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Friday, June 22, 2007

And the Green Grass Grew All Around

Schwartz, Alvin. 1992. AND THE GREEN GRASS GREW ALL AROUND: FOLK POETRY FROM EVERYONE. Ill by Sue Truesdell. U.S.A.: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN: 0060227575.

AND THE GREEN GRASS GREW ALL AROUND is a collection of poetry, riddles, rhymes and taunts pulled from our folklore, and collected by topic by the industrious Alvin Schwartz. Topics range from People to School to Wishes—and Warnings, Riddles, Nonsense, A Tree, and more. Older readers will remember many of the street rhymes from their own childhood jump rope games, and some taunts and songs may still be familiar to children today. (“Goodnight, Sleep tight, Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”) Pictures by Sue Truesdell are humorous action-packed caricatures pulled from the text, and illustrated in black and white. Not every rhyme is illustrated. While some included poetry is only two lines long, others, such as “On top of spaghetti, All covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball, When somebody sneezed.” go through many verses, a few lines of musical notation for reference, and several illustrations. The collection concludes with a useful list of sources, notes, and abbreviations pertaining to each item in the collection.

This collection, while eclectic, is a fun ride down memory lane. Certainly, not all included rhymes will be known by all readers, and part of the book’s charm is the ability to find something new. Children will enjoy many of the foolish or easy-to-remember jingles and games the book includes, and may also make use of some of the insults and taunts. These less-friendly inclusions show the author’s dedication to recording “street rhymes,” as he calls them, in their many different forms and functions. (Example: “Row, row, row your boat Gently down the stream, Throw your teacher overboard And you will year her scream.”)

Although many of these poems have multiple versions, only one has been selected for inclusion in the collection, and Mr. Schwartz’s list of street and bibliographic sources are impressive. The illustrations, while not important in explaining each jingle or poem, add valuable energy to the text, and often portray the humor or silliness of a given rhyme. Both the pictures and the text are reminiscent of many a Shel Silverstein book of children's poetry.

School Library Journal: “A marvelous book that is sure to become a classic if children have any say in the matter. Schwartz has gathered sassy, funny, scary, and slightly naughty children's folk poetry heard on schoolgrounds and wherever else kids are having fun.”
The Horn Book: “Sue Truesdell's cartoon drawings dance and tumble across the pages as a perfect accompaniment to the rhymes they illustrate. . . . A wonderful collection for reading, singing, and laughing out loud."

==> Great for Physical Education jump rope inspirations during gym class.
==> An opportunity to explore and encourage poetry on an accessible and often hilarious level with younger children.
==> Discuss the definition of history—how do we decide what is worth recording or retelling to future generations?
==> Also a great precursor to or example for a discussion about common themes across time. Some of the included rhymes, while very familiar, are also very old.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ella's Big Chance

There are so many excellent tellings and illustrations of this classic folktale from all over the world-- I had a hard time selecting just one. I also am inspired to hunt up more of the titles I uncovered, and begin to compare the narratives and values encouraged in different places and at different times.

Hughes, Shirley. ELLA’S BIG CHANCE: A JAZZ-AGE CINDERELLA. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003. ISBN: 0689873999.

In this personable and unexpected retelling of the classic Cinderella story, little Ella is an accomplished dressmaker in her father’s little shop. With Buttons the delivery boy, and an old gray cat to keep things merry, all is well until her father suddenly remarries. His new wife drum up more business than Ella and her father can handle, and Ella is not allowed to benefit from the flowing profits. Only Buttons stands by her. When she is not allowed to attend the grand ball, Buttons cheers her up before her godmother even arrives, but off to the ball she goes. It is Ella’s realization, when faced with the opportunity to marry the duke and live a life of ease, of what brings true happiness that sets this telling of the old classic apart. That, and the illustrations which bring each character’s personality to life.

Ella’s unexpected understanding that a choice exists, even though the rich and hansom man wants her hand in marriage, is an unusual adaptation to this classic tale. Other delightful adaptations include Ella’s untraditional beauty—her hair is red—and her tendency to clearly state what she thinks. At one point, Ella cries “I think you’re mean!”

The characters are fresh and dynamic, and the illustrations bring added depth and rounding out their development. The realism of the story’s unfolding is also unusual. For example, the duke recovers from Ella’s rejection by flying to South America in his private plane, and Ella and Buttons don’t expect to grow rich or stop working now that they have found true love. The story has a closed ending, even including the fate of the cat,

Author/illustrator Shirley Hughes has formatted her book so that each page contains a box of script, and a smaller black and white illustration. The bulk of each page is devoted to evocative color illustrations that clearly portray the relationships between characters, and the emotional impact of each event in the story. Smaller and incomplete, the black and white illustrations in the story box are a bonus, and usually show the emotions and involvement of lesser characters—the cat, Ella’s father, Buttons when the duke first comes to visit—often in comical or revealing poses.

