Folk Tale Fan Art

the-singing-turtle-artwork-by-aliisa-leeOld tales get a modern twist when we asked artist Aliisa Lee to re-image twelve folk tale (and fairy tale) creatures as manga characters! Aliisa’s drawings, of course, were stunning. Singing turtles, badger tea kettles, and feisty dragons? Absolutely. Below are each of the characters, along with a very quick synopsis of their stories.



Once there was a golden deer who was King of the Banyan Deer. His herd lived peacefully in the forest alongside the King of the Monkey Deer and his herd. The Ruler of the country, however, was a man who loved to hunt and eat deer meat.  He surrounded the forest with a fence and told the Kings that every day, a deer from their herds must sacrifice his/herself to his table. One day, a mother deer was due to be sacrificed. She begged to wait until her baby was older. The Monkey Deer King would not consent to this, but the brave Banyan Deer King offered to go in her place. The Ruler was touched by the noble sacrifice of the Banyan Deer, and vowed never to hunt or eat deer meat again.

From Told in India, retold by Virginia Haviland, illustrated by Blair Lent (Little, Brown, 1973).

young-dragon-artwork-by-aliisa-leeYOUNG DRAGON (Taiwan)

Long ago, China was a great sleeping Father Dragon. Only the tip of his tail stuck into the sea. Nearby, three young dragons wrestled and played with each other. Eventually, they started nipping at Father Dragon’s tail, biting harder and harder until he awoke with a mighty ROAR. He lashed his tail so hard, the tip broke off and fell into the sea, trapping one of the naughty dragons underneath. Today, the tail tip is the Island of Taiwan, and the mountain range in the middle of the island is the trapped dragon. Father Dragon, now called the Himalaya Mountains, has gone back to sleep. The two remaining dragons continue to play in the Taiwan Straits and China Sea, causing storms and typhoons.

From Tales from a Taiwan Kitchen, written by Cora Cheney, illustrated by Teng Kung Yun-chang and others (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1976).

moon-rabbit-artwork-by-aliisa-leeMOON RABBIT (China)

An old hermit lived in a cave with a rabbit. Every day, the rabbit brought berries, herbs, and mushrooms for the hermit to eat. But then came a terrible drought. The rabbit traveled far, looking for food. When he returned to the cave, he couldn’t bear to tell his friend that he had failed to find anything. So he leaped into the fire, hoping the hermit would cook him and avoid starvation. But before the flames touched the rabbit, the Celestial Emperor lifted him to the calm surface of the moon. He praised the rabbit’s bravery and compassion, and sacrifice. The Moon Goddess was delighted to have such a noble companion. The next full moon, see if you can spot the outline of the Moon Rabbit!

From Cloud Weavers: Ancient Chinese Legends by Rena Krasno and Yeng-Fong Chiang (Pacific View Press, 2003).

the-firebird-artwork-by-aliisa-leeTHE FIREBIRD (Russia)

Tsar Vyslav Andronovich had a magnificent garden and a special tree that bore golden apples. But every night, a Firebird would fly into the garden and steal apples from the tree. Tsar Vyslav ordered his three sons to capture the bird, but only Ivan, the youngest, succeeded in plucking a feather from her tail as she flew away. A massive quest ensued, one that involved a gray wolf, a horse with a golden mane, a beautiful maiden, ravens, the water of death, the water of life, and two treacherous, back-stabbing brothers. Needless to say, it all ends well, with Ivan and Elena living happily ever after.

From The Firebird and Other Russian Fairy Tales, edited and with an introduction by Jacqueline Onassis, illustrated by Boris Zvorykin (Viking Press, 1978).

babe-the-blue-ox-artwork-by-aliisa-leeBABE THE BLUE OX (United States of America)

Winter can be hard, but this particular winter was so cold, the snow turned blue! One day, a giant lumberjack named Paul Bunyan went on a walk. He heard a little cry. Following the sound, he found a blue baby ox in the snow. Paul took the baby ox home and named him Babe. In time, Babe the Blue Ox grew to humongous proportions. But he was always a good and faithful companion to Paul Bunyan. By the way, do you know the Mississippi River was formed when a big ‘ol water tank wagon Babe was hauling sprung a leak? It’s true! I swear!

