Books, Reviews, Writing

Toads and Diamonds: Wonderful Storied Connections Around the World

Rescued from the archives again!! This time, it is a YA book review titled Toads and Diamonds. And while I recall thinking about these wonderful storied connections this tale has around the world, I did not talk much about it; except for the brief comment about it being a retelling. Anyway, if you have been following my blog, you will know I love to explore connections — a lot. Connections between stories, traditions, and other etcs from different parts of the world; as well as connections between different things – music and art; art and books; poetry and ….; well, the list is endless.

So today’s post explores connections for this specific tale; and I would love to hear of any similar tales in your culture if you know of the same. I will add it to this post as an update later and credit you as well 🙂

NOTE: The original post is circa 2011 (to be specific – Oct 12, 2011) and only had the review of the book ‘Toads and Diamonds’. The rest of the post grew around it and I updated it a few times with the intention of upcycling it, but now the upgraded, updated version finally makes it here, for UBC edition – October 2022, which incidentally is a duplicate of the 2011 calendar year.

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Toads and Diamonds

Book Info

Title: Toads and Diamonds
Author: Heather Tomlinson
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (March 30th 2010)​

Book Description

Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family’s scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.

It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward.

Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani’s newfound wealth brings her a prince—and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province’s governor fears snakes, yet thousands are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters’ fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love . . . or death?

My Thoughts

This was a YA book and I do not recall exactly how I discovered the book but am so glad I did. The cover definitely is catching and the description too.

Toads and Diamonds is a charming retelling of the classic story of two step-sisters (The Fairies by Charles Perrault). Tomlinson makes this book wonderful by creating a strong bond of love and friendship between the two sisters who are a perfect blend of beauty and brains – Diribani is beautiful while Tana is clever. 

This story is set in a land which can be described as an exotic, colorful, magical, alternate India (kind of like an Indian Narnia). As I read the book, I followed the sisters on their travels and adventures which begin after they both meet with the Goddess Naghali-ji who bestows on them the gifts of Toads(and snakes) and Diamonds(as well as flowers and other gems). As their gifts (which is a blessing, which a curse?) are discovered, their lives change and they go on separate paths.

Tomlinson switches back and forth between their stories – Tana as she spouts flowers, gems and Diribani who chooses to remain mute instead of letting out toads and snakes – beautifully and weaves in secondary characters who play important roles effortlessly.

As I reached the last page of the book, I was left with a curiously nice feeling – of having read something that was satisfying and still left me longing for something more. All in all, a great read! I am now on the look for more YA and more Tomlinson.

This went goes towards my South Asian book challenge.

Get It Here

Amazon | | Book Depository | | BookShop | | Barnes and Noble

Related Reads

  • The Restless Girls: A delightful twist on the Twelve Dancing Princesses
  • The Big Book of Twisted Fairy Tales: In this one, four favorite familiar fairy tale characters return to your bookshelf to teach important values without preaching
  • Greatest Magical Stories: Stories handpicked by Michael Morpugo are retold by well-known children’s authors in this charming, gift-able collection
  • Vasilisa (Old Rus #1): I added this to one of my TBR lists – here – and hope to get to reading it over the next few weeks. Fairy and folk tales from Russia have a special place in my heart..
  • I have also read three of the four books below (need to read the Gail Carson Levine one yet) but haven’t reviewed any of them here. However, I am recommending them and sharing them here since, well, it is raining toads and diamonds here!!

Wonderful Storied Connections Around the World

Now, getting to the storied connections. First, a general outpouring of thoughts followed by the specifics related to the featured book – Toads and Diamonds.

Tales Truly Travel!

Before stories were written down, they were told orally; passed across generations as parents and grandparents told tales to young ones ; traveled over villages, towns, and even countries as various performers (minstrels, bards, theater groups, and more) told tales to engaged audiences; and even exchanged maybe by weary travelers — who were not storytellers per-se, but tradesmen or just regular people traveling elsewhere for various reasons — as they met on their journeys like crossing ships.

Over time, someone in each of these places wrote these stories down; each of them most likely having a slightly altered version; because, maybe the tellers made changes based on their audiences or because they remembered parts of it and/or added their own embellishments to it each time they told it. And just like in the parlor game, the version that got written down was different, each and every time, without fail!

