My new book is intended to inspire all the little girls who admire women like Michelle Obama, Lucy Bronze, Malala Yousafzai and Jacqueline Wilson.
Folk Tales for Bold Girls is packed full of my own retellings of folktales from around the world, each one telling the story of a little girl — not a princess or a goddess, but a little girl the same age as the target readership, between seven and twelve years old.
If your daughter, granddaughter, niece or the little girl next door loved Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, then I think she will enjoy these ‘once upon a time’ stories as much as those true life tales.
I work as a spoken word storyteller, by which I mean that I tell traditional tales, legends, fairy tales and myths in my own words, recreating the story afresh each time I tell it, adapting my performance to the age and preference of my audience and the setting for the storytelling event. Storytellers like me do not learn our stories off by heart — it isn’t like an actor with a script. I always say it is more akin to a jazz improvisation, in that the storyteller knows the shape or ‘bones’ of the story, but presents them afresh in each telling.
I consider myself a storyteller first and an author second, but it has been a wonderful experience to have the chance to develop my skills and publish four well-received collections of the folk tales that I most love to tell. Folktales for Bold Girls will be my fifth book. I think it will be the best!
I was inspired to publish these particular stories in written form by my granddaughter Amber, who is now nine. I bought Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls for her when she was seven, and she loved hearing the true-life stories and seeing the beautiful art work showing the women featured in the text. I wrote to my publishers, The History Press, to suggest a folktale collection that would have a similar appeal to little girls. They were very interested in the idea and eagerly commissioned the book!
The hardest part for me was choosing which material from my storytelling repertoire to include in the book. I was clear that my favourite bold girl stories, like Molly Whuppie and Ibanang, needed to be there. But I also wanted to represent as many cultures around the world as possible, without leaving out my home in Wales.
The book contains fourteen traditional folktales, each with a little girl as the central character. These stories — and many more that I just couldn’t fit in — disprove the idea that girls featured in traditional tales are passive, and sit around waiting to be rescued by handsome, brave heroes. These little girls sort out their problems themselves, whether with giants, ogres, midnight hags or the denizens of deep dark forests: in a couple of cases, with the help of their mothers! Folktales contain just as many role models for today’s young girls as the young adult stories created by wonderful contemporary writers.
One of my favourite bold girls in this collection is the young Russian heroine Vasilisa. Thrust out into the forest by her stepsisters and stepmother when her father is away and cannot protect her, she has to use all her inner resources to find her way to the hut of the fearsome Baba Yaga, the archetypal fierce old witch of Russian legend, to ask for a light for their home. Only when she has completed the impossible tasks set by the Baba Yaga, is her request granted.
Although I always find the ‘wicked stepmother’ trope unsettling, in this story Vasilisa carries with her a reminder of her true mother, a little doll which lives and eats and helps her to complete every task she is set.
In this story, each of the women, whether a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddy’, represents a different aspect of the single self. Baba Yaga’s fierce love forces Vasilisa to confront and overcome her fears. Vasilisa also learns from her when to ask questions and when to observe and keep silent. The little doll represents the lost good mother and reminds the listener or reader that we can internalise and call on the strength and skills that we admire in those who were dear to us, even when they themselves are absent. And Vasilisa’s step mother and step sisters represent the parts of each of us that are not perfect: the envy and meanness that keep us from realising our true selves, unless we get the help that we need, whether from our own inner resources or from external helpers.
Yet the story is neither didactic nor moralising: it simply romps along with a great storyline, a wonderful setting, a fabulous villain and a stoic heroine who wins our admiration, and with whom little girls can readily identify, when the tasks imposed upon them by family or friends seem as impossible as the demands of Baba Yaga and as unfair as those of the stepmother.
My books are always illustrated with beautiful, detailed pen and ink drawings done by my partner, Ed Fisher, the third generation of talented artists in his family. When we discussed Bold Girls, he had the great idea of asking little girls who are relatives or friends of ours to pose for photographs, which he would then use as the basis for his drawings. It sounded like a brilliant plan: every little girl we asked, starting with Amber, my granddaughter, was pleased and proud to be invited. (Of course this was done with written permission from their parents, and with at least one parent present for the photography session.)
Some of the photography sessions were really funny. For example, Amber’s character, the Girl who Found the Stories, is holding her bow and arrow. Amber actually posed in our kitchen, with a stick in her hands to represent the arrow, and Ed drew in the weapons later! Her concentration and commitment to the picture, holding this odd piece of equipment while surrounded by the washing up, was fantastic, and the look of determination in the girl’s eyes, as she hunts for food for her family, comes over very clearly in the drawing.
Each girl was sent a signed print of her own drawing, and each will receive a signed copy of the book once it is published in October.
We plan to launch the book, alongside an exhibition of the illustrations, at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth at the end of October, as part of Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival 2019. The festival is the brainchild of Peter Stevenson, who will also be launching his latest History Press book at the event. For more information, please see the Facebook event page.
I am really looking forward to seeing my book in its finished form. The History Press is publishing it in hardback, and their books are always really well-crafted and beautifully made. I think it will be a lovely artefact, as well as an inspiring read for little girls growing into women in these complicated times.
I hope that everyone who reads Folk Tales for Bold Girls, whether a girl, a boy or an adult, will love it. Most of all, I hope that all its readers will live happily ever after… for that is the only proper way to live.
Win a copy of Folk Tales for Bold Girls by Fiona Collins
Do you think that old stories are all about princes and princesses, knights and heroes, giants and monsters? Not always … these are stories from around the world about girls like you and girls you might know: clever, strong, brave and resourceful.
If you are aged between 7 and 12 years old you will enjoy reading the stories of Vasilisa, who wasn’t afraid of the deep dark forest; Mollie Whuppie, who knew how to trick a giant; Tipingi, who was able to call on her friends to help her get out of trouble; Tegwedd, who used her magic powers to help others; and many more fearless girls.
Fiona Collins has been a storyteller for a long time. She knows the old tales, and how to make them fresh and new. With magical illustrations of these young heroines by talented artist Ed Fisher, this is a book to treasure.
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References and Further Reading
Collins, Fiona, October 2019, Folk Tales for Bold Girls, The History Press, ISBN: 9780750990493
Favilli, E. & Cavallo, F., 2017, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Particular Books, ISBN: 9780141986005