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[Monday Reading] Girls in Asian Folktales: “Mala” from India and “Jouanah” A Hmong Cinderella

Meet Mala and Jouanah.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.

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[Photo Journal/A-Z Photo Challenge] V is for Vienna

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[Book Hunting Expedition 55] Library Loot

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This week, I am glad to find another subtheme that celebrates our current Feast of Asian literature until the end of this month: Women in Folktales!

IMG_7256Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella

Adapted by: Jewell Reinhart Coburn with Tzexa Cherta Lee
Illustrator: Anne Sibley O’Brien
Publisher: Shen’s Books, 1996. Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

This story has all the ingredients of the Western Cinderella that most people are familiar with, thanks to DisneyWorld and their immensely successful Fairy Princesses marketing. When we had our fractured fairy tale theme two years back and when we celebrated a Chinese New Year Special in 2011 for two weeks, we encountered quite a number of versions of the Cinderella fairytale. There seems to be something about the wicked stepmother, ugly stepsister, and the long-suffering patient character of Cinderella and a Prince Charming who shall match the shoe to the lovely lady that may be universal.

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Jouanah’s story is the Thai version of the age-old classic. In the Publisher’s Note found at the beginning of the book, there is a short description of how they came to know this tale:

This centuries-old folktale was introduced to us by Blong Xiong in a story entitled “The Poor Girl.” Another version of the story, “Ngao Nao and Shee Na,” can be found in Folk Stories of the Hmong by Norma J. Livo and Dia Cha. We based the story of Jouanah on these sources as well as the oral traditions from Tzexa Cherta Lee’s family.

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There are slight twists to the narrative though with Jouanah’s mother not really being dead but transformed into a cow as a form of the mother’s self-sacrifice to help out her husband whose farm was struggling making it difficult for the family to make ends meet:

Without a word of protest, the husband took three vines and wound them three times around his wife’s ankles, three times around her wrists, and three times around her head. 
In a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, the wife became a cow.

When the farm prospered, however, the husband chose to marry another woman instead of transforming his wife back to a cow. Interesting twist, I thought. Rather than a fairy godmother, this cow is imbued with magical powers that helped out Jouanah just when she needed it the most. How the story ends I shall leave for you to discover. While I do not consider this my favorite Cinderella version (I found the narrative too verbose), it is still worth the read.

Mala: A Women’s FolktaleIMG_7248

Story by: Gita Wolf
Pictures by: Annouchka Gravel Galouchko
Published by: Annick Press, Ltd., 1996. Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

I am no stranger to Annouchka Gravel Galouchko’s artwork as I have read and reviewed her Sho and the Demons of the Deep sometime in late 2010 for our HauntingTales Special. This book Mala written by Gita Wolf is based on a traditional Indian folktale. It is a beautifully told narrative that is perfectly matched by Annouchka’s dreamy and borderline-surreal landscapes filled with vibrant colors and spirit mothers and gypsies and a young girl who realized that she does not need to be a boy nor a strong muscled man to save her village.

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Weaving an intricate story within a story, the narrative shows how three roving gypsy women came into Meena’s village which was suffering from drought, the riverbed dry and the fields barren. With baskets full of puppets on their heads and tom-toms and hand lutes, the gypsies sang about a tale of a demon who swallowed the rain and how a kind-hearted young girl named Mala managed to overpower a demon that turns heroes and young men into stone and ashes.

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The gypsies also share how Mala was discouraged by her mother and by the King and his Minister from saving her own brother and the village from the demon because she is a girl:

The King laughed. So did the Minister. They laughed and laughed. Finally, the King wiped the tears from his eyes and gasped, “This is a real demon, little girl, that you are planning to kill. Not a doll. To tame him, you need strength and bravery.”
“I have all that,” said Mala confidently. “I go all alone through the countryside at noon to fetch a heavy pot of water. I go all alone to the forest to gather firewood. I do all the housework.”
The King became serious. “These things all girls do. Now go. A little girl setting out to defeat a demon, indeed!”

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My favorite illustration is the one with Mala and her spirit mothers:

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How Mala managed to save her village and how Meena was inspired by this story I shall leave for you to find out for yourself.

Currently Reading…

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I just finished reading this gorgeous book: A Treasury of the Great Children’s Book Illustrators by Susan E. Meyer. While this was limited to British illustrators all born in the 19th century, this book is a truly riveting read. I was fascinated by the life story narratives of Edward Lear, John Tenniel, Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway (and her chimerical love affair with John Ruskin), Arthur Rackham to name a few. This is a must-read among children’s lit bibliophiles.

How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?

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13 comments on “[Monday Reading] Girls in Asian Folktales: “Mala” from India and “Jouanah” A Hmong Cinderella

  1. What a lovely collection, Myra! This is just what I need to begin my “stories from around the world” library section – thank you!!!

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  2. A customer came in just the other day asking for Cinderella stories from around the world. Now I have another title to suggest to her! Thanks!

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  3. Both books are interesting, Myra, but I really love the idea and the look of the book about Mala. Galouchko’s artwork is gorgeous, as you say. I hope I can find it!

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  4. I love that you are highlighting Asian literature.

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  5. You always share the most beautiful books!! Love them 🙂

    I hope you have a great week. Happy reading!

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  6. wow, these books look gorgeous! Thanks for sharing so many of the lovely interior pages.

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  7. Rose Milligan

    The pictures in these books are beautiful. I’m currently reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares.

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  8. Oh what timing – I have been reading my reading group Cinderella stories from around the world! This title that you have highlighted here looks lovely. I don’t know this one.

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  9. So many good-looking books!

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  10. I love the art in Mala. Thanks for sharing the pictures.
    my Monday post

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  11. Pingback: Dr. Coburn and the Asian Cinderella: Cultural Diversity in Fairy Tales – Gathering Books

  12. Pingback: The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece – Gathering Books

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