Book Review: Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin1. Bibliography

Zelinsky, Paul O.. Reteller. 1986. Rumpelstiltskin. New York: E.P. Dutton. ISBN: 9780525442653.

2. Plot Summary

In this retelling of the classic “Rumpelstiltskin,” a miller’s daughter is forced to spin straw into gold for the greedy king. Unable to do so, she agrees to give a strange little man her necklace if he will help her. Upon discovering the room full of gold the next day, the king forces the woman to spin even more straw into gold. Again the strange little man agrees to help the woman for a price. The king then offers to marry the woman if she can spin an even larger room of straw into gold. Once again, the strange little man offers to help, but this time his price is higher: he demands her firstborn child. A year after marrying the king, the woman has a child and is visited by the strange little man, seeking to claim the child as his price. He gives her three days in which to guess his name, otherwise he will take the child. After two unsuccessful days of guessing, the woman’s servant overhears the strange little man gloating and chanting his name, “Rumpelstiltskin.” The woman is now able to guess his name and thus save her child. Rumpelstiltskin rides off on  his flying spoon and is never heard from again.

3. Critical Analysis

The first thing noticed about this version of Rumpelstiltskin is the style of art. Painted in a much older style than modern stories typically are, the illustrations add to the sense of age about this story. This story has existed in some form or another for generations, much like the priceless art after which these illustrations are styled.

The writing style of this story gives one the sense that the story should be read aloud, but not in the way typically thought of. Instead of read snuggled up cozily on the couch or in a circle around a squishy chair, this story feels as though it belongs recited by a grandfather by the light of a bonfire. Some stories should be read; this story should be told.

4. Review Excerpts

1987 Caldecott Medal (nominee)

From Booklist: “Zelinsky’s jeweled tones and precise medieval backgrounds make this a particularly handsome rendering of the classic fairy tale.”

From Publishers Weekly: “Rumplestiltskin [sic] is a tour de force by an immensely talented artist.”

From School Library Journal: “Zelinsky’s smooth retelling and glowing pictures cast the story in a new and beautiful light.”

5. Connections

-Have students draw what they think Rumpelstiltskin might have looked like.

-For older students, work together as a class to break the story down into its basic elements (such as an impossible task, a bargain, etc.). Then have students write a modern day variant of the story using all of the basic elements from the original story.

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)


Book Review: The Three Little Gators

Three Little Gators1. Bibliography

Ketteman, Helen. 2009. The Three Little Gators. Ill. by Will Terry. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman and Company. ISBN 9780807578247.

2. Plot Summary

In this variant of “The Three Little Pigs,” the reader meets three little gators setting out on their own. Warned to watch out for the “Big-bottomed Boar,” the first gator builds a house of stone, the second a house of sticks, and the third a house of sand. Soon the Big-bottomed Boar finds the third gator and smashes his house, seeking to eat the gator. The gator flees to the second gator’s stick house, but they soon face Big-Bottomed Boar a second time. Safely ensconced in the first gator’s strong stone house, the gators are finally safe from the Big-bottomed Boar, who is unable to bump the stone house down. The first gator then helps the others build stone houses for each of them to dwell in as well.

3. Critical Analysis

Helen Ketteman’s The Three Little Gators is a wonderful story that accurately reflects both the original tale and the East Texas culture in which the story is set. Set in an East Texas swamp, good characters are represented by three alligators, and the evil character is represented as the “Big-bottomed Boar.” These characters remain static throughout the story – the good guys stay good, the bad guys stay bad. While typically good stories demand dynamic characters, the simple nature of tales such as this necessitates boiling characters down into their archetypes and remaining true to that nature. Although few people like to view alligators as the good guys, the adorable illustrations help endear these little gators to readers, causing readers to become emotionally involved in their fate.

The theme of the dangers of laziness is subtly presented in The Three Little Gators, not hitting the reader over the head with its message, but implicitly understood. The stated reason the second and third gators did not originally build a stone house is that “rocks are heavy and too much work” (4) and “way too much work” (5). The third gator would not build out of sticks because “it’s still too hard” (6). Yet through their laziness and reluctance to put in the hard work necessary for a solid house, their houses were easily destroyed by Big-bottomed Boar. The unstated message for readers is that an unwillingness to do hard work will bring disaster to a person’s life.

