Hello humans! Have you read or been read any of the Just So Stories? I have distinct memories of a picture book I had of them as well as going to see an exceedingly colourful performance of them at a local theatre, the giant crab was made from bin lids, it was (to my eight-year-old self) amazing. But, as a child, and a privileged one at that, I didn’t ever question the colonial aspects (I say aspects, the whole thing really) of the Just So Stories and how the world view they promote is problematic. So when I saw that Rebellion Publishing were bringing out a collection called The Not-So Stories as a (sort-of) answer to Kipling’s work I was interested in getting to read them.
Anthology of culturally diverse writers create short works in reaction to Kipling’s Just So Stories
Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories was one of the first true children’s books in the English language, a timeless classic that continues to delight readers to this day. Beautiful, evocative and playful, the stories of How the Whale Got His Throat or the First Letter Written paint a magical, primal world.
It’s also deeply rooted in British colonialism. Kipling saw the Empire as a benign, civilising force, and his writing can be troubling to modern readers. Not So Stores attempts to redress the balance, bringing together new and established writers of colour from around the world to take the Just So Stories back, giving voices to cultures that were long deprived them.
I’ll start by saying that this collection of short stories is not a children’s book, it’s not designed to be read as an alternative bedtime story collection. I do think that some of the stories could be read to children, and certainly, the messages they impart are worth sharing, but adults and young adults can read this collection also, and should.
These stories are hugely varied, some taking the source material of the Just So Stories and producing very similar sounding stories (addressing the reader as ‘best beloved’ and so forth) while others have different styles, some taking place in the modern day. It’s a collection inspired by the original matter, but it goes vastly beyond anything you might imagine from the cover and initial blurb.
One description of the book puts it best “bringing together new and established writers of colour from around the world to take the Just So Stories back, to interrogate, challenge, and celebrate their legacy.” This is exactly what this collection does.
There were some stories that stood out for me, I particularly enjoyed the reworking of The Cat Who Walked by Himself (now The Cat who walked by Herself) and also How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off both of which were excellent reworkings of original Kipling Stories that I can just about remember from childhood.
I’ve read two collections of short stories from Rebellion Publishing now, first Infinity Wars and now Not So Stories and I have been thoroughly impressed by both. From the authors selected to write to the way the stories are collated both are exceptional. My problem with collections like this is often that I don’t feel there is enough depth so I get easily bored, not the case with Not So Stories.
One author who stuck out to me as a familiar name was Jeannette Ng who, some readers may recall, wrote Under the Pendulum Sun which was a book I enjoyed (even though parts of it got a little too weird for my tastes). But all the writers in this collection are of interest to me and I’ll have to keep an eye out for future works.
I’m not going to arrogant enough to suggest that I, a white lady, can fully comprehend the nuances of a collection such as this, in many ways this wasn’t written for me. However, I can recognise that this book is an important one, and a vital part of the movement to challenge the normalisation of colonialism.
Should you read this? Absolutely.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? What other collections of short stories do you enjoy? Let me know in the comments below!