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Blackberry Blue by Jamila Gavin


Blackberry Blue: And Other Fairy Tales


Jamila Gavin has created six beautiful, magical fairy tales. These new tales are so perfectly done that they seem as if we’ve known them all our lives. In Gavin’s inspirational preface she talks about her love of fairy tales growing up. The tales she tells here are all in the European tradition but the protagonists of the stories come from a more diverse range of backgrounds. Her explicit aim is to allow many more children to directly relate to the heroes. From my, admittedly limited perspective, she has done a wonderful job. The stories are exciting, frightening and magical with beautiful, brave heroes and malevolent foes. Just as the best sort of fairy tales should have.

The title story Blackberry Blue is my favourite. It is so magical it is truly enchanting. Blackberry is a foundling taken in by a kind couple unable to have a child of their own. Blackberry is the most beautiful, perfect baby:
‘Her skin was as black as midnight, her lips like crushed damsons, and her tightly curled hair shone like threads of black gold.’
She grows into a lovely young person who captures the heart of Prince Just. There is a touch of Cinderella about the tale, and the descriptions of her magical dresses are gorgeous. One had ‘a skirt of bluebells, trimmed with forget-me-nots and with a bodice of daffodils.’ Who wouldn’t want to wear such a dress?

Of course, true love cannot run smoothly and the couple have to overcome certain obstacles to be together. Gavin has used many of the most popular themes in these tales: the power of true love, bravery, and loyalty; wicked stepparents and their horrible children; people turning into animals. Animal transformation can reveal the true nature of a person, good or evil.

This raven may not have good intentions but it does look awesome. The illustrations throughout are gorgeous (although my photos don’t do them justice). Along with the typesetting they give the book even more appeal. The picture of Emeka the Pathfinder becoming the Green Man is one of my favourites.

Emeka and his sister Joy are those most lovely of fairy-tale children: kind, considerate, loyal, brave, devoted. Poverty forces them from the family home, much to their mother’s distress. She cannot bear to be parted from her ‘beautiful son, with his shining black eyes and glowing skin like gold buried in the dark earth, so brave and bold’ and her ‘most precious and loyal daughter, whose laughter tinkles like bells across the universe.’ If she knew the trials they must face I think she would have been even more reluctant to let them go.

I love Blackberry Blue and it’s a book I would gladly recommend. It deserves a place on the bookshelf in every home with children, and a fair few without too.

Blackberry Blue is published by Tamarind in Hardback. I am most grateful to the publisher for sending me a copy. I shall treasure it.

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