The story’s excellent diction begs it to be read aloud. Rhyme plays a heavy role in creating the read-aloud quality, as does the frequent onomatopoeia. “Snurf, snurf! Short, snort! ‘Little gators, let me in. I smell three tender gator skins. Chasing you has made me thinner, I need three little gators for my dinner'” (22). Combined with Will Terry’s beautiful illustrations, this story is sure to have readers of ages laughing and cheering on the little gators.

I very much enjoyed that the story does not rely on Texas stereotypes. Having grown up in various parts of East Texas, including some swampy areas, I was pleasantly surprised to see the culture accurately reflected. The illustrations are true to life without being a specific place, and the slang words chosen are used correctly and non-ironically.

4. Review Excerpts

2011 Florida Reading Association Children’s Book Award (nominee)

2011 Washington Children’s Choice Picture Book (nominee)

From Horn Book Guide: “In this ‘Three Little Pigs’ takeoff, a “Big-bottomed Boar” is the bad guy, and three alligators prove that even in the swamp, nothing beats hard work and solid construction.”

From Booklist: “Loaded with plenty of outlandish action from the bug-eyed, cartoonish characters rendered in glimmering colors, this would make a rip-roaring group read-aloud.”

From School Library Journal: “Terry’s illustrations work well with the story. The colors are vibrant yet ominous and swampy. The textures are also wonderful, from the smoothness of gator hide and graininess of the swamp sand to the hairiness of the ugly boar.”

5. Connections

-Read along with a traditional telling of “The Three Little Pigs,” and then have students write their own variant based on where they grew up.

-Read as part of an animal unit

-In an art unit, provide a text-only version of the story; assign one page of text to each student for them to create their own illustrations. After completion, display the completed story around the room.

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)

Book Review: Jack and the Giant Barbecue

Jack and the Giant Barbecue  1. Bibliography

Kimmel, Eric A. 2012. Jack and the Giant Barbecue. Ill. by John Manders. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation. Print. ISBN 9780761461296.

2. Plot Summary

In this Southwestern retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” barbecue-obsessed Jack seeks to reclaim a barbecue recipe book from a thieving giant who dwells in the clouds. Jack encounters a giant-sized talking jukebox that helps him escape the angry giant and make it home safely. Chasing Jack, the giant falls through a hole in the cloud, inexplicably doesn’t die after crashing to the ground, and then has a change of heart and helps work at the barbecue joint Jack opens with his mother.

3. Critical Analysis

This tale stays (mostly) true to the nature of character types presented in the traditional telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Readers encounter the good hero, Jack, who seeks to right the wrong done when the giant stole the recipe book. While Jack’s character is believable and relatable, the giant is lamentably less so. The giant’s character relies too heavily upon the redneck stereotype to establish his evil nature, which necessitates the presupposition that rednecks are bad people. The giant also does not stay true to the static nature of characters in folk tales; evil people stay evil, good people stay good. At the end of the story, the giant has a completely unexplained change of heart. He goes from chasing Jack to recover the recipe book and jukebox to working for Jack at the barbecue joint.

Although the story’s supposed theme is that of good conquering over evil, one must wonder if the giant actually is evil. The only time the giant himself comes across as evil is when he sings a song threatening to eat Jack. Threats, however, are all we hear from him. Nowhere in the story does the giant do anything truly despicable that could not be explained simply. If the giant is not evil but merely misunderstood, is this truly a story of good versus evil?

The story’s familiar plot contains a good mix of action and detail. Characters do things, but the rich details bring the story to life. Despite this, the story is not satisfying. The reader is left asking, “Is that it? That’s the end?” There is no sense of completion at the end of the story.

Set vaguely in “West Texas,” Jack and the Giant Barbecue gives a wonderful depiction of the openness and beauty of the Texas desert. Additionally, the end of the story provides an “explanation” of why West Texas and the rest of the desert is so flat – the “giant pickup roared through the clouds and smashed all the mountains in West Texas flat. Since then, West Texas has been flat as a skillet all the way to New Mexico” (28).

