Saturday, February 23, 2008

Module 3 Traditional Literature: Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book

Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book
Morales, Yuyi. 2003. Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Death has to wait in this humorous tale by Yuyi Morales. Senor Calavera, which literally translates to Mr. Skeleton in Spanish, comes to take Grandma Beetle, who is not quite ready to go with him just yet. She has just a few more things to do such as sweep the floor, make some tortillas, set the table, all in preparation for her birthday party. Senor Calavera becomes more and more frustrated but eventually settles in and even begins helping Grandma Beetle with the preparations. When he finds that he is, in fact, the tenth invited guest, he gives in to his delight and decides not to take Grandma Beetle leaving her a note saying how much fun he had and that he wouldn’t miss her next birthday for anything in the world. In Grandma Beetle’s slow, methodical way, she has indeed tricked him into allowing her to live at least another year. The warm and colorful acrylic and mixed media illustrations give depth to the wise and cunning Grandma Beetle and depict Senor Calavera as silly and cartoonish, not to be feared. Morales has a gift for capturing the joy and expressions of love on the faces of the grandchildren and their grandmother. The text is repetitive and lends itself to reading aloud with opportunities for participation and includes counting words in English and Spanish. Readers will anticipate what Grandma Beetle will think of next to try to postpone leaving with her guest. Don’t miss the cat, appearing on every page, giving hope that Grandma Beetle, having escaped Death this time, may also have nine lives, perhaps?

Module 3 Traditional Literature: The Little Red Hen

The Little Red Hen
Pinkney, Jerry. 2006. The Little Red Hen. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Caldecott Award winner Jerry Pinkney’s The Little Red Hen is a delight for readers young and old. The classic tale of the industrious chicken that tries unsuccessfully to enlist her friends to help her with a task is a universal story of the benefits of hard work and the consequences of laziness. Pinkney’s graphite, ink and watercolor illustrations bring this tale to life and allow the reader to see the finely etched details of the characters and pastoral setting. This Eastern European traditional tale emphasizes the value of a strong work ethic; labor and diligence will pay off in the end. Pinkney’s hen is smart and practical, concerned for her family and clearly wanting to include the other farm animals in her task by appealing to their independent skills so all can enjoy the benefits. By contrast, the dog, rat, goat and pig would rather not be involved and the disappointment in their choice is evident in their faces as they can only watch as the hen and her chicks enjoy their bread. Pinkney, himself, can be found as the miller who assists the little red hen with grinding the grain into flour and giving her a jar of berry jam, adding a little extra sweetness to this timeless tale. The rhythm of the story lends itself to being read aloud and allows many opportunities for participation with the predictable, “not I said the …” that children will anticipate and enjoy.

Module 3 Traditional Tales: The Hungry Coat

The Hungry Coat
Demi. 2004. The Hungry Coat. Illustrated by Demi. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Demi depicts the classic moral of not judging people by what they look like in her beautifully illustrated version of The Hungry Coat. This tale from Turkey is based on the practical and sensible Nasrettin Hoca, a Turkish folk philosopher and teacher. Nasrettin Hoca, “a funny little wise man”, wears a huge white turban, an old worn out coat, likes to ride on his little gray donkey and help people. On his way to his rich friend’s banquet he stops to help catch a frisky goat that has gotten loose in a caravansary, a hostel for travelers. He arrives late to the banquet, dirty and smelling of goat, where his friends ignore him. He goes home to bathe and change into a beautiful new coat returns to the party where now he is the most popular man at the banquet. He begins to feed his coat saying, “Eat, coat! Eat!” and fills his jacket with all kinds of food. His friends, thinking this is very strange, ask why he is doing this and he replies that they must have wanted the coat to eat because when he was there earlier, no one paid him any attention but now they offer him food. “This shows it was the coat—and not me—that you invited to your banquet!” He reminds them to, “Look at the man and not his coat.” You can change the coat, but not the man. “With coats new are the best, but with friends, old are the best!” Friendship and prejudice are universal themes, which resonate across all cultures. The wise words of Nasrettin Hoca are as true today as they were hundreds of years ago. Demi’s intricate paint and ink drawings bring a depth to the story that goes beyond the tale. Look in the windows of the hostel and in the patterns of the rugs to find more details for hours of fun. This would provide an exciting storytelling opportunity for those who wish to try.

Module 3 Traditional Tales: Beautiful Blackbird

Beautiful Blackbird
Bryan, Ashley. 2003. Beautiful Blackbird. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Ashley Bryan’s Beautiful Blackbird is a classic tale of finding beauty within. Blackbird, whose “feathers gleam all colors in the sun” is determined by the other birds to be “the most beautiful one” and the others desire a bit of black in their feathers to be like him. With his sage advice of “color on the outside is not what’s on the inside”, he invites the birds to a party where he paints them with black feathers and they sing and dance. He always reminds them of their individuality when he says although he is giving them some of his blackness, “I’ll be me and you’ll be you.” Adapted from a tale from the Ila speaking people from Northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia, Bryan does an excellent job of staying true to the stories roots and spreading a little ‘blackness’ in his readers and enriching their lives by learning a little culture. The cut paper collage illustrations provide authenticity to the tale and allow the reader to focus simply on the colors and shapes to find uniqueness in the characters. The rhythm of the text makes this an enjoyable story to read aloud and even provides opportunities for movement as children can act out the dances and songs. Alliteration and internal rhyme make this story fun and exciting for children everywhere. Ashley Bryan has once again created a beautiful picture book with a powerful message that speaks to readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Module 2 Picture Books: Dona Flor

Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart

Mora, Pat. 2005. Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart. Illustrated by Raul Colon. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Pat Mora has reached down into her Spanish roots to blend the traditional tall tale with a cultural flair. Dona Flor is an oversize female with an equally giant heart to match. Popular in her pueblo for helping others and spreading kindness, Dona Flor is called upon to save the village from the terrible howling puma. Animal friendly Flor speaks all languages and soon discovers that the fearsome ‘monster’ that has frightened her friends is only (to her) a small, prank-loving wildcat that soon becomes her gentle pet. Raul Colon’s watercolor washes give a sense of movement and emphasize Dona Flor’s exaggerative size and proportion. Contrary to traditional fairy tales where giants are feared, Dona Flor is gentle, kind and helpful. The texture is unifying and the etched illustrations flow throughout the double page spreads. Pictures go off the page to give emphasis to Flor’s size as if she is too big for the book. The humorous, non-threatening characters will appeal to readers of all ages who may just learn a few new words in Spanish, themselves.

Module 2 Picture Books: Scranimals


Prelutsky, Jack. 2002. Scranimals. Illustrated by Peter Sis. New York: Greenwillow Books.

In Jack Prelutsky’s whimsical collection of poems about ‘scrambled animals’, Scranimals, readers are introduced to a wide variety of unusual creatures. Fruit, vegetables, plants and even other animals are combined to create scranimals who are detailed in Prelutsky’s nonsensical poetic style. Children of all ages will delight in Peter Sis’ textured black line art combined with watercolors that make the characters come to life. The rich vocabulary, inventive wordplay and rhymes meld together to describe a world in which scranimals co-exist in harmony. This delightful collection of poems jogs the imagination and tickles the funny bone for hours of reading enjoyment. From the gentle PANDAFFODIL to the scary RADISHARK, Scranimal Island is filled with characters just begging to be discovered and creates opportunities for children to extend the concept to invent creatures of their own.

Module 2 Picture Books: But Excuse Me That is My Book

But Excuse Me That Is My Book

Child, Lauren. 2005. But Excuse Me That is My Book. Illustrated by Lauren Child. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

A patient brother, Charlie, accompanies his energetic sister, Lola, to the library in an effort to find her beloved book, Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies, “the very best book in the world” in But Excuse Me That is My Book. Award winning author and illustrator, Lauren Child has captured the joy of a young child’s fixation on a favorite book and the attempt at finding her a replacement that meets her interest when she discovers her book has been checked out. The 60’s style, cartoon-like illustrations embed collage and mixed media techniques, creating an eye-catching, fast paced appeal matching that of Lola’s personality. Text is all over the page and a variety of fonts are intermingled throughout the story, creating a virtual mood. Bold lines and overstated expression give depth to the characters’ feelings and emotions. Readers of all ages will enjoy the exaggerative and dramatic dialog. This book will particularly appeal to younger readers who will want to participate in a read aloud opportunity.

Module 2 Picture Books: Old Turtle

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth

Wood, Douglas. 2003. Old Turtle and the Broken Truth. Illustrated by Jon J. Muth. New York: Scholastic Press.

The universal theme of peace and harmony drive Douglas Wood’s Old Turtle and the Broken Truth. Truth can be found throughout nature if you just stop to listen and accept its beauty and awe. In the story, a piece of truth falls to earth where the animals and nature find it nice, but incomplete. Humans find the piece and it turns them into self-absorbed, isolated, greedy people until a little girl goes on a journey to heal the nations. She befriends Old Turtle who imparts her wisdom and gives the girl the ability to restore the truth. This story will appeal to adults and older students with its more sophisticated art and text. Jon Muth’s watercolor illustrations are ethereal and add to the essence of the fable. The pieces of the broken star, the truth, stand out in sharp detail against the backdrop of the muted watercolor wash. The color guides the tone in this worldwide message of tolerance and acceptance. The humans change from black and white to color as they achieve self-awareness and realize the truth is found within themselves and in nature. The topics of ecology and world preservation are current and appealing to all grades and readers.

Module 2 Picture Books: The Other Side

The Other Side

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2001. The Other Side. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Annie and Clover try to make sense of the racial tension that divides their town and overcome physical and social barriers that inhibit their friendship in Jacqueline Woodson’s heartwarming book, The Other Side. E.B. Lewis’ beautiful watercolor illustrations give this poignant story a gentle, pastoral feeling. The illustrations can be so realistic that they almost look like photographs capturing the essence of the time. The fence dividing the town can be found throughout the book and is a powerful metaphor for the race barrier isolating the children and adults of the community. At the end of the story, as the children try to find a solution to an adult problem, Annie says, “someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.” This hopeful union of two children who simply aspire for friendship is an inspiration for all of us to strive for tolerance and acceptance.