three brothers from Mozambique and three more from Kiribati; sailors and fishermen; the beautiful goddess Mawu of the Waters from Ghana; stars in the sky and in the sea… Such a wealth of legend and contemporary observation, all brought together by the unifying theme of water and through Jan Pieńkowski’s gorgeous illustrations.
Published to commemorate the 125th Anniversary of the Commonwealth Education Trust, A River of Stories brings together each of the 52 Member States of the Commonwealth of Nations in a vibrant mix of traditional storytelling and poetry that highlights both individual cultures and universal human concerns. By basing the book around water, anthologist Alice Curry immediately creates the potential for empathy among the book’s readers, for water is something that we all experience, though in different ways, as indeed Curry ponders in her thought-provoking introduction. The Prince of Wales, in his Foreword, also points out the way these stories and poems from a vast array of cultures and traditions are a way of “enhancing and explaining reality” and “encourage us to think about the kind of future we will pass on to our children and grandchildren, and the central importance of water to that future.”
As well as a lavish full-bleed double-page spread given over to each section title and a delightful illuminated letter introducing each story, Pieńkowski’s bold illustrations splash across every page: a monkey hangs from the header line here; there, the green “claw-like hand” of the malignant Nkalimeva from Swaziland holds tightly onto the dismayed elephant’s nose that stretches across the whole width of the book. Pieńkowski’s iconic silhouettes and stylised use of color echo the full gamut of the shading possibilities of silk-screen printing to great effect, from solid overlay to beautiful gradations that belie the apparent simplicity of the design.
Some of the writing may already be familiar, such as Kenya’s entry, an extract from Verna Aardema’s now classic “Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain”. Much of it will very likely be new, and with the sources given at the end, there is plenty of scope for further exploration. Each story or poem is no more than a five-minute read and since each one begs to be read aloud, this is the perfect book to have on stand-by to take advantage of spontaneous readaloud opportunites. It would be a good idea to keep it to hand in any case, as it’s likely to become a firm favourite with young readers.