Back to the Storied Connections For Toads and Diamonds

The first connection: As already mentioned in the book description, this is a retelling of The Fairies by Charles Perrault. And another title for this original tale happens to be Diamonds and Toads (or Toads and Diamonds)! The rest follow below.

Note that each of these stories is a Aarne-Thompson tale 480, that of the kind and the unkind girls. For those of you who are wondering what that is, I learned about it myself only a few years ago, and it is super cool! I also discovered connections for the ATU (not sure if they use this acronym, but I did here) tale 706, that of a girl without hands, as you can see in one of the linked stories below.

A joint collaboration (of sorts) over time and from folklorists around the world, the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index is a classification numeric system created to group similar folktales from different cultures. Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne (1867-1925) created it in 1910; American folklorist Stith Thompson (1885-1976) revised and expanded it in 1928, and German folklorist Hans-Jörg Uther further worked on it in 2004. Hence the name for this wonderful index of storied connections!

Now, I need to move on to the rest of those storied connections (not a comprehensive list, but a few of the rest)

Sukhu and Dukhu (India)

I read this story as an Amar Chitra Katha ages ago. I still have the book in my home library, and recall telling the story to my kids when they were little, reciting it from memory, and maybe mixing it up a bit with all those other versions I read as well. In this story, the two sisters are Sukhu (from the Hindi word ‘sukh’ for happiness) and Dukhu (from the Hindi ‘dukh’ for sadness), and they make their way to the heavens in pursuit of something but end up with something else (unexpected in each case).

The Two Sisters (English Fairy Tales)/The Old Witch (Grimm Brothers)/Frau Holle (Grimm Brothers)

I found both these stories in the American Literature website. The Two Sisters as well as The Old Witch both tell the story of two sisters (one good and the other, well, not good) and an evil witch. The storyline is pretty much the same and it is amazing to see the parallels and the connections.

I discovered Frau Holle via the ATU index, and it is amazing how the Grimm Brothers managed to rewrite the same story so many times over and, well, basically, did a copy-paste so very often, and apparently successfully!

Snow-white and Rose-red (Germany – from the Grimm Brothers)

A twist on the story with two sisters who are both good and kind and love each other; but with loads of similarities too. Don’t confuse this Snow White with the one who is friends with the dwarves, and also this Rose Red with any other Rose Red you might know. You can enjoy this story here, and find out the parallels for yourselves.

The Two Caskets (Scandinavia)

Read this beautiful version of the tale here. In this one, like with Sukhu and Dukhu, it has a woman who lives with her daughter and stepdaughter.

The Girl Without Hands (Grimm Brothers)

Read this story here. I don’t want to say too much about the connections as it is as fun to discover them for yourselves as it is to read each of these stories, however similar or connected they might be!

The Magic Grove (A Jain Tale About Destiny – from India via Amar Chitra Katha)

This is nothing to do with two sisters but more to do with snakes and such. A beautiful story that has somehow remained in my memory since the first time I read it as a young girl.

an open book on a wall; pin title - Wonderful Storied Connections Around the World

And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, have you read the featured books? Or the connected/related reads? Do you have any storied connections to share? What do you think about retellings – yay or nay or somewhere in between? If you have read any, which one is your favorite so far? I love to get recommendations from you..and don’t worry about my TBR (it takes care of itself!!:-))

6 thoughts on “Toads and Diamonds: Wonderful Storied Connections Around the World

  1. You talked about “Tales Truly Travel!” When stories get passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth, it is like a game of telephone. The story gets changed a little bit each time it is told, and eventually, the story that is told is very different from the original story.

    One of the most famous examples of this is the story of Romeo and Juliet. The original story was written by William Shakespeare, but over time, the story has been adapted and changed so many times that the versions that are told today are very different from the original.

    The changes to the story of Romeo and Juliet are so significant that some scholars believe that the story is no longer Shakespeare’s but rather a product of the many adaptations and retellings that have occurred over time.

  2. I loved listening to my mother’s telling of Chinese fairy tales when I was young. I remembered a little about a white snake disguised and living as a beautiful young woman. However, if she is tricked into drinking wine, she turns back into a snake. That’s the only part I remember. Too bad I don’t have that skill of story tellling.

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