Jane Yolen &
Heidi E.Y. Stemple,
Mirror, Mirror: Forty
Folktales for Mothers &
Daughters to Share

(Viking, 2000)

Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple explore mother-daughter relationships within the context of folktales from around the world.

Each section of the book presents folktales which express a common theme. Some are variants of the same story, such as "Cinderella" or "Rapunzel" or "Snow White." Others are themes such as "Good Girls/Bad Girls," "Bad Seeds," "Sex and...," "Really Good Mothers" and "Mothers-in-law." After each group of stories, Yolen and Stemple present a dialogue in which they discuss their reactions to the stories and apply them to their own relationship.

Yolen also comments on her relationship with her mother, while Stemple, who has two daughters, offers the insights given her through motherhood. Yolen and Stemple propose to be models for other mothers and daughters to conduct the same kind of conversations and to use the stories as jumping off points for their own dialogues. An index of the stories and a bibliography not only of the sources for the stories but for the various other books used in the discussion is appended.

The variety of tales is breathtaking, and they range from the biblical story of Ruth to stories from Perrault and Grimm to tales from Lebanon, Armenia, Nigeria, India and Native American legends. It is fascinating to see how universal some of the themes are and how folklore motifs seem to weave themselves into a range of stories, and the collection would be well worth reading based on the selection of tales alone. It is the commentary, however, which ties together the tales in each section.

The dialogues are laid out as conversations marked "JANE" and "HEIDI," and they range as broadly as the stories do. Sometimes they seem like literary analysis but mostly they are intensely personal; readers really feels as if they are listening in on a private conversation. (Yolen demonstrates her keen sense of human nature when she points out that they structured the book in just this way for just that reason.)

The comments are insightful and interesting, but I wish there had been more in the conversation sections. At times, I felt as if they had just started to get into the heart of a discussion when it ended and the next section began. On the other hand, the discussions are just enough to serve as a springboard for other mothers and daughters and perhaps give them the inspiration or courage to explore their own issues.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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