The rich language begs the story be read aloud. The descriptions paint wonderful pictures before hearers, even when unable to see the beautiful illustrations. The illustration style reminds me of the style frequently used in movies when characters themselves tell stories. An early reader would be quite capable of following this story through the illustrations alone, making this story a good choice for early or struggling readers, as well as English language learners.

Although an argument can be made that Kimmel is not attempting to represent current Texas culture, this story feels based entirely upon stereotypes. If one were to base their knowledge solely upon this book, a reader would believe that Texans eat only barbecue, wear only cowboy or redneck clothes, drink only sweet tea, ride horses or drive beat up pickup trucks, and listen only to old country music. While many Texans do indeed enjoy these things, Texas is a diverse state, even in West Texas. Jack and the Giant Barbecue is merely another in a long line of books and movies to misrepresent Texas by buying into an outdated stereotype.

4. Review Excerpts

From School Library Journal: “Though youngsters may miss the many references to country songs, they will enjoy the vivid language and larger-than-life elements.”

From Booklist: ” Large typeface invites early readers to try to work through the text on their own, but the story is made for reading aloud and sharing the giggles.”

From Horn Book Guide: “This Southwestern-fried ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ expends so much effort on local (in this case, West Texas) flavor that it fails to serve a satisfying meal.”

5. Connections

-Read several variants of “Jack and the Beanstalk” to compare and contrast the stories.

-Read as part of a unit on the Southwest, including discussions about stereotypes.

-Read along with traditional telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Discuss the methods involved in creating a new variant of a story, then have students work in groups to choose another traditional story and create their own variant.

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)

Book Review: The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend1. Bibliography

Santat, Dan. 2014. The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316199988.

2. Plot Summary

Beekle lives in the world of imaginary friends, where imaginary friends wait for humans to imagine them. Beekle waits and waits to be imagined, but no one does. Eventually Beekle travels to the human world to seek out a child to be his best friend. After searching through the drab world of adults, Beekle finally discovers a park filled with children; no one there imagines him either. Finally Beekle climbs into a tree and then encounters Alice, who adopts Beekle as her imaginary friend.

3. Critical Analysis

The diversity of the imaginary friends presented lends an air of believability to this fantastical world since each imaginary friend would be as unique as the child who imagines it. Beekle’s cuddly, marshmallowy appearance immediately endears him to readers. As Beekle embarks on his grand adventure, readers gain an impression that his strength will help him be an excellent friend to a lucky child.

Although the real-world portions of the story are set in a city, the setting does not alienate readers from less urban locales; Beekle could just as easily have appeared in the real world in the fields of Iowa as in a large city. The children represented in the park and playing in the tree represent a broad range of ethnicities, ensuring no one feels excluded.

Characteristic of wonderful picture books, the artwork steals the show in this story. Each full-page picture brings Beekle’s world vividly to life. Whether the art draws readers into the whimsical world of imaginary friends, saddens with the drab nature of an adult world, or excites with the brilliant colors of the park, the stunning art creates the sense of wonder so in line with children who have imaginary friends. I want to plaster the walls of my room with the pages of this book!

The subtle presentation of theme in this story leaves readers understanding the point without coming across as preachy. Instead of stating, “It’s okay to have an imaginary friend,” Santat creates a world where having an imaginary friend is the norm. As Beekle searches for his friend, he comes across child after child with their own imaginary friend, not just one or two. This is an important message for young children, who may face ridicule from adults or bullying from other children over their imaginary friends.

4. Review Excerpts

2015 Caldacott Medal

2015 ALA Notable Books for Children winner

From Booklist: “Whether he’s lost amid a sea of black pants-legs, lonely on top of a bare tree, or joyful at discovering the loopy, colorful world of vivacious children with vivid imaginations, Beekle’s journey is lovely.”

From School Library Journal: “Like Beekle’s new friend, there’s something here that feels just right as an “unimaginary” friendship creates a joyous, recognizable bond.”

From Horn Book Guide: “Santat’s bright digital illustrations capture the vivid land of imagination, the drab adult world, and the giggle-inducing expressions on marshmallow-like Beekle’s pudgy white face.”

5. Connections

-Use in an art unit and have children draw/paint what they believe a world full of imaginary friends might look like
-Use in a writing unit and have children write the story of an adventure Beekle and Alice might have together

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)

Book Review: Dave the Potter

1. Bibliography

Hill, Laban Carrick. 2010. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. Ill. by Bryan Collier. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316107310.

