Monday, September 29, 2008

Horse Hooves and Chicken Feet: Mexican Folktales (Genre 2-Traditional Literature)

Bibliography
Philip, Neil, ed. 2003. Horse hooves and chicken feet: Mexican folktales. Ill. by Jacqueline Mair. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0-618-19436-0.
Plot Summary
This is a collection of Mexican folktales. The fourteen stories range in length from one to several pages. They also vary greatly in their plots. Some stories sound like the familiar stories of other cultures. Also included is an introduction providing insight as to the reason certain stories were selected for the collection as well as other points of interest concerning Mexican folktales. At the end, Mr. Philip provides notes on the individual stories included in the collection - where the story was collected from, variations on the story, and other tidbits of information pertaining to the story.
Critical Analysis
I found this to be a wonderful collection of authentic folktales. Some seemed to be simply the Mexican version of a traditional tale but even so, all were uniquely suited to the people and culture of Mexico. Some even seemed as though the meaning was somewhat lost in translation; as though the full meaning of the story could only be complete in the story's native language. The common spiritual and religious references to God, the Devil, St. Peter, priests, etc. reflect the strong Catholic presence in the culture. Many stories also reflected other aspects of the culture dating back to the ancient civilations of the area in their personification of the natural world (i.e. the Sun, Moon, and Wind helping the soldier find his true love).

The illustrations of the book further demonstrate the culture of the tales but are not necessarily weaved into the storylines. Being of an oral tradition, the stories stand alone without the aide of illustrations.
Professional Review Excerpts
From School Library Journal From the familiar "Cinderella" variant presented in "The Two Marias" to the Chelm-like stupidity of the "The Mule Drivers Who Lost Their Feet," this richly varied collection presents the unique blend of folkloric elements and Catholicism that defines Mexican folklore. In an informative introduction, Philip delineates the distinctive flavor of Mexican tales, their blend of religion and humor, and the particular pointed bite of many of the stories. The sparkle he discerns in the body of work comes through clearly in his stylish and humorous retellings. Mair's primitive acrylic illustrations, based on Mexican folk art, are alive with bright color and a kinetic sensibility. They both complement and extend the spicy stories, making this a well-put-together package. Clearly superior to the Little Book of Latin American Folktales (Groundwood, 2003), this title is narrower in scope, but the excellence of the text more than compensates for it. The book concludes with detailed notes on each of the stories and an extensive bibliography. All of the stories tell aloud well, which may be the way to introduce this sound and enjoyable volume to youngsters.

From Booklist Philip brings together a useful and attractively presented selection of 14 folktales from Mexico and people of Mexican decent from the American Southwest. The stories are simply yet effectively retold, usually in five or six pages, with many reflecting the strong influence of the Catholic Church on Mexican culture. Adding considerably to the overall appeal of the book are Mair's exuberant illustrations, accomplished in the style of Mexican folk art. Usually, one illustration comprising several images accompanies each story, each image mirroring some action, often in a way that is original and unexpected. Philip's illuminating introduction explains the origins of the tales, with appended notes providing even more background. An extensive bibliography of titles of Mexican folktale collections is appended. A solid collection that may also find an audience among readers who are older than the target audience.
Connections
~ This book lends itself to a comparison of traditional tales across various cultures.
~ With so many examples in one book, this can also be used to investigate the elements of traditional literature.
~ As with all literature from the oral tradition, this collection could be used as a practice in storytelling.

Cactus Soup (Genre 2-Traditional Literature)

Bibliography
Kimmel, Eric A. 2004. Cactus Soup. Ill. by Phil Huling. New York: Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 0-7614-5155-2.
Plot Summary
The story adapter sets the traditional story of Stone or Nail Soup around the Mexican Revolution. In the story, the Mayor and townspeople of San Miguell see soldiers heading in their direction and fear the soldiers will eat all of their food. They quickly hide all of the food in wells, trees, and even underground. They also change their appearence to look poor and hungry. When the soldiers arrive, they are told there is no food for them so the captain begins to prepare cactus soup for the town and soldiers. When the captain asks for a touch of this or a pinch of that, the townspeople go to their stashes resulting in a fine fiesta of food, music, and dancing that lasted all night long. The adapter also provides a few notes and definitions for the setting and language of the story.
Critical Analysis
This is a fine adaptation of the traditional story. The illustrations capture the setting and characters beautifully. The plot is humorous in that the townspeople set out to fool the soldiers but are in turn fooled by the soldiers. Yet, there is really no mean spirit to the tricks. In the end, a good time is had by all.