From American Folklore: Minnesota Tall Tales retold by S. E. Schlosser. Original source here.

anansi-artwork-by-aliisa-leeANANSI (Africa)

Nyame, the sky god, held all the world’s stories. Anansi the spider wanted those stories. So Nyame challenged Anansi to capture Hornet, Python, Leopard, and Fairy in exchange for the tales. Clever Anansi trapped Hornet in a gourd by pretending it was raining. He tricked vain Python into stretching out on a branch and then tied him to it. He bound Leopard in a web net, and stuck curious Fairy to a doll made of sticky gum. Nyame was overjoyed at Anasai’s success. He gave him the world’s stories, which Anansai shared with everyone.

From Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts & Magical Monsters (DK Publishing, 2011).

the-mechanical-nightingale-artwork-by-aliisa-leeTHE MECHANICAL NIGHTINGALE (Denmark)

A nightingale lived in a forest. Her song was so beautiful, the Emperor demanded she perform in his court. When she sang for him, the Emperor wept. He commanded her to stay in the palace, but the bird soon grew unhappy. Then one day, a gift arrived. It was a mechanical nightingale, one that sang when you wound it up. It quickly replaced the real nightingale. Time passed, and the Emperor grew very ill. When death came to claim him, the Emperor turned to the mechanical bird for comfort. But it remained silent, for there was no one to wind it. Suddenly, there was a glorious burst of song! The real nightingale sang away death, and the Emperor and the nightingale became good friends.

From Ardizzone’s Hans Andersen: Fourteen Classic Stories, selected and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, translated by Stephen Corrin (Atheneum, 1979).

bayamey-artwork-by-aliisa-leeBAYAMEY (Australia)

When Ocean disobeys Bayamey, the Maker of the World, Bayamey transforms into a giant frog and swallows all the Earth’s water.  Earth’s creatures, fearing for their lives, try to make Bayamey laugh and release the water. Kookooburra Bird, Turtle, and Bumble Bee all do funny things, but nothing works. Finally, the Eel Sisters try an amusing dance. In doing so, they accidently tie themselves together and start arguing. The creatures laugh at their antics, and Bayamey just can’t help himself. He laughs and laughs! The water bursts forth and returns to Earth.

From Eleven Nature Tales: A Multicultural Journey, written by Pleasant DeSpain, illustrated by Joe Shlichta (August House, 1996).



A poor junkman frees a badger from a trap. The grateful badger transforms himself into a fine teakettle and crawls into the junkman’s basket. The junkman, hardly believing his good fortune, sells the kettle to a temple priest.  The priest is shocked, however, when the kettle grows legs and a head and starts dashing around the room! He returns the kettle to the junkman. Next, the badger teakettle suggests that he and the junkman put together a show and become rich. After many performances, the now-affluent junkman returns to the temple, explains his story, and offers the kettle to the priest as a gift. Rumor has it the kettle still resides at the Monrinji Temple!

From Told in Japan, retold by Virginia Haviland, illustrated by George Suyeoka (Little, Brown, 1967).

the-troll-artwork-by-aliisa-leeTHE TROLL (Norway)

Once there were three billy goats named Gruff. There was a hillside full of rich grass they wanted to eat. But first, they had to cross a bridge, and underneath that bridge lived a big, ugly, nasty troll. The youngest brother had just started across the bridge when the troll lunged up, roaring “WHO’S THAT TRIP TRAPPING OVER MY BRIDGE? I’LL EAT YOU UP!” The first brother assured the troll that the second brother would make a better meal. The second brother insisted the oldest brother was even bigger and meatier. The oldest brother got right down to business. He charged the troll and tossed him into the stream. And the troll was never seen again!

