Friday, September 19, 2008

Mightier Than The Sword: World Folktales for Stong Boys

Yolen, Jane, Trans. 2003. Mightier Than The Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys. Ill. by Raul Colon. New York: Silver Whistle, Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 0152163913

Plot Summary
Mightier Than The Sword is a collection of fourteen folktales gathered from Asia, Africa, and Europe. All tales depict a young man as the protagonist who solves major problems without ever resorting to force. The main character thinks through the problem first before ever making his first move, demonstrating that brains can overcome brawn.

Critical Analysis
Jane Yolen has benefited the literary world by collecting prime folktales demonstrating young men from all around the globe who succeed in solving problems by using their wit and intelligence instead of brute force. This is an important message for boys of today who have cut their teeth on the violence found in modern media. The fourteen tales in this collection portray many universal themes found even in today's society: courage, following your dream, generosity, fairness, and the evil tyrant. Each story is provided with a pen and ink illustration showing a high point in the story and leaving the rest to the imagination of the reader.

Review Excerpts
"[Yolen's] versions of these stories are lively, expressively written, ready for reading aloud or telling..." - School Library Journal

"Free of didacticism, these diverse stories give readers something to think about." --Booklist

"This collection is outstanding and well worth any teacher's attention. Teachers that have video games 'fanatics' in their class could possibly use these folk tales with these students. I would suggest that they create the idea for a video game that has no violence patterned after one of the stories. It might get them to thinking about a game that contains something besides the most creative way to annihilate someone or something." - Heart of Texas Reviews

The tales in this collection lend themselves well to oral readings. Prior to reading, one could ask students how they would go about solving such a problem, and write the ideas onto a chart of blackboard. Following the reading, a discussion of alternative endings and solutions to the conflict could encourage both boys and girls to use their wits to solve issues instead of arguments.

Seven Blind Mice

Young, Ed, Trans. 1992. Seven Blind Mice. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 0399222618

Plot Summary
A retelling of the Indian fable depicting blind men discovering an unfamiliar creature and their individual interpretations. This time the characters are colorful mice who again, insist their explanation of the Something is the only true one, until the last mouse explores the object and puts together correctly all the clues that reveal the unknown creature is actually an elephant.

Critical Analysis
Ed Young provides a brightly colored retelling of the classic fable of the blind men and the elephant. Illustrations of glowing colors set against a black backdrop keep a reader interested. The mouse moral at the end of the story is written in simple enough language that young readers will be able to understand an appreciate the lesson to be learned.

Review Excerpts
"Immensely appealing." - The Horn Book, starred review
"Exquisitely crafted: a simple, gracefully honed text, an appealing story, and outstanding illustrations and design- all add up to a perfect book." - Kirkus Reviews, pointer review

Prince Cinders

Cole, Babette. Trans. 1987. Prince Cinders. New York: The Putnam & Grossed Group. ISBN 0698115546

Plot Summary
A retelling of the classic Cinderella. This version stars a teenage boy as Prince Cinders who has three obnoxious brothers and one slightly incompetent fairy. All is well though, when Prince Cinders loses his bluejeans and Princess Lovelypenny searches for the one who can fit them.
Modern-day twists are incorporated into the retelling including sports cars, a disco, and a bus stop. Princess Lovelypenny is a liberated princess in that she proposes to Prince Cinders. Revenge is sweet at the end when she has the fairy turn the three obnoxious brothers into houseflies, cursed to do housework for the remainder of their lives.

Critical Analysis
Babette Cole's retelling follows the tried-and-true Cinderella plot while maintaining the interest of today's readers by using modern culture and idioms. The language is up-to-date and easy to understand. Cole's illustrations are amusing with a cartoon-feel to them with plenty of current details for readers to recognize and compare with the more traditional elements. The change of having the princess propose is a fun deviation from the norm.

Review Excerpts
"Take a classic story, substitute a few ingredients, season freely with silliness and imagination, dress it all up in jaunty illustrations, and what have you got? In the case of Cole's Prince Cinders, an outrageously funny romp of a picture book...A madcap, highly entertaining spoof." - Publishers Weekly

"Would bring giggles to any age." - School Library Journal

Use Venn diagrams to practice comparing and contrasting using various Cinderella versions.
Challenge students to write their own new ending different from the happily-ever-after or the one presented in Prince Cinders.
Discuss the pros and cons for getting revenge.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Araminta's Paint Box

Ackerman, Karen. 1990. Araminta's Paint Box. Ill. by Betsy Lewin. New York: Atheneum, Macmillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0689314620

Plot Summary: Araminta's family is moving west in a covered wagon to the territory of California. Her uncle gives her a special paint box as a going-away gift. Unfortunately, the paint box is lost on the trail west, but through a series of incredible events, the paint box winds up back with Araminta in California.

