Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Traditional Tale Book Reviews



Traditional Tale Book Reviews


Kimmel, Eric A. 1998. Seven in One Blow: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm. Ill. by Megan Lloyd. New York: Holiday House.  ISBN 0-8234-1383-7

Plot Summary:
In this retelling of a Brothers Grim fairy tale, a young tailor kills seven flies with a towel and, bursting with pride, decides he is “far too grand to be a tailor.” He then sets out into the world to seek his fortune.  Along his way, he encounters and outwits enormous giants, ravaging ogres, a deceitful king, a ferocious unicorn, a wild boar and finally a spoiled princess.  The key insight that the audience has over the characters in the book is that the tailor never tells his adversaries that he killed seven “flies” with one blow (wink, wink), and his opponents are, therefore, somewhat in awe of the plucky tailor.  His confidence, cunning and luck finally result in a new job:  as king of the land where he defeated many with “just one blow.”

Analysis:
Kimmel’s retelling of this fairy tale stays true to the spirit of the original tale, with a style that is representative of fairy tales set in earlier times, and dialogue that carries the story along just right. The tailor uses hyperbole to build himself up throughout the book, stating, for example, “seven in one blow!  What a feat!  The world must know of this.” In many fairy tales the characters are archetypes of good and evil and symbolize innate human characteristics.  In this story, the tailor is the protagonist, though he exhibits pride, cunning and deceit rather than the honesty and goodness of a typical hero.  The motifs of adversaries and trickery are present, making it reminiscent of a Trickster Tale (one in which the character uses wits, wiles and deception to trick other characters), and the echo of “seven in one blow!” provides continuity to the tale. The plot contains the typical journey or quest, conflicts, obstacles and the “happily ever after” resolution of a fairy tale. 

 Megan Lloyd’s water color illustrations help provide an integral setting that is historically relevant, with village scenes and clothing styles representative of an earlier, but not specified, time.  Using crisp drawings and hazy backgrounds, the illustrator keeps the focus on the characters of the story, not overwhelming the text.  The illustrations keep the story moving procedurally along and keep the eye focused on the action of the tale. However, there are also humorous details in the drawings that allow the eye to wander over additions to the page that are not referred to in the text, such as the giants’ beds being made of bones .  Overall, this retelling of the classic Grimm tale meets many of the expectations one would hope for in a fairy tale, leaving the reader satisfied and happy to have been a vicarious part of the tailor’s journey.

Reviews and Awards:
“Kimmel keeps the language clear and simple yet leaves his mark on the classic tale with understated humor and whimsical flourishes.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“Readers and listeners will be rooting for the underdog tailor on every page, and his astounding successes will yield tremendous satisfaction.” – Children’s Literature

Chosen for H.W. Wilson’s Children’s Catalog in 2001 and 2006.

Personal Response:
The lengthy text and somewhat frightening ogres in the story make it more appropriate for older children rather than the younger set.  The morally ambiguous protagonist (he achieves his success due to cunning and deceit, rather than hard work and integrity) also makes it a better choice for older children, who are able to recognize ambiguity and nuances in character development.

Connections:
This book could be combined with additional stories retold by Eric Kimmel, such as The Four Gallant Sisters and Adventures of Hershel of Ostropol, or other Brothers Grimm tales by different authors, such as the Town Musicians of Bremen and The Elves and the Shoemaker.   In using fairy tales with children, exploring themes, settings, cultures and character traits would lend an educational aspect to a typical story time.
References:
Children’s Literture Comprehensive Database. (n.d.). Seven in One Blow by Eric Kimmel. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780823413836 (accessed September 19, 2013).
Vardell, Sylvia M. (2008). Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.


Wiesner, David. 2001. The Three Pigs. New York: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 0-439-44517-5

Plot Summary: 
This book is another story of the famous three little pigs, but not like any most people have read.  The basic text is there in the beginning, but only a few pages in author David Wiesner takes the reader on a surreal flight of fantasy.  Surprising the reader, the pigs step out of their story line and into the ”real” world, turning the pages of the book into a paper airplane to take a ride, walking into characters from the nursery rhyme, “Hey, Diddle Diddle,” then into a fantasy book which includes a giant dragon.  When the wolf finally gets to the brick house at the end of the story, he is scared away by the three pigs, the fiddling cat and the dragon… and they all live happily ever after.

