| Picture Books & Early Readers | | About Aaron’s Kid Books | | Aaron’s Home Page |
| Search | | New | | Flash! | | Rights | | Contact | | Subscribe |

An Aesop Accolade Winner

The Maiden of Northland

A Hero Tale of Finland

Book illustration

Retold by Aaron Shepard
Illustrated by Carol Schwartz

1996 Aesop Accolade (American Folklore Society)

Not so long ago, in the tiny, isolated villages of Finland, where prolonged summer days gave way to endless winter nights, people would pass the time by singing the many adventures of their favorite heroes: the mighty, magical men and women of ancient days.

They sang of old Vainamoinen, greatest of sages and magicians, who helped create the world but never could find a woman to wed him. They sang of his friend and ally Ilmarinen, first among craftsmen, the blacksmith who forged the dome of the heavens.

They sang of Louhi, the ancient lady of Northland, whose crafty wit and magical powers made her a worthy opponent for Vainamoinen himself. And they sang of Aila, Louhi’s lovely daughter, who captured the hopes of the two old friends and drew them as rivals to the shores of Northland.

The songs endure, the heroes live, in this poetic retelling of Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala.

Picture book • Ages 9 & up

Aaron Shepard is the award-winning author of The Baker’s Dozen, The Sea King’s Daughter, The Monkey King, and many more children’s books, while his Web site is known internationally as a prime resource for folktales, storytelling, and reader’s theater. Once a professional storyteller, Aaron specializes in lively retellings of folktales and other traditional literature, which have won him honors from the American Library Association, the New York Public Library, the Bank Street College of Education, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the American Folklore Society.

Carol Schwartz is the award-winning illustrator of over 45 picture books.

Simon & Schuster/Atheneum

Hardcover ~ 1996

The following links may earn commissions for this site.

Book cover

A later version of this story is available as a mini-novel.


“Well written and valuable. . . . Shepard’s use of free verse allows him more flexibility than the traditional poetic meter. [The text] retains a sense of majestic rhythm and is most effective when read aloud. Supporting information is detailed. Schwartz’s illustrations are vivid and appealing, with jewel‑like colors and crisp lines. An unusual and appealing addition.”—Donna L. Scanlon, School Library Journal, Apr. 1996

“Shepard’s free verse telling has power and sparkle. . . . Grandly illustrated.”—Glenn Giffin, Denver Post, May 12, 1996

“The language of Shepard’s story, the way [the characters’] magic is performed—all is bigger than life, as the mythic tale should be. It is a book to read aloud—to an older child, to an appreciative adult. . . . A most handsome book.”—Kate Frankel, Storyline, Winter 1997

“The [free] verse reads aloud particularly well. . . . This is an unusual and appealing book, particularly in light of the scarcity of books for children in this subject area. —Notes from the Windowsill, Dec. 15, 1996

“Aaron Shepard’s loving and powerful retelling of the Kalevala epic captures the beauty, magic, poetry and grace of the original in a form highly accessible even to very young children. My half‑Finnish daughters (ages 5 and 7) sat captivated through a first reading and insisted on a second, thoroughly entranced by the magical power of Vainamoinen’s poetry and song and eager to touch their Finnish heritage. But there’s enough depth here to appeal to older children, too. Carol Schwartz’s rich and colorful illustrations add a glimpse of daily life in the ancient Finnish countryside that makes the magic all the more real by placing it among such believable folk.”—Amazon reader review

Sample Text

Hear This Sample Text (3:06 minutes)

Age‑old Louhi,

dame of Northland,

sat on the floor before her mill,

turning, turning the top stone,

feeding grain through the hole,

slowly grinding the day’s flour.

The millstone rumbled,

the woman grumbled.

Lovely Aila,

maiden of Northland,

sat at the loom,

slinging the shuttle,

banging the beater,

weaving cloth for woollen garments.

The shuttle rang,

the maiden sang.

Outside, the watchdog barked.

Said Louhi to her daughter,

“I have grain to grind,

bread to bake.

Look to the dog,

see what bothers it.”


I have cloth to weave,

yarn to spin.

I can’t spare a moment,

can’t stop for an instant.”

Muttered Louhi,

“Young women are always busy,

even when they lounge in bed.”

She went outside,

walked to the farmyard’s edge.

A red boat sped across the bay,

a red sleigh coursed along the shore.

Louhi rushed inside.

“Daughter, good news!

If my eyes don’t fail me,

Vainamoinen comes to court,

Ilmarinen comes to wed.

No maid ever chose from two such heroes—

Vainamoinen, rich and wise,

Ilmarinen, skilled and handsome.

Which do you prefer?”

“Mother, why choose either?

Do you wish me gone so soon?

Let me stay here,

to stroll through the wood

and dance in the meadow.

A wife’s work starts before dawn,

ends long after dusk.

She has no time to sing to birds,

no chance to pluck the berries.”

Said Louhi,

“This is child’s talk,

not a woman’s.

You can’t stay here forever,

can’t always be a girl!”

“But can’t I be a girl a little longer?

Must every maiden be a wife

before her fifteenth year?”

“It’s true you could wait awhile,” said Louhi.

“But even if you aren’t ready,

we might gain from the ardor of these heroes.

I have a plan.

Daughter, quick,

dress in your finest.

Wear ribbons of red,

ornaments of gold and silver.”

Not long after,

Vainamoinen landed,

jumped from his boat;

Ilmarinen pulled up,

leaped from his sleigh.

Shoulder to shoulder

they rushed through the gate,

strode over the farmyard,

threw open the cabin door,

pushed their way inside.

Then both stopped amazed.

Lovely Aila stood there,

dressed in her finest,

wearing ribbons of red,

ornaments of gold and silver.

Her cheeks glowed,

her eyes danced.

Said Louhi,

“A greeting to the famous heroes!

A welcome to the two great men!

And what could you seek in Northland?”

“Your daughter in marriage,”

said Vainamoinen.

“The maiden as wife,”

said Ilmarinen.

Said Louhi,

“If only there were two of her,

then she could go with both!

But as things are,

a contest must be held.”

“What is the contest?”

asked Vainamoinen.

“You each must make for me a gift,

something never seen before.

I’ll decide whose gift is finest,

whose present has greatest value.”

“And what is the prize?”

asked Ilmarinen.

“The winner asks the maid to marry,

proposes to my fair daughter.”

Warmly smiled the maiden.

Swiftly beat two hearts.

Sample text copyright © 1996 Aaron Shepard. Top illustration courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division. Illustration copyright © 1996 by Carol Schwartz.

A later version of this story is available as a mini-novel.

| Picture Books & Early Readers | | About Aaron’s Kid Books | | Aaron’s Home Page |
| Search | | New | | Flash! | | Rights | | Contact | | Subscribe |