ELLA’S BIG CHANCE is an excellent opportunity to discuss emotions, relationships, and reality. A good read, it will not bore even older audiences, but may contain too much text for the beginning reader or listener.

Booklist: “…This self-empowered Cinderella makes for an interesting change of pace.”
Publishers Weekly: “The length of this jaunty, if sometimes clichéed, retelling, as well as some of the vocabulary ("languid," "divan") and British colloquialisms may prove daunting to a younger audience. However, Hughes's fluid lines and bright colors contribute to illustrations with such graceful movement that they might have been inspired by Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger's movies, as well as by 1920s French couture.”
Starred Review School Library Journal: “This insightful retelling also offers a fascinating visual peek at a glamorous time.”

==> Discuss the emotions evident to new readers just from the illustrations. How does the old gray cat feel about being turned into a smart chauffeur for the night? Why is Buttons lurking in the corner when the Duke comes to call? Where did each of the characters make a choice, and what came of it?
==> Compare the illustrator’s style in this retelling to that in Hilary Knight’s 1978 version, and the illustrations in THE GIFT OF THE CROCODILE by Judy Sierra. How does each set of illustrations benefit the story being told?


Yolen, Jane. THE FIREBIRD. Ill by Vladimir Vagin. Hong Kong: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002. ISBN: 006028539-7.

Prolific folk author Jane Yolen teams with Russian Illustrator Vladimir Vagin to explore both the classical and folk elements of this well-known Russian fantasy. When Prince Ivan looses his way in a forest outside the evil Kostchei’s castle, his luck is improved by the appearance of a beautiful red bird—the Firebird. She and the maidens fair, who are trapped in the Deathess wizard Kostchei’s castle, know how to defeat Kostchei. Prince Ivan follows the beautiful red bird to the castle, and is able to defeat the wizard with the Firebird’s help. His reward is to marry the most beautiful of the captured princesses. Illustrations of both the ballet and the children’s story are provided on each page.

Using an impressively recounted array of folktale retellings and her own memories of the Russian Ballet of the Firebird’s stories, Yolen recreates a classic innocent hero, and a predictable storyline, leaving the reader with a sense of inevitability. The characters in the narrative are flat stock characters, with few liberties taken even in the illustrations. Traditional Russian outfits worn by the characters link the storyline displayed in the central illustrations with the ballet portrayed on the bottom fourth of each page.

Yolen’s expert use of understatement makes delightful reading, with the picture of the lost and hungry hunter painted in a few words. “He had been…seeking the brutish boar, the shadowy elk, the fleet deer…. But he had found nothing, for in Kostchei’s forest nothing lived.” Much like the bard’s epic tale, this is a story more appreciated by a listener than by a reader. The illustrations, while true to the traditional Russian roots of the tale, do not spark the imagination nor add to the story’s telling.

Jane Yolen’s note from the author at the conclusion of the book is of much greater interest, recounting her own connection with the ballet and the Firebird herself. In a few well-chosen words, Yolen also uses this opportunity to discribe her sources for the tale. Additional information about Kostchei the Deathless provided in this addendum spark the imagination, and encourage a deeper understanding of the FIREBIRD retelling as only a small chapter in the folklore of oppositional forces and traditional characters. Innocent and Evil, Teacher and Apprentice, Magic and Myth, Hero and Helper—all appear in the strong voice of the narrator on the pages of this international children’s book.

School Library Journal: “Not to be confused with two stunningly illustrated titles of different folktales, Demi's The Firebird (Holt, 1994; o.p.) and Ruth Sanderson's The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring (Little, Brown, 2001), Yolen's Firebird will be most appreciated as an introduction to the ballet.”
Booklist: “Yolen offers a dramatic story in language that's spare, immediate, and sprinkled with folksy phrases. It's Vagin's sparkling, gem-colored illustrations that really show the story's two traditions together in split spreads of a fairy-tale world above and ballet scenes drawn below. The result is effective and thought-provoking.”

==> Use Yolen’s Author’s Note about the many stories of Firebird and Kostchei the Deathless as a jumping-off point for children to write their own “folktale.”
==> Discuss the folk-story beginnings of many other famous ballets, love stories, and cartoon movies. Explore the messages these stories provide, and why they are still relevant so many hundred years after these stories were first told.
==> Read TALES FROM THE BALLET by Louis Untermeyer, 1968, and discuss the differences in voice, illustration, and story, as portrayed in these two retellings of the same Firebird episode.
==> This story could also be a great starting point to encourage appreciation of classical music, and the stories that make them come to life. Did you know that real cannons were fired in the concert hall when Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was first performed?!