Analysis:
Wiesner’s version of the three pigs is considered a “fractured fairy tale” - one in which the author has changed or modernized the characters, setting, plot or language of a well-known story giving it a unique twist.  The cover of the book, a traditional rendition of three pigs (albeit giving them brown, blue and green eyes, respectively), gives no indication of the surprises found inside.  Wiesner gives the reader a few pages of standard fairy tale drawings and original text, designed in panels to indicate pages of a book, before he blows the pigs, literally, out of the story and into a rather surreal existence.  

The pigs’ dialogue begins to appear in cartoon bubbles on the pages, as one pig says “now we have room to move. Watch this-.” The author then takes the pigs and the reader on a romp outside of the original text, with the panels of the book flying every which way. By using generous white space, some pages almost blank, Wiesner indicates that the pigs have escaped and are no longer in the “book.”  The original drawings in the book become background for the pigs’ actions, as they flatten the panels which become playthings for the mischievous swine.  One of the drawings of the wolf becomes a paper airplane that takes the pigs on a ride and crash lands a few pages later.  

The author subsequently changes the style of his illustrations again and again, drawing first a cheery yet simplistic cartoon rendition of a nursery rhyme that the pigs enter into.  Taking the fiddle-playing cat with them, the pigs wander into another story, originally in black and white drawings, of a prince seeking a dragon to conquer.  Of course the pigs save the dragon a few pages later, who by then has become filled in with finely drawn and muted colored scales. The characters then meander through pages of other books in a more realistic setting similar to an art gallery, until the end, when the wolf and original book panels show back up (the pigs un-wrinkle the paper airplane to add him back into the story). 

 Finally, the wolf is met by all of the characters at the brick house and scared away by the dragon poking his monstrous head out the front door. The dragon denotes the brick house as “a fine castle, methinks.”  The letters on the page begin to unravel and sink, indicating the story will not have the traditional ending.  The final page of the book shows the pigs, the cat and the dragon enjoying supper, cramped into one page, with wobbly words telling us “they all lived happily ever aft….”  The author, through his whimsical imagination and varied use of illustrating styles, has taken the reader on his or her own fantastical journey through a strange and wonderful land.

Reviews and Awards:
Caldecott Medal Award Winner – 2002

“Wiesner's brilliant use of white space and perspective (as the pigs fly to the upper right-hand corner of a spread on their makeshift plane, or as one pig's snout dominates a full page) evokes a feeling that the characters can navigate endless possibilities--and that the range of story itself is limitless.” – Publishers Weekly

“Wiesner may not be the first to thumb his nose at picture-book design rules and storytelling techniques, but he puts his own distinct print on this ambitious endeavor.” – Horn Book Reviews
Personal Response:  
This version of The Three Pigs begs to be read individually rather than to a group.  There is simply too much happening on each page for a large audience to appreciate it all.  In a story time situation, a librarian or teacher would spend half again as much time explaining the illustrations as telling the story itself, but an individual reader could pour over the pages slowly and enjoy the nuances of each page.

Connections:
There are other fractured fairy tales that could be read with this one for comparison.  Start with an original version of The Three Pigs.  Then introduce this book or others such as The Three Little Wolves and the Big, Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by John Scieszka.  Children could then try their hand at writing their own fractured fairy tale.
References:
The Hornbook, Inc. (2001.). “Review of The Three Pigs by David Wiesner.” http://archive.hbook.com/magazine/reviews/group/wiesner.asp (accessed September 19, 2013).

 Vardell, Sylvia M. (2008). Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.