From Favorite Fairy Tales Told Around the World, retold by Virginia Haviland, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Little, Brown, 1985).

the-fox-artwork-by-aliisa-leeTHE FOX (Greece)

One morning, a fox was looking for a bite to eat. She spotted a crow perched high in a tree, holding a piece of cheese in her beak. Calling up, the fox began to praise the crow for her shiny feathers, bright eyes, and strong beak.  The fox lamented, however, that she couldn’t hear the crow’s beautiful voice. The crow was feeling quite flattered at this point (and, it must be said, growing quite vain). She opened her mouth and croaked “Caw! Caw! Caw!” The cheese fell out of her beak. Quick as a flash, the fox gulped it down. The lesson to be learned? Never trust a flatterer.

From Aesop’s Fables by Jerry Pinkney (SeaStar Books, 2000).

the-singing-turtle-artwork-by-aliisa-leeTHE SINGING TURTLE (Haiti)

Everyone in the village is starving except Kanzo. His garden is bursting with peas! Some hungry birds decide to sneak in and have a feast. They loan their good friend Turtle feathers so he can fly with them. The secret snacking continues for days until suspicious Kanzo surprises them and captures turtle. But Turtle amazes Kanzo by bursting into song! Soon, people are paying money to hear Kanzo’s singing turtle, and Kanzo becomes rich. The King demands to hear the Turtle (and secretly plans to steal it for himself). But someone has switched the singing turtle for an ordinary one. The King is enraged at being made a fool of, and Kanzo and his family flee. And the Turtle? He’s probably still singing!

From When Night Falls, Kric! Krac!: Haitian Folktales, by Liliane Nérette Louis, edited by Fred Hay, Ph.D. (Libraries Unlimited, 1999).

Original artwork by Aliisa Lee

Books, Color, Chance

_mur0006The next time you see a telephone book, look beyond the phone numbers, advertisements, thin pages, and wobbly covers. Philadelphia artist Katie Murken did exactly that when she created Continua, a work that combines recycled phone books, color dye, math, elements of chance, and sculpture.

Gathering scores of old and surplus phone books, Katie stripped off their covers and dipped the 3 outer edges into dye. In total, she dyed approximately 1,560,000 sheets of paper with 24 different colors.

dye_readybooks_dryingThen she stacked the altered books into columns. However, the colors she used were determined by a customized color wheel and a pair of dice. A dice roll determined how she would stack the books.

murken_continua_2The result was 24 tall columns of vibrantly colored, gently wavy books pages, arranged completely by chance. And the color! The color! Katie used non-toxic dyes from a small company in California.

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Walking among the stacked pages was incredibly calming, yet energizing. It was also validating. To me, it felt like confirmation of what the knowledge inside books really looks like.

_mur0019If you’d like to see more images of Continua, or read interviews about Katie and her fascinating process, you will find numerous links on Katie Murken’s site.

Photographs courtesy of Katie Murken


ian walks the dogQ: In the background of your story time photos, I always see amazing stuff like a cross section of a house, a big wall of book, and a giant tree??? What is that? Can you give us a tour?

Sure! That fantastical landscape you’re seeing behind Ian and his box dog is Bookscape, the Cotsen Children’s Library’s public gallery. You might be surprised to learn that while Cotsen is technically a library, the “library” part of it contains our rare books and special collections. We don’t, for example, have circulating copies of books like public libraries. We do, however, have reading copies of books available in the Bookscape gallery. And like our programming, Bookscape is open to the public and free of charge. Ready for a tour?

bookscape-entrywayThe Cotsen Library opened its doors in 1997. Back then, its public gallery looked a little different. But in 2002, architect James Bradberry, artist Judson Beaumont, and Cotsen staff collaborated to create the now-iconic Bookscape.You enter Bookscape through a topiary garden. In the below image, you can see that garden from another angle. The giant glass wall of books you see rising in the background is a 3-story rare books vault. And that’s only about 1/5 of our collection!

topirary-gardenI love the inlay on the floor of the garden. Not only is it beautiful, it also made a great fire pit for a camping story time (you can just see it underneath all the construction paper fire and cotton ball marshmallows).

roasting marshmallowsPast the garden, you find yourself in a little house. Stretched across one side of the house is a fireplace.

fireplaceSee the black railing on the top of the house? That marks the perimeter of a little hidden room. You climb the bookshelf stairs on the left and unlock a trap door to gain access to the room. We currently use it for office storage. But sometimes, I climb up there to launch UFO or two.

