McGill (Molly Bannaky
), a professional storyteller, presents five folktales she grew up hearing during her childhood in rural North Carolina in this magically told but weakly illustrated collection. Writing in a cadenced dialect perfect for reading aloud, she breathes life into a cast of animal characters familiar from the Uncle Remus stories. Here, Brer Rabbit is Bruh Rabbit, but he's still the same smooth fast-talker ("Bruh Rabbit is as slick as lye soap"). The stories are heavy on country wisdom: in "Bruh Possum and the Snake," a kind possum helps a sly serpent, who repays him with a bite. The lesson? "No matter how good your heart, if you ever spot trouble, don't never trouble trouble if trouble don't trouble you." McGill frames each tale with reminiscences about the storytellers who enthralled her as a child, such as Gramma, who "made her arm and hand slither out of her apron pocket just like that snake," and their elderly neighbor Mister Nep, who turned his front porch into a "living stage" as he acted out the different characters' parts (according to the introduction). Less successful are Tate's (Summer Sun Risin'
) paintings, which, in presenting the animal cast as stiff caricatures, don't mesh with the expressive writing. Fortunately, in McGill's absorbing world, the vivid words will paint pictures all by themselves. Ages 5-8. (Apr.)