The subtle messages behind the story may be missed by the youngest readers/listeners but most will at least recognize the humor and irony of townspeople trying to trick the soldiers out of eating their food but in turn being tricked into providing a fiesta. Keen and critical readers will also recognize that the townspeople tricked themselves in thinking they had to hide their food. If they all contribute a little, there is plenty for all. This story proves to be a very funny way to teach the concept of sharing.
Professional Review Excerpts
From School Library Journal This Mexican variant of "Stone Soup" calls for a single cactus thorn as its base. The army captain repeatedly teases the poor people of San Miguel with the lament, "Why ask for something you don't have?," seducing the curious folk into adding still more ingredients like chiles, vegetables, and meat to his magical concoction, a yummy comestible that inevitably leads to a fiesta. Huling's elongated watercolor cartoons provide just the right playful, brown-hued visual temperament for the all-round festive deception. The glossary is welcome but, oddly, lacks a pronunciation guide. Even stranger, though, is the postscripted author's note, bizarrely politicizing an otherwise clever cultural retelling (although it gives the artist an opportunity to tack on interesting portraits of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata).

From Booklist *Starred Review* Kimmel once recast the gingerbread boy as a traditional Mexican foodstuff in The Runaway Tortilla (2000); illustrator Huling's previous picture book, Puss in Cowboy Boots (2002), plunked Charles Perrault's wily cat in the Southwest. How appropriate, then, that the two should team up to create a chile-infused recipe for stone soup. Their version is set in the Mexico of the Zapatistas, and it's a regiment of revolutionaries who suggest cactus-spine soup to villagers made stingy by a mayor who warns that soldiers "eat like wolves!" But cactus soup, of course, isn't as tasty without salt, pepper, chiles, onions, beans, and a chicken or two . . . "But why ask for what you don't have?" Soon missing ingredients materialize by the basketful, resulting in a splendid feast for the hungry soldiers and a rousing fiesta for all. Kimmel's relaxed storytelling, accompanied by a glossary for those whose Spanish vocabulary may not encompass camote (sweet potato) and alcalde (mayor), is perfectly matched by the sun-baked watercolors by Huling, whose lanky villagers dwarfed by looming sombreros, swaybacked horses, and bowlegged vaqueros evoke both the exaggerated perspectives of Mexican muralists and the tongue-in-cheek universe of Speedy Gonzales. A savory stew to serve alongside traditional versions of the classic tale.
Connections
~ Naturally, this book lends itself to a compare/contrast study of the story Stone Soup.
~ This story can also be used in a study of stories from various cultures asking the students to look for details specific to the cultures of the story.
~ The story could also be used as an introduction to a math lesson discussing measurement tools and their use and importance.

Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella (Genre 2-Traditional Literature)

Bibliography
Johnston, Tony. 1998. Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella. Ill. by James Warhola. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0-399-23021-1.
Plot Summary
This is very much the traditional Cinderella story but with some twists. Most of the story follows the traditional plot: a dashing prince in need of a wife, a kind girl who lives with her mean stepmother and stepsisters, a party to which everyone was invited but the girl is left behind, a fairy makes it possible for the girl to go, the girl wins the prince's heart and after a search through the countryside, they live happily ever after. The story strays from the orginal through the characters (bigfoots instead of humans) and through it's unique view of beauty.
Critical Analysis
This is quite a fresh look at the traditional Cinderella story. The language can not necessarily be judged as smart though it is appropriate to the storyline and the characters of the story. The most endearing factor of the book is its setting and characters. These creative changes in the story not only provide a new twist to an old story, they also create a new subtle message in the story: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sweaty, smelly, woodsy, hairy, big-footed ladies are not generally thought of as beautiful. This story however, teaches that what might not be beautiful to some can be a dream come true to others. Everyone is special to someone.

The illustations meld wonderfully with the text. They help create the forest world of the Bigfoot creatures - a world never seen by humans. The artist captured the loving or hateful dispositions of the creatures and truly supported the text without the story.
Professional Review Excerpts
From Publishers Weekly What becomes a Bigfoot most? This silly twist on a favorite fairy tale clears up that question (and more) with humor and style. The Bigfoot prince is looking for a wife. But his perfect mate must meet some stringent criteria: she must be odoriferous, have lots of matted fur and be the kind of nature lover that never picks flowers. Finding such a catch isn't easy, so the prince throws a forest-wide fun-fest at which all the female Bigfeet can compete for him. Rrrrrella is a good candidate but her wicked stepsisters (who wear wildflowers in their well-groomed fur) won't let her attend. With help from her Beary Godfather, Rrrrrella wows the prince at the fun-fest and leaves a giant bark-clog in her wake. Johnston's (The Chizzywink and the Alamagoozlum) wacky fantasy stays true to the Cinderella story, and her fresh setting and funny, evocative details will keep kids laughing. Warhola's (Bubba the Cowboy Prince) giant woolly creatures sport prominent, snouty noses and grimy-toothed grins. They cavort with glee and exhibit enough recognizably human behavior to sustain the visual humor.

