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

No comments:

Post a Comment