Friday, January 17, 2014

PPBF: Tam Lin

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Tam Lin by Jane Yolen and Charles Mikolaycak
Tam Lin
Written by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990,
Fiction, grades 3-5

Folk Tale, Bravery, Magic

"There was once a strange, forbidding castle with ruined towers on a weedy piece of land called Carterhaugh."

This is a retelling of the ancient Scottish ballad, Tamlane. Jennet is the heir to a Scottish castle which has been put under a faery spell. On her sixteenth birthday, she goes to claim her birthright, and discovers a boy who was stolen by the faeries over a hundred years before, the doomed Tam Lin. Jennet must withstand the magic of the Faery Queen if she is to regain her land and save Tam Lin.

What I Love:
This book is classic late 20th century picture book gold. The hefty word count and stylized illustrations draw the reader again and again. Jane Yolen tells the harrowing adventure in vivid language.
"His hand still held hers, but his fingers had grown cold as snow."
"On Hallow's Eve Jennet stole away from her house. She wore a skirt and bodice as red as human blood."
"The queen and her troupe turned back through the mist and rode silently over the moonlight like so many shadows."
They just don't publish many picture books like this anymore.
The illustrations are by master picture maker, Charles Mikolaycak. His bold colors and limited palette set the mystic mood. His use of graphic black shapes is as magical as the story's events.
I cut my teeth on these feasts for the imagination. 25 years later, and I still love them.

Interior art by Charles Mikolaycak, rendered in watercolor and colored pencil

1.Read the original text of the ballad, on which the story was based.
By Jane Yolen and
Susan Guevara
2. Jane Yolen has written many collections of folk tales and authored many picture books. Why not start an evening tradition of telling tales by the fire? Try Not One Damsel In Distress, Tales of Wonder, or Once Upon a Bedtime Story.
2. Charles Mikolaycak designed the Scottish tartans for the clans featured in the book, and combines them into a third for the married couple. Design your own family plaid online or with crayons and paper.
3. A rose is the magical object which summons Tam Lin from under the Green Hill. In warmer climates you can plant a rose bush of your own. Here in Pennsylvania, I'll have to be content with a mini tabletop rose available from the local garden center.
Dress your little fey
in play scarves from Magic Cabin.
4. Get in the highland mood. Check out the library's collection of Scottish music, bagpipe and drum, or compositions by Scot William Wallace on CD.
5. This story would be great fun to act out. You'll need some fabric for kilts and mantles, a rose, a small bottle and a handful of dirt, and the animal costumes for the conflict with the faery queen. I recommend snake sock puppets, a yarn lion hood, and silk scarves for the fire. (tissue paper works well too)

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for January 17,2014, available on Susanna Leonard Hill's excellent blog.


  1. Another Jane Yolen book today. I love that she chose to retell this beautiful Scottish folk tale. The illustrations are gorgeous!

    1. She has so many books, and they're all so compelling! I'm headed over there now. :)

  2. I love Mikolaycak, haven't seen any newer titles though. Thanks for the pick!

    1. Unfortunately Mr. Mikolaycak passed away in 1993. He was just 56. He leaves behind a large body of work, sharply reminding me of N. C. Wyeth's legacy. In 2000, his widow Carole curated an exhibition of his illustrations here in his hometown. I wish I'd thought to ask her more. His work is absolutely amazing, but more so in person. I'm so glad you like it.

  3. Jane has such a love and bond with Scotland that i can only imagine how awesome this book is.

    1. I'd be curious to know when she began summering in Scotland and the particulars of the influences on her work. I think I most enjoyed her novel, Girl in a Cage, about a Scottish princess.

  4. Wow. Look at all the text on the page you shared!

    1. I would estimate it at maybe 1100 words plus perhaps another 200 in the back matter. By today's standards that is quite high, though the text never feels ponderous.

  5. I love Jane Yolen. This artwork is beautiful. Looks like a winner. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks. I've loved this book for a long time. It's nice to help it find a new audience.

  6. How have I missed this book by Jane? And I'm Scots - well among other heritage - okay I'm really Heinz 57. Anyway, so glad you called it to our attention! Will definitely look for this. And how awesome you got to see an exhibit of Mikolaycak's and meet his widow.

    1. I'm so glad to have made the introduction! As for Charles Mikolaycak, along with the finished art on display, there was a lot of pre-production material: dummies, sketches, character studies. The ones I remember most clearly were for Peter and the Wolf. I often wonder where those things are now. Thanks for your comments.

  7. The art looks beautiful and Jane Yolen is amazing! Very nice list of activities!

    1. Thank-you. It's great to be back in the Perfect Picture Book Friday groove. I've missed visiting everyone's blogs!


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