The Skull Talks Back: And Other Haunting Tales Hardcover – Jul 7 2004
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From School Library Journal
Grade 4-6–Thomas retells six supernatural folktales selected from Hurston's Every Tongue Got to Confess (HarperCollins, 2001). The subject matter is sufficiently scary to give young readers a thrill, and Jenkins's spooky black-and-white paintings of skeletons, skulls, arrogant men, eerie cats, and nighttime swirls of fog perfectly set the stage for shivers. Thomas omits most of the dialect and supplies missing motivation. In "The Witch Who Could Slip off Her Skin," the reteller adds silly explanatory paragraphs telling why this witch would "ride" people who had done her wrong. She eliminates the character of "Marster" from "Big Sixteen," here called "Big, Bad Sixteen." "Bill, the Talking Mule," a tale in which a farmer is frightened when his animals suddenly speak to him, retains all of the surprise hilarity of the original. An adapter's note doesn't explain the changes so much as review the content. Although mostly faithful to Hurston's tales, the retellings read like fragments from some larger work that begin in the middle and end abruptly, a fact that may trouble readers who expect more shape to a story. However, this volume introduces a small part of the huge body of literature collected in the rural South in the 1920s and the person who helped put words to paper.–Susan Hepler, Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA
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Gr. 4-7. Hurston was a landmark writer and collector of black folklore in the 1930s rural South, but her stories, written in heavy dialect, are not accessible to kids. Using a direct style that loses none of the colloquial immediacy of the original voices, Thomas has done a great job of retelling six of Hurston's supernatural tales, and Jenkins' monochromatic collages and silhouettes capture the delicious, shivery glow of skeletons and graveyards. Thomas' retelling about "the witch who could slip off her skin" is not as dramatic as Virginia Hamilton's in Wee Winnie Witch's Skinny [BKL Je 1 & 15 04], but the tales in this small, spacious collection will still be favorites with storytellers. Best of all is "Big Bad Sixteen" about a man so strong that he kills the devil. When the man dies, he can't enter either heaven or hell, so he returns to Earth as the scary jack-o-lantern. Thomas provides brief, lively notes at the end. Let's hope she'll bring more of Hurston's work to thrill young readers. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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