Above the house’s fireplace is a clock. A closer look reveals that it tells Princeton, Cinderella,13 Clock, and Connecticut Yankee time.

mantle-clockThe bookshelves that flank the fireplace are stocked with wooden books. Many of them have tongue-in-cheek titles, courtesy of the Cotsen staff.

wooden-booksHere are just a few titles:

The Feline in the Fedora
Fly Through Your O.W.L.S by H. Granger
Just So-So Stories
Step-Mommy Dearest
Dare to Be Different by U. Duckling
Richard’s Scariest Word Book Ever
From the Mixed Up Files of Enron
Ramona Quimby, Age Eighty
Effective Communication by Amelia Bedelia
Goldilocks: My Story
Never-Never Land on Pennies a Day
Strega No-No
The Very Hungry Multinational Conglomerate

To the left of the fireplace is a cozy study booth. Often, this is where I’ll find Princeton University students reading, writing, and working on their laptops.

wooden-boothOpposite the fireplace is the “study.” Here you’ll find bookshelves and big, squashy leather coaches. This is also the chapter book section of the gallery.

living-roomOver the years, I’ve used the bookshelves for hiding things during scavenger hunts, or for holding items like this orange mailbox during a mailman story time.

orange mailbox

Not too far from the house is our wooden puppet theater. I can’t tell you how much use this gets! The theater has a puppet storage bin built into the back (I buy animal and insect puppets from Folkmanis), and an extra-deep stage so puppeteers can comfortably rest their elbows during performances. The velvet curtains slide back and forth on a rod. Best of all, our puppets are multilingual! I’ve heard performances in English, French, German, Japanese, Hebrew, Italian…

puppet-theaterOutside the house, in the back of the gallery, is our bridge, wishing well, and bonsai tree.

bookscape-tourThe bridge is prime toddler territory. They love to test out their walking skills on its gentle slope.

gallery-bridgeBut the bridge also comes in handy when you need a train tunnel during story time!

tunnel-stop-croppedThe wishing well is next to the bridge…

wishing-wellThere’s an entrance to the well on the right – it’s shaped like a jagged crack. Look closely in the above photo and you’ll see the water “escaping” from the right side of well and flowing under the bridge. It ends in this cute little koi pond.

koi-pondWe’ve certainly done a lot of fishing and splashing in the pond at story time. It’s also a popular location for Vikings and Pirates to search for coins!

coin claimIn the back right-hand corner of the gallery is our giant bonsai tree.

bookscape-treeThe tree has two floors. The ground floor can comfortably fit a family or a group of kids. There are 3 alcoves for picture book storage, and big puffy floor pillows.

ground-floor-of-treeWhen our To Be Continued chapter book program is in session, I bring out even more floor pillows and we spread out!

to be continued in cotsenCurling along the back of the tree is a staircase that leads to a small upstairs room and another pair of comfortable pillows.

second-floor-of-treeBoth tree rooms have graffiti carved into the walls by literary characters. Here’s my favorite:

tree-graffitiThe back left-hand corner of Bookscape isn’t the most glamorous area of our gallery, but it’s certainly the place closet to my heart. It’s our program area.

program-areaThis is where the magic and the mess happens.

tiger talesThere are lots of other little touches and surprises in our gallery, but I won’t reveal them all. You’ve got to come and discover them for yourself! Ten years ago, when I was interviewing for my job at Cotsen, I walked into the gallery and was overwhelmed with emotion. Yes, I had seen pictures of Bookscape online, but they didn’t prepare me for what it felt like to be fully immersed in the gallery. I silently swore that if I got the job, I would do my best to create programs that would match the love, care, and consideration that went into designing this amazing space for kids.

gardenIf you’d like to see a little video the University made about our space, and meet some of the students who work here, you’ll find it here!