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Fierce, Fearless and Free

Fierce, Fearless and Free Girls in myths and legends from around the world

Published: 5 Mar 2020

Paperback / softback, 160 pages

Recommended for age 7+ , 9+ and 11+

By Lari Don

Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

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A brilliant, set:inclusivity collection of traditional tales from around the world featuring amazing women and girls. Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince who - no, that's not right! Once upon a time, there were strong, fierce women who plotted, schemed, took action, showed kindness, used magic and trickery, and made their own destiny. From the long-haired Petrosinella who escaped the tower and broke the spell that the ogress had cast over her and Nana Miriam who beat a hippo using politeness and magic, to Kate Crackernuts who tried to save her stepsister from her mother's curse, these are stories of girls doing it for themselves! With stories drawn from all over the world, including China, Scotland, Armenia, Italy and Nigeria, Lari Don presents heroine stories that don't leave girls sitting around waiting to be saved by the handsome prince.

Reviewed by Jo Bowers

Fierce, Fearless and Free is a fantastic collection of inclusive myths and legends from around the world about amazing women and girls who are, as you can guess from the title, fierce, fearless and free.

There are thirteen short stories altogether, and they are all very different stories in very different settings and places in the world, near and far, from Ireland, Scotland, Lithuania, Ecuador and Siberia, to name but a few.

Each tale opens with a fantastic illustration by Eilidh Muldoon, at the beginning of each chapter, to introduce us to the heroine of the story and captures them in the context we will meet them in the story. Medea and the Metal Man, a Greek Myth, shows in the illustration the courage and cleverness that we see from Medea in this tale. She uses words to defeat the colossal metal warrior Talos when no one had ever succeeded before. Altyn Aryg and the Snake’s Belly shows Altyn Aryg on her horse next to the enormous snake she overcomes.

The book is a wonderful set of stories to read aloud and discuss. However, it is also so much more because included at the end of the book; there is a final very short chapter by the author: Finding Our Own Heroines. For me, this is such an important inclusion as it lets us know just how important these stories are to the person who wrote them. She also reminds us that these stories are all genuine traditional tales and are not stories where she has changed the hero or warrior from a boy into a girl. They are stories that ‘have been told for many years, in many places, about girls who are the stars of their own stories, rather than sidekicks or prizes’. Lari Don sums up the essence of this book perfectly, when she says, ‘there is still a need for stories which show that girls are and always have been just as capable, strong, brave and smart as boys’.

As if this was not enough from one small book, there are also short, interesting paragraphs about the background and origin of each story. It is a perfect invitation for teachers to encourage children to explore different versions; find out more about a particular myth or legend they enjoyed; ask questions, and discuss the stories. And, in the knowledge that there are different versions, to feel empowered to retell the stories themselves in different ways. One example is Petrosinella and the Tower, which will remind you of the well-known fairy tale, Rapunzel. Lari reminds us that Rapunzel was just one version of this tale told in many different ways in different cultures. I love this particular version as Petrosinella is the brains behind her escape and chooses not to marry the prince who helps her escape but to be free to travel and have adventures. This omission of the ‘happy ever after’ conclusion in this story is a key change that Lari Don has made with all the stories. She has left the endings to the girls to decide their own futures.

Fierce, Fearless and Free is a wonderful collection of stories for all the reasons above and also knowing the important part they have played for so long in different cultures around the world. It is wonderful to see a collection that addresses the balance of stories we share with young people.

Jo Bowers is a Principal Lecturer in Primary Education (Literacy) at Cardiff Metropolitan University. She joined the university ten years ago and prior to that was a classroom teacher and English leader in a primary school for nineteen years. Jo has been editor of, and currently sits on the Editorial Board of English 4-11 for the English Association and the UKLA Publications Committee. Jo runs an Open University Reading for Pleasure Teacher Group for teachers in Cardiff and sits on various shortlisting and selection panels for children's book awards, currently the English Association Picture Book Award and the Books Council of Wales Tir na n-Og Award. Jo is a Wales representative for UKLA, reviews books for Just Imagine and writes for English 4-11. She is passionate about children's literature and is happiest when she is reading and surrounded by books.