Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.04.46 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.04.46

Paula Camardella Twomey, Ten Fairy Tales in Latin. (With Suzanne Nussbaum).   Mundelein, IL:  Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2013.  Pp. viii, 104.  ISBN 9780865167919.  $19.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Stephen A. Berard, Wenatchee Valley College (


This book presents ten fairy tales written in easy Latin and formatted for dramatic presentation. In the introduction, instructions are also given for presenting the tales as puppet shows. Each fairy tale is preceded by a vocabulary list and followed by a crossword puzzle, word search or other short vocabulary-building exercise. After the fairy tales, there is a section of explanations of grammatical structures introduced or emphasized in the tales, followed in turn by a section of exercises based on these structures. Finally, there is a general glossary.

Although the authors do not suggest a target group for this book, one immediately thinks of middle school. The fairy tales are told quite simply, and many of the stories seem too childish for high school or, quite honestly, even seventh or eighth grade. A good example is the story of the Little Red Hen, which would not be acceptable to most children over the age of ten. So fifth grade and below might actually be a good target group for the fairy tales themselves. The mostly accurate grammatical explanations, however, seem to be intended more for the teacher than for fifth-graders. This reviewer knows few ten-year-olds who would warm up to unvarnished discussions of the “future active periphrastic constructions” or the differences between “future less vivid” and “future more vivid” conditions. This is not to say that children of that age cannot learn and use such constructions. Indeed, the grammar exercises themselves, mostly substitution drills, are quite good. My only objection here is that some are far too short. See, for example, pages 82 and 91, where just two or three practice sentences must suffice and the rest of the page is left blank.

In general, the Latinity seems better than what one has come to expect from modern children’s books ... with the exception, of course, of Terence Tunberg’s two excellent Dr. Seuss books. There are occasionally some delicious idioms here, such as “sinum fletu complet“ (p. 15). However, there are also some glaring typos, like volus for benevolus (p. 41) as well as occasional strange lapses in grammar, as in the phrase, said by the Wily Wolf to the Gingerbread Man, In caput meum salī, nisi madidus fiās (“Jump onto my head so you don’t get wet”), where nisi is used for ne. There is occasional usage, as in the romance languages, of the present tense to express the immediate future, for example: —Vīsne mihi stramenta vēndere, ut casam mihi construam? —Libenter hoc faciō! for — ... Libenter faciam! (“—Do you want to sell me straw so that I may build myself a house? —I gladly do this!” for “... I’ll gladly do that!”) (pp. 36-37). This usage of the future tense is not found in Classical Latin. The extremely rare and late adjective possibilis is used in the expression Possibile nōn est!, which in Classical Latin is Fierī nequit! or Fierī nōn potest! (p. 45). Some English idioms are imprudently copied into Latin as, for example, in Vōs laetī excipimus ad līberōrum theātrum, found at the beginning of some of the plays. In idiomatic Latin this would be something like Ad theātrum puerōrum/puerīle optatissimī/acceptissimī vēnistis/venītis!.

The choice to use macrons is laudable since correct observation of vowel length adds significantly to the genuineness of the experience of Latin. These days there are good sources for finding all the places where modern philologists dictate the use of macrons. The inexpensive Pocket Oxford Latin Dictionary is a good example. Given the accessibility of this information, then, it is surprising that Twomey inserts macrons in only about 70% of the appropriate places ... and very inconsistently, at that. On page 102, for example, Nanum is found directly beneath the (correct) Nānus. Usually a missing macron, especially within an already heavy syllable, such as pons for pōns (p. 29), seems hardly crucial; but of course there are places where the whole meaning depends on the macron, as in the story of the Gingerbread Man (p. 26), where Vulpēs homunculum ēdit (“The fox ejects the little man.”) is printed but what is clearly meant is Vulpēs homunculum edit/ēst (“The fox eats the little man”).

Although the book’s cover is graced by a beautiful old romantic painting depicting Little Red Riding Hood in the forest, the inside of this paperback is hardly storybook-like, reflecting rather the more modern need to cut costs. The internal illustration consists of grey, literally faceless clipart-style figures. Some are cute in their own minimalistic way, but, all in all, they add very little to the book’s appeal.

Those who would like to have their young students act out fairy tales in Latin could do worse than to use this book, although one might at least want to introduce some crucial corrections here and there. The students could write the corrections in their own copies. It is not a bad thing for children to learn that even book writers make mistakes!

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