The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, illustrated by Simini Blocker, 112 pp, RL 3

The Singing Rock 
& Other Brand New Fairy Tales
illustrated by Simini Blocker
Review Copy from First Second Books
The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales pulls of the amazing feat of being new but feeling old, both in the stories and the illustrations. Lachenmeyer's four fantastic tales all feature themes of persistence, with lots of humor along the way. Blocker's illustrations are painterly and saturated in colors, her characters filled with energy and humor, capturing a classic fairy tale realm that, refreshingly, is not typically Eurocentric. Hop Hop Wish finds an unwitting frog freeing a genie from a lamp then desperately wishing to be free of the genie. In the titular story, a very disagreeable witch who hated many things, but hated music the most, doesn't hesitate to turn villagers into cows just for whistling. When a traveling minstrel "whose heart's desire was to make the world a better place through song," arrives in town, he gives the cranky witch a workout, finding a way to sing no matter what she turns him into. Turning him into a rock does not get the witch what she wanted, but the minstrel does have his dearest wish come true when he, as a singing rock, becomes an attraction for villagers from near and far, "strangers traveled from all over the world just to sing along with him." In a nice twist, the final panel finds the witch singing a little tune a she sweeps up her cottage.

Each story better than the last, the final two are my favorites. The Sorcerer's New Pet finds the world renowned, generous Athesius in a battle of wits with the less talented and very jealous Royal Sorcerer Warthius. Hoping to learn Athesius's spells, Warthius gifts him a parrot, although when  Athesius comments, "Isn't that the tropical bird that can repeat everything people say?" Warthius insists that his gift is an ostrich . . . a pygmy ostrich. Athesius finds very funny ways to mess with Warthius until he gets a surprise of his own. Happily, it is one he can fix! The final story, Ogerish Art, finds Sebastian, a great painter who can bring out the beauty in any subject, meeting his greatest challenge when Rog, the ruler of all Ogredom, offers a chest of gems for a satisfactory portrait. Sebastian thinks he is giving Rog what he wants, but each try sends him to the dungeon and closer to a life sentence. On his fourth and final try, he saves himself when he finds a new perspective.

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