From School Library Journal This ultimate reversal of the Cinderella story stars a dashing, nature-loving Bigfoot prince who is "horrendously hairy." Of course, he is as "tall and dark as a Douglas fir" and women long for him. Nearby live a mother and her two puny, furless daughters who not only bathe (ugh!) but also throw rocks at spotted owls. They despise Rrrrrella, their woolly, huge stepsister with feet "like log canoes." When the prince gives the annual fun-fest, Rrrrrella, who is left behind, is helped by her "beary godfather." The rest is history. All of this takes place in the old-growth forest where the Prince protects the environment with his rules, "No pick flower. No pull tree," and protects himself with the last rule, "No kick royal family." The troll-like Bigfoot population lives joyfully among wild animals in a forest paradise. Large, bright paintings in greens, browns, and gold depict the large-nosed, big-toed heroine and her "odoriferous" love interest. All but two crowd scenes can easily be shared with a group. The book can be read alone, aloud, or used for storytelling. It's hilarious fun with a message for all ages.
Connections
~This story can be used to illustrate point of view by discussing how the various characters as well as we as readers view beauty.
~ This story can also be used in a study of the various Cinderella stories; how they are alike, different, reflective of culture, etc.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Caldecott Celebration (Genre 1 Picture Books)

Bibliography
Marcus, Leonard S. 1998. A Caldecott celebration: six artists and their paths to the Caldecott Medal. New York: Walker and Company. ISBN 0-8027-8656-1.
Plot Summary
This book gives a little history behind the Caldecott Medal - it's purpose, medal eligibility, and the selection process. The author then gives a detailed history of six (current edition added a seventh book) Caldecott Medal winners - one for each decade of the award's existence. The history tells about the author/illustrator and how he/she develop the award-winning book in particular though other works are mentioned.
Critical Analysis
This very useful book gives a thorough history of the Caldecott Medal explaining it's creation and the process of selection. The book then examines one medal-winner from each decade. Marcus artfully provides insight into the author/illustrator's journey into book-writing and discusses his/her process for developing stories and illustrations with most attention being given to the medal-winning book. Accompanying the descriptions are photographs of the authors, real-life models for their illustrations, and original sketches of the book illustrations. Marcus is able to take the reader beyond the matter of fact history behind the selected titles into the sort of magical world of story creation.

While the book is quite informative, it is not necessarily intended for young children. Older children, teachers, and librarians will however find it to be an excellent resource for research and/or teaching purposes.
Professional Review Excerpt
From Amazon.com Review Leonard S. Marcus's thoughtful recognition of the labor and serendipity that go into the making of great art illuminates every page of A Caldecott Celebration. It is also to his credit that he has chosen six of the most beloved titles in the canon of American literature as his representative sample of Caldecott-winning children's titles: Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings, Marcia Brown's version of Cinderella, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji. Marcus's subjects--both texts and creators--have amazing stories behind them. Not a drop of the mystery and fondness one feels toward these works is diluted by the details shared in A Caldecott Celebration, and after reading Marcus's considered tribute, you'll only love these books the better. --Jean Lenihan

From Publishers Weekly Filled with witty anecdotes and pithy observations, Marcus's (Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom) approach to examining the works of six Caldecott Medalists will be of as much interest to adults as to picture book readers. With a generous sprinkling of the artists' own words and sometimes those of his or her editor, Marcus chronicles the inspiration behind these works, the creative process, the artists' reactions to winning the prestigious award and its effect on their careers. With Marcus's sure hand guiding this tour, readers will find cause for celebration.
Connections
~An obvious connection for this book is to a Caldecott Medal Unit in which students learn about the award and the books that have won.
~This book is especially useful to 4th grade writing teachers who wish to show their students how much planning goes into writing and illustrating a good story.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers (Genre 1 Picture Books)

Bibliography
Gerstein, Mordicai. 2003. The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers. Brookfield, CT: Roaring Book Press. ISBN 0-7613-1791-0.
Plot Summary
The book tells the story of a tightrope walker named Philippe [Petit]. It tells of several of his accomplishments but focuses on his famous walk between the World Trade Center Towers before their completion. The long and difficult journey to and set up at the top is described as well as Philippe's long-awaited trip across the wire and his subsequent dealings with law enforcement.
Critical Analysis
The author's choice of words were often simple but somehow poetic and profound. The reader is able to get a sense of why Philippe would do such a dangerous thing - the frustrations, ponderings, and exilerations felt throughout the daring feat. Then five simple words, "Now the Towers are gone,' from which flow very complex emotions. The text is quite compelling.

