Caitlín Matthews (retelling) with Olwyn Whelan (art),
Celtic Memories (Barefoot Books, 2003)

A quick glance at the back cover of this volume shows selections from five of the Six Nations of the Celts in the British Isles (Cornwall is neglected, if you're curious). Eight of these pieces are stories, and eight are songs, blessings, or charms.

Since the book seems to be intended to be read aloud to children, I gave it a try. Not having any kids handy, I read to my kitten. She didn't listen, but I did. The stories, at least, were well written for reading. Several of them I had encountered elsewhere, but not in forms that read aloud well. Before, I ended up tripping over the words. But Matthews has taken some care to ensure that these words can be spoken. Just remember to check the pronunciation guide at the back of the book before tackling the unfamiliar names.

Whelan's pictures are charming, with bright, bold colors and a very Gaelic fondness for spirals and swirls. The borders on the pages are wonderfully colored designs of spirals and knotwork, setting off both text and illustration nicely.

The songs and poems which are interspersed with the stories are also very lovely. "The Pembrokeshire Wren Song" ("New Year Song") made me want the music. But the two songs translated by Matthews herself lacked poetry. I wanted them to rhyme, to scan, to be something I could find a tune to fit, so I could sing them, particularly "The Lullaby of the Traveling Fairies".

Nevertheless, this is a very fine collection. Matthews, who writes nonfiction for neo-pagans, probably wrote it with neo-pagan families in mind (although not solely), and certainly it's a great book for them. But anybody who is interested in things Celtic, or even just good fairy tales, will also very much enjoy it.

The ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) I received isn't bound, and doesn't belong on a child's bookshelf, but as soon as it's out, a certain little blonde girl I know and love will be getting a copy. She and her parents should love it.

[Rebecca Scott]