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Wiesner, David. FLOTSAM. New York: Clarion Books, 2006. ISBN: 9780618194575.

Without words, this saturated picture book tells many inter-related stories by capturing moments at the beach and under the ocean. The story is of a young boy at the beach who is intent on seeing the world around him. He finds an old camera and develops the film only to find more visual clues to life in the ocean than he’d ever imagined. Among the pictures, he finds one of the camera’s last owner, a little girl like him, holding a picture of the owner before her—who is also holding a picture of the owner before.

Using many shifting perspectives—a camera, a microscope, the unaided eye, a bird’s-eye view—Wiesner tells magical stories that draw connections between people and sea creatures, people of today and people of long ago, people in cold climates and people on other continents all together. Some of his illustrations show an anthropomorphised octopus family reading together on underwater sofas, fish acting as transportation for other underwater creatures, starfish with islands on their backs, and many other imaginative wonders.

Without words, Wiesner is able to include many literary elements in his story: character, climax, flashbacks, foreshadowing, narrative order, plot, realism, setting, suspense, and much more. One example of foreshadowing that I love is the intentional inclusion of the microscope in one of the earlier scenes—which is then used later to verify the original owner of the camera—a boy from colonial times.

Each time a reader returns to these illustrations, there is more to see, more to the story. Many questions are left for the reader to answer from his or her own imagination, but the implicit theme carries to the end, where another adventure begins. Clear detail in the pictures, as well as a comic book style of insetting some illustrations over others, and readable emotions on the protagonist’s face (and the body language of the sea creatures) as he experiences this great ocean adventure add to the overall appeal of this inspirational work.

Starred Review in Booklist: “Wiesner offers another exceptional, wordless picture book that finds wild magic in quiet, everyday settings.”
Starred Review in School Library Journal: “Filled with inventive details and delightful twists, each snapshot is a tale waiting to be told.”

==> Ask the reader to write words for the story (or tell the story) she or he reads in these pictures. Alternately, ask the reader to create a world or a story based on one of the inventive scenarios the camera's pictures present.
==> Discuss the opportunities that varying perspective and scale provide in telling a complete story, in building interest and building drama within the story, and in changing the reader’s perspective as well. Talk about the many different perspectives (near, far, the boy, the crab, the huge starfish, etc) that are represented in this book.
==> Use this book as a jumping off point for research projects—History of the Camera, Under Water Machines, Life Habits of the Octopus, Codependent Relationships of Sea Creatures, etc…
Other great books for children about discovering who lives under the Ocean include: FISH SLEEP BUT DON’T SHUT THEIR EYES: AND OTHER AMAZING FACTS ABOUT OCEAN CREATURES by Melvin and Gilda Berger, 2004; WATER BEDS: SLEEPING IN THE OCEAN by Gail Langer Karwoski, 2005.

Talking With Artists

Cummings, Pat, ed. TALKING WITH ARTISTS. New York: Bradbury Press, 1992. ISBN 0027242455.

Editor Pat Cummings has selected a group of fourteen children’s book illustrators, including herself, and interviewed each of them using the same set of eight questions. Questions range from “Where do you get your ideas?” to “Do you ever put people you know in your pictures?” and “How did you get to do your first book?” The questions were compiled from the most common questions asked of Ms. Cummings when she visits schools. Artwork created by each illustrator as a child, and now as a successful illustrator, is included. The final section of the book is devoted to a glossary of terms used in the interviews, and a list of books attributed to each illustrator.

The opportunity, prior to the set interview questions, for each illustrator to tell “My Story,” discussing the path that lead them to become professional illustrators/artists allows their individual voice and background to come through. The interview questions themselves are priceless in providing an understanding of what it takes to become a successful artist over the course of a lifetime, and making the unique profession of children’s book illustrator tenable.

Discussion of each illustrator’s typical workday, work place, artistic medium, and children/pets adds a sense of reality to the profession, and provides a clear snapshot of the illustrator’s lifestyle. Driven, entrepreneurial, self-directed and self-motivated, these artists usually work alone, but their ability to connect with an audience through both words and pictures is clear. Selected illustrations are engaging, and representative of the specific artist’s preferred medium and style of illustration. The writing in this compilation directed toward elementary and middle-school audiences, and is entertaining and accessible to that age group.

The clear format of the book, as well as the inclusion of an alphabetized list of sections, a one-page introduction of the editor’s intentions in creating this book, and an included glossary at the end increase its value as a resource. The coincidence that so many of the included illustrators spend time at the library or regularly reading/referring to books from their extensive personal collections is also a beneficial theme.

