The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

Dublin Diary: Barbara Knott

Looking into Small Worlds with Theodora Ziolkowski

Imagine my surprise, on ordering Theodora Ziolkowski’s Mother Tongues, to find, when it arrived in the mail, a miniature book of a size that fits perfectly in the hand and lap of my Raggedy Ann doll recently acquired new in a thrift store, a doll five times the size of the one I knew growing up. But I read the book first, as you should before assuming that it is for children. Soon I discovered the writer's gift for effortlessly entering the world of fairy tales and taking you with her, like a rag doll or a little sister, barefoot and bold, open to the unlikeliest of happenings, many of which do, on your journey.

This little jewel of thirty-five pages contains four stories of the sort collected by the Brothers Grimm, suggested here in two brothers who try to take the storyteller’s tales and who, but for the intervention of a flock of geese, perhaps could have gotten away with them. The collection, presumably offered up willingly to us, abounds with geese and birds and apples and other fairy tale images and motifs: princess, servant girl, mirrors, stepmother, grandmother, mother (hence the title). There are also strange and interesting objects, including an eye patch, unusual cosmetics, an outdoor nativity crèche in which Baby Jesus is “the size of a watermelon.”

Theodora Ziolkowski weaves into the stories psychological themes that resonate today as they did in yesteryears, like the passing of beauty with age, the desperate reaching for cosmetics to hold back the loss, and the meanness that sometimes comes to take the place of beauty, or like the experience of a princess having to change clothes with a servant girl, or like the wondering of children about what it is to grow up, if and when they do. One story is told from the point of view of a pair of sisters who do not grow up. Another story ends with a girl child practicing what she has learned from her grandmother: how to curse. All four pieces are intriguing and glistening with words and phrases fashioned to catch and hold sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and fancy. Delightful.

Lea Greenwood’s cover image and illustrations are spot on and lovely.

Mother Tongues (2016) is published by The Cupboard Pamphlet, “a quarterly pamphlet of creative prose .... Each volume features a body of work by a single author.” For more, go to

Copyright 2016, Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved.