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The Green Mist


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A beguiling retelling of a 19th-century Lincolnshire tale that fairly dances with an impatience to be read aloud. Mouth-filling words dot this story, the context making them easily understood while taking away none of their mystery. Bogles and other horrid things live in the cracks and cinders and sleep in the fields in the old times, and at darkling every night folk walk round their houses with lights in their hands to keep the mischancy beings away. In autumn, they sang hush-a-bye songs in the fields, for the earth was tired'' and they fear the winters when the bogles have nothing to do but make mischief. As the year turns, they wake the earth from its sleeping each spring, and welcome the green mist that brings new growth. In one family, a child pines, longing for the green mist to return with the sun. Through the long winter she grows so weak her mother must carry her to the doorsill, so she can crumble the bread and salt onto the earth to hail the spring. The green mist comes, scented with herbs and green as grass, and the child thrives, once again running about like a sunbeam.'' The green, gold, brown, and gray of the watercolors show fields and haycocks, knobby-kneed children and raw-boned elders, a counterpoint to the rich text.
Caldecott Medal winner Sewall retells an old Lincolnshire folktale. In "the early days" folk practiced two religions: one "with priests and such" and another with a set of rituals and practices devoted to keeping away bad spirits, such as bogles. The people look forward to the Green Mist, which signals the arrival of spring, but one winter, the young daughter of a family almost fades away while waiting for the mist to arrive. The story is very spare, but Sewall's retelling is richly evocative, and the language is lilting and poetic. The watercolor illustrations, which appear to be set in the fifteenth century, make use of fine brown lines to outline shapes and give details. The technique works effectively to show the characters as part of the natural world, following its rhythms and listening and watching for signs. A good addition for libraries wanting to expand folklore collections beyond the conventional.
There's a grand sense of ancient mysteries in this old English tale, which begins by describing how folk beliefs persisted long after people began going to church of a Sunday: "So it was at darkling every night they'd bear lights in their hands and walk round their houses saying words such as they could scarcely understand themselves, wishing to keep the mischancy beings away." Such practices and "secret doings" coexisted with Christianity for hundreds of years. This particular story concerns one family's run of bad luck: a difficult autumn with a dry well and a dry cow are followed by a hard winter that saps one little girl's strength until her parents fear for her life. Finally, with spring, the long-awaited "Green Mist" touches the earth and swirls through the air like a magical fog. Traditional spring rituals are observed; the child's strength is restored. There's not much to the story -- nothing but life itself renewed, its priceless worth celebrated in Sewall's beautifully cadenced telling. Her illustrations, too, are unassuming -- plain, rectangular scenes of simple farm folk who might have lived in any pre-industrial century, going about their ordinary tasks. And yet every line of these rough, angular figures bespeaks their essential humanity; every farmland scene, in snow or sun, suggests, without sentimentality, the harmony between those who till the soil and the rhythm of the seasons.

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