West of the Moon by Margi Preus

West of the MoonCindy: I have a faithful following of middle schools girls who love folktale retellings. Most of them are more familiar with the Grimm stories (or stories that Disney films have undertaken–commentary on that topic is available elsewhere online) than with traditional Scandinavian tales. When I introduce them to Edith Pattou’s East or Jessica Day George’s Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, both based on the East of the Sun, West of the Moon Norwegian tale, they are…um…enchanted. Newbery medalist Preus has written another creative twist on this tale in West of the Moon (Amulet 2014) that is sure to be popular with this audience.

Astri’s father has gone to seek his fortune in America and her mother is dead. She and her younger sister Greta are living a miserable existence under the care of her step-mother when Astri is sold to a local goat herder, who is no prince in disguise. Her circumstances get worse and worse and she discovers that she is not the only girl he has in captivity. She finds a young, mysterious mute girl locked in a shed with a spinning wheel. The story starts slowly but when Astri decides to escape and find passage to America for her sister and herself things get interesting. “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” is probably the most recognizable riff here for young American readers, in addition to “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” but they will recognize the motifs of other familiar stories even if they don’t know the Norse versions. This blend of historical immigration story with fairy tale infusion and a message that story can sustain us in hard times calls to mind Nancy Farmer’s African novel A Girl Named Disaster with another girl who uses folktales for strength on her journey to find her father. While the folk art cover is very appropriate for the story it may take some hand-selling with young readers. With five starred reviews, this is one book you don’t want to miss recommending.

Lynn: Count me in as one who loves fairy and folk tales and fairy tale spin-offs but also count me in as someone who doesn’t want readers to overlook what lay beneath those original stories.  Margi Preus does something really brilliant in this unforgettable book.  She captures both the grim ugly reality and the sweet hopeful solace of those traditional tales and threads both elements through a historical immigrant’s story that is also made up of those two elements.  And she tells this through the voice of Astri, who totally won my heart.  Tough, ruthless, fierce and practical, Astri does what she must to survive her horrible circumstances while being guided and comforted by the tales her mother told her.  What a book!

Preus also provides some fascinating back matter in an author’s note.  Her own grandparents immigrated to America from Norway and lines from Preus’ great-great-grandmother Linka’s diary gave her the idea for this book.  She includes a page from the diary, sketches and a photograph of her great-great-grandparents.  Also rounding out the book is additional information on some of the historical elements of the time such as cholera, rickets, charms and curses and a list of the folktales referenced in the book.  There is also a welcome glossary, pronunciation guide and extensive bibliography.  This is a book to read and read and read again.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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