This introduction to folklore, suited for reading aloud to young children and to being read by older ones and adults, is so charming that I fell in love with it as quickly as a Scottish laird named Dougal McPhee falls in love with a Selkie woman when he sees her playing and dancing on a sandy beach. Many readers won't know, until they open the picture book's enchanting pages, that Selkies can cast their seal coverings and take on human forms at will, both on land and on sea. They also won't know, or be able to predict, what will happen when Dougal captures a Selkie and refuses to let her go, imprisoning her and then her baby girl in his castle. Day after day, singing, this beautiful Selkie bride lets us know exactly what she is feeling:
So sad and lonely am I since we met
I wish I could swim on my way,
Ye do not care that I fear and I fret,
Or that I long for the touch of sea spray
Both in ths first story, The Selkie Bride, and in the concluding tale, In the Kingdom of the Seals, the consequences of unjust imprisonment are vividly rendered. Of commanding interest in the second story is the fate of a seal hunter who believes that he must carry on his trade regardless of its effect on vulnerable Selkie families whose love for one another and harmonious delight in existence are deeply threatened. The results of a vow made by this hunter to a uniquely grateful Selkie are as memorable as the description of knife wounds sustained by his victims. Nobody, young or old, can fail to be touched by Kate Forsyth's evocation of gray bodies, twisting and looping with delight in brilliant blue water as they battle to retain a way of life too precious to disappear.
Every book published by Christmas Press in their Fairy Tales series is now a permanent feature of my family's most cherished book shelf. Two representative titles are Two Tales of Twins from Ancient Greece and Rome, retold by Ursula Dubosarsky, and Once Upon a Christmas Annual, retold by Beattie Alvarez, the daughter of Fiona McDonald.
Dr. Susan Reibel Moore first began publishing literary criticism in the 1970's. Her most recent book, the fourth edition of What Should My Child Read? (Five Senses Education, Sydney), will soon be out.