When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew: Tales of Ti-Jean, by Jan Andrews, illustrations by Dusan Petricic (Groundwood Books, 2011, elementary/middle grade, 72 pages)
Ti-Jean is the French Canadian hero of many a tall tale. Sometimes he seems simple, sometimes wise, but always he ends up on top! At least I assume he does--I'd heard of him before today, but the three stories re-told here are the first I've ever experienced him for myself.
It was a fine introduction! Ti-Jean and the Princess of Tomboso gives a fine twist to the story of three brothers inheriting magical gifts, Ti-Jean and the Marble Player is a lovely Impossible Task story, and How Ti-Jean Became a Fiddler is, best of all, an only faintly familiar Simple Lad Wins Princess tale.
Andrews is careful to emphasize the French-Canadian setting and history, adding to the charm and interest of the tales. Living in a part of New England where many French Canadian families toiled in the mills (there are many grandparents who still speak a bit of French, and are called Meme and Pepe), it feels to me like this book fills an important cultural gap. There just aren't that many fun, friendly kids' books in my local library about French Canadians (at least I can't think of any).
I found her writing to be spot on--clearly it's fairy tale language, but avoids being stilted or forced. I liked it that, even though Ti-Jean is the third brother, the older brothers aren't too unkind, and, being a mother, I liked very much that Ti-Jean in the third story appreciated his own mama lots! And his success in this story comes in large part from having practiced, at his mama's side, the domestic arts.
There are also pictures (and now I have to go back and actually look at them, because I was so busy reading, as usual, they didn't register. Except for the one where the princess in the first story grows a magical long nose.* That was hard to miss)....Having now looked at the pictures--black and white, drawn in a relaxed and playful way, I can now say with conviction that they seem just fine to me.
I'd be very happy to read more of stories of Ti-Jean, if Jan Andrews should be so kind...
*I thought, from the title, that an apple would end up with a nose. Not so! The apple is the agent of nose-growth....