Isaacs, Anne. 1994. Swamp Angel. Ill. by Paul O. Zelinsky.  New York: Dutton Children’s Books. ISBN 0-525-45271-0

Plot Summary:
Swamp Angel is a tall tale set in Tennessee in the 1800’s.  It traces the history of Angelica Longrider, a larger-than-life (literally) girl who, from birth, commits exaggerated feats of heroism. She builds a log cabin at age two, rescues a band of settlers from a swamp, earning her nick name, and finally battles a giant food-stealing bear named Thundering Tarnation to save the state and ultimately provide food for the settlers’ long winter.  Her epic  battle is memorialized by the appearance of the Ursa Major constellation in the sky at night.

Analysis:
The tall tale is a type of traditional tale, unique to America, which uses an exaggerated narrative to tell a story set in a specific region.  Tall tales are full of impossible feats and include a hero (or heroine) that is larger than life.  In Swamp Angel, Anne Isaacs has created a character that fits the bill for a tall tale.  Set in Tennessee in the 1800’s, Angelica Longrider (aka Swamp Angel) is taller than her parents at birth, puts out fires with rain squeezed from clouds and stops a flood with her apron.  She dresses in the traditional style of a girl from the era, with a simple dress, apron and bonnet, but her wild nature is emphasized by her bare feet throughout the book. Isaacs’ style of using colloquialisms in the dialogue also helps establish the rural setting. At one point Angel says to the bear, “Varmint, I’m much obliged for that pelt you’re carryin’.” 

The rising action is all about the battle with Thundering Tarnation, a giant bear who has been stealing food from the settlers.  Swamp Angel’s battle becomes a thing of legend, and provides a satisfying resolution when she conquers the bear, using his pelt for a rug that is so big she must move to the larger state of Montana. She praises the defeated bear at the end, saying “confound it, varmint, if you warn’t the most wondrous heap of trouble I ever come to grips with.”  By the end of the story the legend of Swamp Angel has achieved almost mythical connotations, with the Ursa Major constellation being created as a result of her throwing the bear so high in the sky “he was still on his way up at nightfall.”

Zelinsky’s illustrations are a tremendous complement to the book, beginning with the wood veneer designed backgrounds, and moving the story along briskly with oval, square and half-moon oil-style paintings on each page. The illustrations clearly establish an early American cultural setting, with appropriate dress styles, log cabins and wide open spaces. The curving lines in each of the drawings successfully denote movement in the characters’ actions.  Nature plays a big part in the illustrations, as well, with each page showing different outdoor scenes with land, trees, clouds, hills, and winding rivers. Swamp Angel is so big, you see, that she cannot fit anywhere except outdoors. The combination of Isaacs’ traditional use of hyperbolic language and Zelinksy’s larger than life illustrations makes this book a wonderful representation of a tall tale.

Reviews and Awards:
A Caldecott Honor Book
An ALA Notable Book
A Time magazine Best Book of the Year
A New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year
Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

“Award-winning illustrator Zelinsky has just as much fun painting primitives on cherry and maple veneers to bring alive the whimsy of the stories and the wild beauty of frontier America.” – Children’s Literature

“Here's [a children’s book] with GREAT BIG PICTURES and a GREAT BIG STORY. It's feminist and it's funny and it's supported by some of the subtlest effects in Zelinsky's noteworthy artistic repertoire.” – The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books

Personal Response: 
For some reason, though the book is beautifully done, Swamp Angel did not appeal to me as much as some of the others I have been reading for this blog.  The drawings of the heroine were not attractive to me, though I understand that they work for a tall tale. The book is lengthier than expected and the story at times seems choppy and meandering.  Perhaps with more experience reading tall tales, I could become more appreciative of this type of book.  The book also might offend some animal lovers, as the settlers make all kinds of culinary “delights” from the bear meat at the end of the story.