School Library Journal: “Well designed and well conceived, this book will be welcomed in all those classrooms in which children's literature has become central to the curriculum.”
The Horn Book: “An inspired concept, executed with class.”

==> Many of the included illustrators are also children’s book authors. Consider how the illustrator’s approach to a book changes if they are also the author.
==> Talking With Artists includes several references to how color and medium affect the mood the illustration portrays. Select illustrated children’s books with a variety of topics and see if the group can determine the mood/theme of the story just by looking at the pictures.
==> How does a book tell its story when there are NO words? ART AND DESIGN IN CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: AN ANALYSIS OF CALDECOTT AWARD-WINNING ILLUSTRATIONS by Lyn Ellen Lacy, 1986, includes a section for picture books.
==> Children can write, illustrate, and “publish” their own books. Check out LOOK AT MY BOOK: HOW KIDS CAN WRITE & ILLUSTRATE TERRIFIC BOOKS by Loreen Leedy, 2004, for ideas.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Dooby Dooby Moo

Cronin, Doreen. 2006. DOOBY DOOBY MOO. Ill. By Betsy Lewin. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689845073

Farmer Brown and his farm animals have an interesting relationship. In this humorous picture book, he keeps tabs on them by creeping out to the barn each night to make sure they are sleeping soundly, and not causing trouble. Every night, he hears the same sounds. The farm animals, in their turn, look for ways to stay entertained. The plot thickens when Duck finds an ad for a talent show in Farmer Brown’s paper, and musters the other barn animals to practice their talents. Farmer brown gets so suspicious that he refuses to let them out of his sight, and brings them with him to the county fair—where the talent show is being hosted. Farmer Brown never learns what the animals were planning, though the sounds he hears in the barn at night have changed at the end of the book.

In this humorous story, the illustrations are vital to fully understanding the development of the plot. For example, without seeing the hole in Farmer Brown’s newspaper where the Talent Show Advertisement used to be, the reader would not fully understand how Farmer Brown knows the animals are up to something. Color-saturated and cartoonish illustrations also add interest to a sparsely worded storyline, showing the different ways in which Farmer Brown keeps an eye on his animals, and explaining why the animals’ much-echoed onomatopoeia of “Dooby, dooby moo…,” has changed after the talent show.

The authors’ use of two separate points of view throughout the book show the reader how a single event can be interpreted in different ways, depending on which side of the barn door the observer is standing. The multiple points of view also create the drama that develops between the animals’ determination to win first prize, and Farmer Brown’s frustration at not knowing what the animals are plotting.

This children’s story is also unusual in that the events taking place are often implied rather than explained by the text. The moral of the story appears when Duck, who has been the driving force behind all the hard work that goes into winning first prize, finally takes the stage himself and brings down the house. Readers are not sure if he has won, however, until the last page of the book, where the new noises coming from the barn are explained—“Dooby, dooby BOING!”

A great opportunity for young readers, this book offers a big reward for the effort put into reading it. The close relationship between illustrations and storyline are also beneficial to carrying the reader from page to page and encouraging cognitive reasoning. The humor of the situation is wonderfully evident throughout.

School Library Journal: “Some of the sophisticated humor will go over the heads of most children…[but] this story makes a great read-aloud.”

==> The latest in a series of stories illustrating the humorous and frustrating relationship between Farmer Brown and his Animals, readers will recognize the characters and their conflict from other stories by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.
==> This book encourages younger readers to stretch their wings. A great opportunity for children to practice reading on their own or to a friend.
==> Use this book to illustrate the idea of “perspective.” Encourage children to tell or write about their own experiences in which they thought they heard one thing, but found out later that it was something else.
==> This book would also be a great one for sparking classroom discussions about hard work, practice, and helpful criticism—especially in relation to extracurricular activities such as dance, music, or sports.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Welcome to my World

As a student in Texas Woman's University, I am working on an assignment wherein we create a blog to review children's books throughout the semester. Blog posts with that goal will be clearly marked as such, and will probably include a genre for reference by my classmates.

Literature for Children and Young Adults-- LS 5603-20-- is professed by Instructor Sylvia M. Vardell, Ph.D. Professor. This is the Summer Semester of 2007.

For all my dry humor, I'm actually looking forward to learning more about Children's Literature, and the systems of Collection Development that fuel it. I view children as our future, and I'd like to contribute to a bright, happy, and educated future. To that end, this course-- and the book reviews posted in this blog-- are an important part of my process.

My name is Staci. I'm a Leo. Hi.