The illustrations support the text by providing a pictoral representation of Philippe's point of view sometimes and other times providing a glimpse into the overall picture. The arrangement of the illustrations also provide interest. Some take up a quarter of a page, some a full page. Some are tall and wide, some are long and skinny. There are even some that cause the reader to turn the book and open an extension page. These variations help to portray the size of Philippe's surroundings in various parts of the story. Ultimately, the complex illustrations combined with the simple language create a truly moving book.
Professional Review Excerpt
From Publishers Weekly This effectively spare, lyrical account chronicles Philippe Petit's tight rope walk between Manhattan's World Trade Center towers in 1974. Gerstein (What Charlie Heard) begins the book like a fairytale, "Once there were two towers side by side. They were each a quarter of a mile high... The tallest buildings in New York City." The author casts the French aerialist and street performer as the hero: How Philippe and his pal shang the cable over the 140-feet distance is in itself a fascinating-and harrowing-story, charted in a series of vertical and horizontal ink and oil panels. An inventive foldout tracking Philippe's progress across the wire offers dizzying views of the city below; a turn of the page transforms readers' vantage point into a vertical view of the feat from street level. Gerstein's dramatic paintings include some perspectives bound to take any reader's breath away. Truly affecting is the book's final painting of the imagined imprint of the towers, now existing "in memory"-linked by Philippe and his high wire. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

From School Library Journal Kindergarten-Grade 6-The pacing of the narrative is as masterful as the placement and quality of the oil-and-ink paintings. The interplay of a single sentence or view with a sequence of thoughts or panels builds to a riveting climax. A small, framed close-up of Petit's foot on the wire yields to two three-page foldouts of the walk. One captures his progress from above, the other from the perspective of a pedestrian. The vertiginous views paint the New York skyline in twinkling starlight and at breathtaking sunrise. Gerstein captures his subject's incredible determination, profound skill, and sheer joy. The final scene depicts transparent, cloud-filled skyscrapers, a man in their midst. With its graceful majesty and mythic overtones, this unique and uplifting book is at once a portrait of a larger-than-life individual and a memorial to the towers and the lives associated with them. Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Connections
~This story lends itself to the investigation of the consequences to one's actions as well as the need for compassion sometimes.
~A Caldecott Unit would be incomplete without the study of this book and it's unique illustrations.
~The book serves as a biography of Philippe Petit.
~This is also a good option for opening a discussion about September 11th and other related historical information.

Duck for President (Genre 1 Picture Books)

Bibliography
Cronin, Doreen. 2004. Duck for President. Ill. by Betsy Lewin. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 0-439-67144-2.
Plot Summary
Duck decided he did no like the rules Farmer Brown had set so he held an election to allow the animals a chance to vote him in as the new farm leader. Duck won the election but decided that running a farm was too hard so he began a campaign for governor. After winning that election, Duck set his sights on the Presidency and won. In the end, Duck headed back to the farm.
Critical Analysis
This story is a fun look into the election process (reasons for running, voter registration, campaigns, casting ballots, recounts, etc.) though some liberties have been taken. The author also does a nice job of presenting the hard work involved in the jobs children don't always think of as being hard. The vocabulary is somewhat high-level so the youngest readers would not be able to read the book independently but in the same token, the book is a fun way to expose children to the vocabulary.

The illustrations support the text well by adding details and expression. Many times, the illustrations also add to the overall humor of the story. The colors used are vibrant and patriotic throughout the book which in turn create interest. Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin make a great team.
Professional Review Excerpt
From School Library Journal PreSchool-Grade 2--Lewin's characteristic humorous watercolors with bold black outlines fill the pages with color and jokes. Cronin's text is hilarious for kids and adults and includes a little math and quite a bit about the electoral process. The animals, who have no verbal language that humans can understand, are empowered by the use of the written word, and the subliminal message comes through loud and clear--one can almost hear youngsters thinking, "Watch out grown-ups! Just wait till I learn to read."--Jane Barrer, Washington Square Village Creative Steps, New York City Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Connections
~An obvious connection is to social studies and government and specifically the election process.
~This book could also be used in an author/illustrator study of Cronin and Lewin.
~Analyze the character of Duck using this book as well as Dooby Dooby Moo, Giggle, Giggle, Quack, and other books containing the character of Duck.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blog Purpose

The purpose of this blog is to review the various literature read for the course 'Literature for Children and Young Adults.'