Connections: 
Swamp Angel should be read with its sequel, Dust Devil, or paired with other tall tales such as those of Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill.  Pointing out all the impossibilities of the characters’ actions would be a fun activity with children, who are still learning the difference between fantasy and reality.  Children would enjoy voicing their own opinions of what abilities they would wish for if they were a tall tale hero or heroine.
References:
Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. (n.d.).  Swamp Angel  by Ann Isaacs. Ill. By Paul O. Zelinsky. 
http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=1&isbn=0154365579845  (accessed September 19, 2013).
Vardell, Sylvia M. (2008). Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Kelly

Monday, September 9, 2013

Picture Book Reviews




Raschka, Chris. 2011. A Ball for Daisy .  New York, NY: Schwartz & Wade Books.  ISBN 978-0-375-95861-8 

Summary:
 A Ball for Daisy is a wordless picture book that sweetly details the story of a dog named Daisy and her love for, and attachment to, a red ball.  On an adventurous walk with Daisy’s owner, the ball is chased and ultimately destroyed by another dog.  A dejected Daisy falls into a depression until, on another walk, the owner of the dog who destroyed Daisy’s red ball presents her with a new blue ball.  Daisy and the other dog play, and Daisy happily takes her new blue ball home.

Analysis:
As a wordless picture book, A Ball for Daisy is all about the illustrations.  The medium of water color is used, with simple muted colors of primarily black, white and gray, which serves to highlight the significance of the “red” ball.  The placement of the ball and Daisy on the pages in different locations emphasizes robust movement and play throughout the book, until toward the end, when a droopy and dejected Daisy must leave the park without her beloved ball.  

Through his illustrations, Chris Raschka creates many emotions in Daisy, such as excitement, happiness, contentment, joy, playfulness; then shock, denial, sadness, anger, disappointment and, finally, depression.  Ultimately, Daisy experiences surprise and happiness again upon receiving the gift of the new blue ball from a new friend.  It isn’t always true that life ends with a happily-ever-after, but picture books are a great way for children to begin to see how life happens. This book tells a huge story without one single word.

Personal Response:
The cover of the book doesn’t reveal the tremendous story inside, and I found myself lost in the pictures and the story they presented, just as I would be lost in any good book.  The buildup of Daisy’s emotions, the conflict of the destruction of the ball, and the resolution of a new blue ball made a satisfying “reading” experience, and I ended up with a smile on my face!

Reviews and Awards:

Caldecott Medal Winner; A New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year; A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; A Hornbook Fanfare Book

“Rarely, perhaps never, has so steep an emotional arc been drawn with such utter, winning simplicity.” – Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“Raschka’s genius lies in capturing the essence of situations that are deeply felt by children.” – School Library Journal, Starred

“Noteworthy for both its artistry and its child appeal” – The Hornbook Magazine, Starred

Connections:
Children can relate to the emotions involved in the loss of a beloved toy by misplacing or breaking it; and the joy of receiving a new toy has been experienced by most children as well.  The book allows children to experience a plethora of emotions, both good and bad, in a safe way, and ultimately reveals that something good can come from an unhappy experience.  A deeper theme of loss and recovery is explored in a way which children can relate to.
Another book that could be read along with A Ball for Daisy is The Odd Dog, by Claudia Bolt, about a dog who is afraid of losing his beloved apples to a neighbor dog, and the emotions he experiences when that does happen.  Depending on the culture of the library, the English/Spanish book The Lost Ball/La Pelota Perdita, about a boy and his dog searching for a lost ball could also be read.


In a story time, the children could participate in coloring a picture of a dog with a ball and explain choosing the color red or blue for their ball.  Small, inexpensive rubber balls could be provided to play with.  Children could share experiences of when they lost a toy and what happened afterwards. 




Willems, Mo. 2004. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 978-142311437-6

Summary:
In this picture book, a naked mole rat named Wilbur likes wearing clothes, which is not the tradition of everyone else in his community.  He is questioned, ridiculed and ostracized by his fellow naked mole rats. However, a surprise awaits when the Grand-pah naked mole rat makes a proclamation that there is nothing wrong with wearing clothes and appears dressed in a dapper suit of his own.  The naked mole rat community then adapts, as some decide to try wearing clothes, but others choose not to – and all are accepted either way.

Analysis:
Mo Willems creates a unique character in Wilbur, the naked mole rat, who has a strong sense of self and is confident in challenging the norms of his community.  The conflict arises when Wilbur is mistreated for trying to be different, something that happens often to children due to peer pressure.  The resolution and the story itself create a theme of identity and individuality – that it is ok to be different – and to stand firm in one’s convictions.  

