Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Kingdom Under The Sea and Other Stories

Joan Aiken (author)
Jan Pienkowski (illustrator)
Puffin Books

This lovely little Puffin book was the winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1971 for Pienkowski's silhouette illustrations and it's not hard to see why as they run through the various stories perfectly augmenting the words as supplied courtesy of one of Wyrd Britain's favourite authors here retelling a variety of folktales from Eastern Europe in her own eminently readable style.

I'm not familiar with any of the stories but the iconic witch Baba Yaga in her mortar and pestle and with her chicken leg house makes an appearance - 'Baba Yaga's Daughter' - which gave me my first chance to actually read one of her stories first hand.  There's an interesting cross section of pagan and Christian stories with the Sun and various members of his family making several appearances - the title piece, 'The Sun God's Castle', 'The Reed Girl', 'The Sun's Cousin' - variously helping or hindering people in their quests or just out of the pickles they've found themselves in.  Alongside these we find a couple of Christian themed stories such as moralistic fable of 'The Pear Tree' and the devious prankster God presented in 'The Goose Girl' depriving Saint Peter of a party.

Jan Pienkowski

Pienkowski, I assume, has designed the book so that art and words are interlaced. His illustrations intertwined with the words, often holding and framing them; often drawing the reader's eye deeper into the pictures to, quite literally, read the story within. 

As is ever the case with Ms. Aiken the tales are beautifully told in her typically light and dancing style and even though, as often seems to happen with folktales, much of the detail of the story is subsumed in the rush to the moral at the end she is still able to bring her storytelling expertise to bear and draw out the heart of each tale and craft them into a vibrant and delightful collection of stories that cross cultural, historic and geographic divides.

Buy it here -  The Kingdom Under the Sea


  1. Aaah, lovely indeed, thank you! She had a little difficulty with morals, disapproving of their general application for the consumption of children, and ended one of her own stories with the cheery: 'No moral to this story, you will be saying, and I am afraid it is true.'

    1. Hello, it's my pleasure and that's a fabulous quote and I couldn't agree more, morals are for sermons not stories.