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Nancy Raines Day (1951-) - Sidelights

review whiskers lion story

Nancy Raines Day once told SATA: "I write for children in hopes of touching them as I was touched by certain books as a child. Observing my own children once again immersed me in what it felt like to be a child, something I'd been busy forgetting as an adult. Among the many books my son and daughter brought me over and over were a few—such as The Cat in the Hat, The Story about Ping, and Charlotte's Web—that I could read fifty times and still love. I took it as a challenge to write something lasting like that." Becoming a published author of children's books was somewhat more challenging than Day expected; it took her ten years to get her first book of young people's fiction, The Lion's Whiskers, published. Still, Day encourages other aspiring authors. "To others who want to do this important work," she once told SATA, "I'd say keep learning all you can and don't give up!"

The Lion's Whiskers is based on a folktale from Ethiopia. When Day discovered this tale, she once recalled to SATA, "I was excited to find one about a good stepmother. I believe fairy tales like Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel are important to children trying to reconcile the 'good' and 'bad' aspects of their own mothers. In these times, however, when so many families are trying so hard to 'blend,' I feel such tales give stepmothers an undeservedly bad name. I wanted to give stepparents and stepchildren everywhere a positive story to share."


The Lion's Whiskers follows the story of Fanaye, a woman past childbearing age who longs for a family of her own. When she marries Tesfa and meets his motherless son Abebe, she is overjoyed. Fanaye tries hard to please the boy, but he wants no part of her. Desperate, Fanaye seeks the wisdom of a shaman—a tribal medicine man. He sends her on a mission to gather three whiskers from a fierce lion for a magic potion that will win her Abebe's love. She collects the whiskers very carefully, by slowly gaining the lion's trust. Once obtained, the whiskers are no longer needed, as Fanaye has also learned how she must likewise gain Abebe's trust and love. "This Ethiopian folktale is full of rich imagery and wisdom: equally compelling are the drama of Fanaye's approach to the lion and the larger message, that distance is sometimes a necessary preface to intimacy," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman also commented favorably on Day's retelling, saying, "The quest is exciting, and the emotions of mother and son are powerful." Susan Dove Lempke, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, thought The Lion's Whiskers "provides an excellent counterpoint to tales of wicked stepmothers," while New York Times Book Review critic Barbara Thompson concluded, "Nancy Raines Day has told a wonderful story, with dignity and warmth. Fanaye changes from a woman who would love any child into one who learns how to love the child she is given, and how to enable him to love her."

Also based on a folktale is Piecing Earth & Sky Together: A Creation Story from the Mien Tribe of Laos. Day learned the story from a group of Mien people, noted for their needlework, who were involved in a project in Berkeley, California. In her book, a grandmother tells a tale to her granddaughter while teaching her Mien-style embroidery. The creation story involves a pair of heavenly siblings, one sewing the earth and the other the sky. It turns out that the sky, stitched together by Faam Koh, is too small to accommodate the earth created by his sister, Faam Toh, so they must work cooperatively on alterations to make their pieces fit together. Day and her illustrator, Genna Panzarella, have given the story "an intriguing presentation that should reach a wide audience," in the opinion of Booklist reviewer GraceAnne A. DeCandido.


While Piecing Earth & Sky Together is aimed at grade-school students, some of Day's other books are designed for younger children—preschool age through first grade. These include A Kitten's Year and Double Those Wheels. A Kitten's Year traces a kitten's development month by month, using simple but evocative language to accompany the vivid artwork by Anne Mortimer, and serving to teach both vocabulary and the months of the year. A Publishers Weekly critic noted that Day has produced "supple text," using "catlike verbs" such as "paws" and "chases." Booklist contributor Kathy Broderick described the volume as "like a poem, with more to experience at each reading." Double Those Wheels uses a humorous tale-in-rhyme of a monkey delivering pizzas to teach math concepts. He starts out riding a unicycle, then switches to a bicycle, then a car, and so on, doubling the number of wheels on his conveyance each time. "The catchy verse propels the story along," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, while a Kirkus Reviews contributor pronounced the book "a delightful romp."


Biographical and Critical Sources


PERIODICALS


Booklist, February 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The Lion's Whiskers: An Ethiopian Folktale, p. 1058; December 15, 1999, Kathy Broderick, review of A Kitten's Year, p. 782; April 2, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Piecing Earth & Sky Together: A Creation Story from the Mien Tribe of Laos, p. 1329; October 15, 2003, Kathleen Odean, review of Double Those Wheels, p. 417.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Lion's Whiskers, p. 232.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2003, review of Double Those Wheels, p. 857.

New York Times Book Review, December 3, 1995, Barbara Thompson, review of The Lion's Whiskers, p. 72.

Publishers Weekly, March 27, 1995, review of The Lion's Whiskers, pp. 85-86; January 17, 2000, review of A Kitten's Year, p. 56; May 26, 2003, review of Double Those Wheels, p. 68.

School Library Journal, April, 1995, pp. 140-141; August, 2003, Elaine Lesh Morgan, review of Double Those Wheels, p. 125.*

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