Critical Analysis: This is a happy-ending story with a predictable ending, but one that arrives there with the reader satisfied with how the events are resolved. This is a good example for practicing sequencing and geography and maps of the early days of the United states.
Every page of the book has an illustration, which highlights each important event in the story allowing young readers to better grasp the flow of sequence and time in the story. Action and movement are felt in each picture enabling the reader to feel the westward expansion of the United States during the second half of the 1800s.

Review Excerpts:
School Library Journal: " engaging way to present a slice of early American history to young children. Pen and watercolor illustrations charmingly capture the light-hearted spirit of the westward saga."

Connections: This book ties in nicely with a study on the westward movement of the United States. It provides a break from all the facts and history of this time period.
Extra materials:
Video Series: Westward Expansion for Students
Title: Covered Wagons and Westward Expansion
Publisher: SVE and Churchill Media 2004

Broida, Marion. Projects About Westward Expansion. ISBN 0761416048

Erickson, Paul. Daily Life in a Covered Wagon. ISBN 0140562125

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers

Gerstein, Mordicai. 2003. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Brookfield, Connecticut: Roaring Brook Press ISBN 0761317910

Plot Summary: As the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were being completed in 1974, a French aerialist, Philippe Petit, with the help of friends, strung a tightrope between the the skyscrapers, and proceeded to walk, dance, and perform tricks on the rope. His walk has now become a piece of the history of the World Trade Center, a memory captured here for both children and adults alike to experience the thrill and daring of Philippe's incredible feat.

Critical Analysis: Mordicai Getrstein has brought to life the memory of Philippe Petit's incredible high wire walk between the World Trade Center towers. His writing captures the free spirit of Philippe and allows one to understand why he would want to even try so amazing a performance.

Gerstein's illustrations provide a sense of awe at the height of the towers, and, using two fold-out pages, conveys the feeling of tremendous distance, with Philippe's small silhouette drawn between the towers. A sense of the impossible enters the mind along with unbelievable relief that Philippe did indeed survive this amazing act.

Review Excerpts:

Publisher's Weekly: "Gerstein's dramatic paintings include some perspective bound to take any reader's breath away."

School Library Journal: "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 tower4s and the lives associated with them.


This would be a valuable book to share around September 11, to remind students of some of the good memories of the World Trade Center.

A connections could be made between girl gymnasts who perform on balance beams. If access to a gym is possible, try having students walk on beam.

Related books:

McCully, Emily Arnold. Mirette on the High wire. ISBN 0698114434

Petit, Philippe. To Reach the Clouds. ISBN 0865476519 Although written for adults, it provides photos of Philippe and his walk.

A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal

Marcus, Leonard S. 1998. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. New York: Walker and Company. ISBN 080278651

Plot Summary: Leonard Marcus gives us a book highlighting six Caldecott-winning books which span the six decades of that medal's history. The book answers many children's questions of "How did the author/illustrator come up with the ideas for his/her book?"

Critical Analysis: Leonard Marcus begins his work by explaining the background of the Caldecott medal but doesn't bore one with too many dates and details. After the introduction, he highlights a winner from each decade, giving the reader insight into why the author/illustrator wrote the story and how he/she designed the illustrations. Leonard Marcus encourages young readers by detailing how many of the illustrations started out with very simple thumbnail sketches, and that many illustrations took several weeks or even months before the illustrator considered the drawings to be done.
The Text is appropriately written in chronological order describing the book from start to finish and makes good use of the artists' original work showing sketches, thumbnails, and the final product.

Review Excerpts:
Booklist: "A beautifully made book"

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books: "Eminently satisfying"

School Library Journal: "While the focus is on the creation of the award-winning books, a great deal of background about the artists' lives and the way in which they work is given. The large, attractive pages invite readers to savor the multitude of illustrators."

Use the book as a spring board for book talks that include discussions about illustrations, not just the text or story.

Introduce the year's medal winners by showing past winners and their books.

Encourage students to illustrate a page or two for a book that does not have an illustration on every page and display in the library.

Other books about artists and illustrators:
Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art
ISBN 9780399246005
Pass It Down: Five Picture Book Families Make Their Mark
ISBN 0802796001