The illustrations are cartoon-like line drawings of characters and objects with mostly pastel colors, creating a gentle feel, all the while telling a strong story about prejudice and intolerance, and ultimately, acceptance.  The characters’ facial expressions and bodies are drawn to reflect many moods: the antagonists’ shock, disgust and anger at Wilbur’s decision to keep wearing clothes; the thoughtfulness of Grand-pah’s proclamation; and ultimately acceptance and happiness as everyone decides that doing one’s own thing is ok after all.

Personal Response: 
 Having experienced intolerance about clothing choices myself, as a pre-teen, I appreciate Wilbur’s willingness to stand firm in his convictions.  Seeing young children succumb to peer pressure, myself and my own children included, makes me realize  that this book is has a strong theme that could have an impact on a child’s choice to be strong and stay true to his or her own belief system.

Reviews and Awards:
Bulletin’s Blue Ribbons, 2009; Publisher’s Weekly Review Stars , 2008; Parent’s Choice Award, 2009; Black-eyed Susan Book Award, 2010-2011, Nominee

“Adults will embrace the message of tolerance, happy to have a tale that can be shared with young children” – School Library Journal 

“…mostly it is Wilbur’s guileless observations that will have young readers feeling good about individual expression” - Booklist

Connections:
In a school or library setting, reading a non-fiction book about real naked mole rats would be a good choice to go along with Willems tale, such as Kristin Petrie’s Naked Mole Rats.  In addition, there are other children’s books about intolerance and identity that could be read along with this book, such as I like Myself, by Karen Beaumont and Day and Night,  by Teddy Newton.  A craft could be made with a paper-doll Wilbur and clothes to color and cut out for him. 



Ga’g, Wanda. 1928. Millions of Cats.  New York, NY: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-0606018173

Summary:

A little old man and woman are lonely and decide they would like to have a cat to keep them company.  The little old man travels far and wide, along finely drawn hills and valleys and encounters “millions of cats.”  Unfortunately, he cannot decide on one cat and ultimately takes them all home to the little old woman.  The couple quickly realizes they cannot keep them all.  When asked who is the “prettiest,” the cats begin to quarrel, and after the fight ends only one scrawny, unattractive cat remains.  The couple loves the cat anyway and treats it very well.  After some time, they decide it’s a beautiful cat after all, having seen “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats,” a recurring phrase throughout the book.

Analysis:
This “classic” children’s book, one of the oldest still in print, is illustrated in black and white drawings, as it was created before color printing was popular in picture books.  The pages contain quite a bit of text which is also different from the colorful, popular picture books of today.  However, the story has many traditional children’s book elements: characters seeking something, a journey, decisions to be made, conflict and a satisfying resolution.  The story also contains the rhythmic refrain of “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats” which clearly calls for repeating by the audience.  One negative of the book is the fact that the millions of cats apparently eat each other while fighting, which may seem morbid to young children, and the theme of greed may go over their heads. Additionally, the age of the book and the lack of colorful pictures might possibly cause a child to forego this book in favor of a brighter choice. In spite of those issues, the story continues to delight, even after more than 80 years.

Personal Response: 
This book was a surprise, as I did not realize it had been written so long ago. I read that it is the first book to use pictures on facing pages, which is the standard of picture books today.  The text was engaging and the drawings were well done, plus the rhythmic refrain is quite catchy.  Classic picture books do still have a place in the hearts of children – and adults.

Awards and Reviews:

John Newbery Medal, 1929; and a number of “Top 100” lists for children’s books

The age of the book make it difficult to find published reviews.

Connections:
This book could be read with other “classic” picture books, such as Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey or Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  Additionally, other books about different kinds of cats could be read, such as I Don’t Want a Cool Cat! By Emma Dodd and Cats, Cats, Cats!  by Leslaea Newman.  Activities could include coloring sheets for children to draw the “perfect” cat for them, or a flannel board activity as the story is read prepared with laminated cut outs of characters from the books.

Kelly