Reviews /

The Mab

Authored by : Matt Brown (and editor), Eloise Williams (and editor), Sophie Andersen, Nicola Davies, Darren Chetty, Rhian Ivory, Alex Wharton, Zilllah Bethell, Claire Fayers, Hanan Issa, P.G. Bell
Illustrated by Max Low
Published by Unbound

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The Mab is a collection of 11 Welsh tales, newly told versions of the very old stories from the Mabinogi.

Each story, published in both English and Welsh (translated into Welsh by Bethan Gwanas), is depicted at the beginning with a colourful illustration by Max Low. I say colourful: they are bold, bright and capture perfectly the essence of each tale. I loved the map of Wales at the beginning of the book too, which also lends a nod to other more traditional retellings of these stories and the front cover is enticingly vibrant to stand out on the bookshelf.

What I found refreshing about this collection is that each one has its own unique voice and style and this is down to the fact that each story is retold by a writer with connection with Wales that many of us will be very familiar with: Matt Brown, Eloise Williams, Sophie Andersen, Nicola Davies, Alex Wharton, Zillah Bethell, Rhian Ivory, P.G. Bell, Darren Chetty, Hanan Issa and Clare Fayers. And if knowing all this isn’t enough to entice you in – though I’m guessing it is! – these stories are full of magic, adventure and humour.

For anyone new to the Welsh folklore collection of stories known as The Mabinogi or Mabinogion, the original stories are thought to be some of the earliest written in Britain, around about the 12th and 13th centuries and pre-written, even older. What The Mab does, is re-imagine some of these stories and make them accessible and exciting to read for younger readers from 9 years upwards.

So, the stories. Clare Fayers tells us they, ‘explore everything that’s human, from family and friendship to cruelty and murder. Best of all is the sense that the Otherworld of magic is never far away’. They capture, in the words of Nicola Davies, ‘a long-lost world where wolves howled on the Welsh hills and the landscape was populated not with humans but with wild species in abundance’. They are engaging and varied in both style and content and at around eight pages long apiece, very accessible to be read alone and read aloud in the upper KS2 classroom. Also, for classrooms in Wales, they offer an introduction to these Welsh cultural collection of stories, rich in the mythology of ancient Wales. They are filled with strong female characters, magic, quests, battles and knights of King Arthur.

Bookending the stories, there is an introduction from Michael Sheen that gives us a taste of the kinds of landscapes we’re going to encounter and a very helpful guide at the back to Welsh pronunciation for anyone new to reading Welsh language. And to end with some final words on the stories from Sophie Andersen, who reminds us that, ‘to preserve these tales, we need to keep retelling them in ways that ignite the interest of readers today’. So, thank you Eloise and Matt for your vision and drive to bring them into being and introducing The Mabinogion to a new generation of readers. This is a very accessible and readable collection of stories that deserves a place on all school library bookshelves.

Shortlisted for Tir na n-Og 2023 English Language Category

Winner of the Tir na n-Og 2023 Readers Choice Award

Shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year Award Children Young People Category