2. Plot Summary

Dave the Potter follows part of the life of an African-American slave named Dave who possessed great pottery skills. We see an explanation of where clay comes from and the different elements involved in making pottery – even pottery so large Dave’s arms could no longer reach around them. When the pottery is almost complete, Dave etches a poem into the side of the pot.

3. Critical Analysis

This biography of Dave is presented in a manner appropriate for young children, showing some realities of slavery while withholding the brutalities which can traumatize young children. The poetic style of writing is appropriate not only because Dave himself was a poet, but also because the poetic descriptions coupled with the physical art of pottery makes the story more magical. The clever use of language – such as the play on the meaning of “he threw the clay” (11) – exposes children to higher forms of literary devices while also incorporating elements which adults will appreciate.

Collier’s stunning illustrations, inspired by Dave’s actual dwelling place, make the story come alive. As the story describes Dave shaping the clay, a series of images contained in a fold-out page helps capture the magic of watching live as a potter pulls works of art out of lumps of clay. The illustrations truly elevate Dave the Potter to a higher level without which would be unattainable.

4. Review Excerpts

2011 Caldecott Honor

2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner

From School Library Journal: “An inspiring story, perfectly presented and sure to prompt classroom discussion and projects. Outstanding in every way.”

From Booklist: “A beautiful introduction to a great lost artist.”

From Horn Book Guide: “The book’s pacing is especially well conceived, the illustrations shown in tempo with the text’s descriptions of throwing a pot.”

5. Connections

-Take a field trip to watch a potter live
-Use as part of a unit on art history
-Use as part of a unit for Black History Month
-For older students, read together with A Single Shard (by Linda Sue Park; ISBN 9780547534268) and discuss similarities/differences between the stories.

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)

Book Review: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

1. Bibliography
Steig, William. 1969. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. New York: Windmill Books/Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781416918578.

2. Plot Summary
One day Sylvester Duncan the donkey discovers a magic pebble which will grant the owner any wish made while holding the pebble. On his way home to share his discovery with his friends and family, Sylvester encounters a lion; in his fright, Sylvester thinks, “I wish I were a rock” (7). Because of the magic pebble, Sylvester does indeed turn into a rock and finds himself unable to take hold of the pebble to wish himself back into a donkey. His parents search frantically for him; after a year of unsuccessful searching, Sylvester’s parents take a picnic and use the Sylvester-rock as a table. Mr. Duncan finds the magic pebble and sets it on the rock, thinking to take it home. Back in contact with the magic pebble once more, Sylvester is able to wish himself back into a donkey and is reunited with his family.

3. Critical Analysis
From the outset of Sylvester’s adventure, the rich watercolor illustrations help tell the story. Knowing only the title of the book, the reader can examine the illustrations and follow the plot of the story as Sylvester collects his pebbles, falls into misadventure, and then is returned to his family. The reader can clearly see Sylvester’s wonder at discovering the magic pebble, excitement at the thought of sharing it with his family, and terror at encountering the lion. Each two-page spread illustrating the seasons helps the reader fully grasp the amount of time passing and the loneliness Sylvester must experience as a rock on the hill. When the family reunites, the expression of joy on each donkey’s face moves the reader to share in the excitement of the moment.

The story unpacks the important theme that family is the most important thing one can have. As Sylvester uses the pebble to wish the weather how he desires and to try to make life easier, he finds himself stranded as a rock, unable to communicate or do anything except sleep on the hill. He is separated from his family, which causes distress not only in his family, but also among his friends and community. Once Sylvester is able to transform back into his true form and be reunited with his family, they collectively come to the realization that as long as they have family, there is nothing else they wanted.

4. Review Excerpt
1970 Caldecott Medal

From Publishers Weekly: “This tale of a donkey who wishes on a magic pebble has charmed a generation of readers and will no doubt go on to attract a new one.”

5. Connections
-Read Disney’s Lilo & Stitch (ISBN 9780717266616) in light of the quote, “‘Ohana’ means ‘family’ and family means no one gets left behind,” and brainstorm how children can express their appreciation for their families.
-Use as an example in an art unit about watercolor

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)