Friday, February 17, 2012

Dust Devil by Anne Isaas, Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Zelinsky, P.O. Dust Devil. 2010. From
Isaacs, Anne. 2010. DUST DEVIL. Ill. Paul O. Zelinsky. New York: Schwartz and Wade Books. ISBN: 978037596722

This rip roaring tall tale is the continuing story of Angelica Longrider, first started in the Caldecott Honor Book, SWAMP ANGEL. Now a resident of Montana, larger-than-life Angel befriends her neighbors and sets about taming the Wild West. She tames a dust storm that turns out to be a gigantic horse she names Dust Devil. Their tussle creates the Grand Canyon. Angel and Dust Devil go on to chase an evil band of terrorizing robbers, Backward Bart and his Flying Desperadoes across the whole of Montana, thus creating the Sawtooth Range.

This original tall tale, full of exaggerated plot points and larger-than-life characters, also includes elements of a pour quoi tale. Frequently the events of the story are said to create particular geographical land markers, such as the Grand Canyon and the buttes of Montana. Taming the Wild West is the theme of this good versus evil story, which leads to a rewarding resolution. Although some characters in the story question Angel’s ability to do things based on her gender, Angel is not a woman to take no for an answer. She is a strong female protagonist, cut from the same cloth as her male counterparts such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill.

The story has an episodic plot; however the episodes are sequential with characters accumulating from the first to the last. Although some children may have difficulty sitting still for the book to be read all at once, the episodic nature of the story allows it to be easily broken up into smaller chunks. The text is a joy to read aloud and is filled with wordplay, such as reverse speaking Backward Bart, and humorous hyperbolic phrases, “They were pricklier than porcupines in a cactus patch.”

The illustrations depict culturally and regionally accurate scenery, although this is a tall tale, so size, distance, and time are often exaggerated. The Montana setting is very specific and wonderfully depicted through the American primitive style illustrations. Zelinsky uses wood grain borders to frame the illustrations as well as to give variety to the layout.

Although this book is the sequel to the Caldecott honor book, SWAMP ANGEL, it can be read as a stand alone book as well.

West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award Nominee
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year Award Winner
New York Times – Children’s Notable Book, 2010

Review from THE SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Zelinsky has a heyday masterfully illustrating the high jinks with his meticulous oil paintings on cedar, aspen, and maple veneers, all of which are elegantly encased by a thin red border. Using softly glowing tones, he brands his own version of a Western folk style to flawlessly render the big-sky setting.”

Starred review from BOOKLIST: “Once again, Isaacs’ story and Zelinsky’s oil-paint-on-wood artwork create a laugh-out-loud tall tale with folksy phrasing and slapstick exaggeration…A few pourqoui elements wrap up this handsomely designed, thoroughly entertaining stand-alone sequel.”

Starred review from LIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION: “Dust Devil is a perfect example of the highly exaggerated style of tall tales, and the illustrations enhance the story…”

Review from KIRKUS REVIEWS: “Artfully crude, comedic artwork, friendly, understated narration and a wildly hyperbolic story combine to create a new classic.”

*Talk about the exaggerated elements in the story, Backward Bart’s extreme ugliness, Angel’s size, and the toughness of Aunt Essie Bell’s biscuits.
*Talk like Backwards Bart. Reverse all the words of a familiar song. See if you can say the alphabet backwards.
*The many characters and colorful dialogue make this a wonderful reader’s theatre candidate. Have one class or group present SWAMP ANGEL and the other follow up with DUST DEVIL.
*Create a Tall Tales Hall of Fame by drawing pictures of Angelica Longrider and other characters from tall tales on large poster board. Have the kids pick out the highlights of each characters adventures and post those along with information such as birth place, parents, siblings, sidekick, etc.
*Other tall tales to read:
Kellogg, Steven. 1994. PAUL BUNYAN. ISBN 9780060887056
Kellogg, Steven. 1995. PECOS BILL. ISBN 978-0-7848-1131-3
Kellogg, Steven. 1995. SALLY ANN THUNDER ANN WHIRLWIND CROCKETT. ISBN 9780688140427
Nolen, Jerdine. 2003. THUNDER ROSE. Ill. by Kadir Nelson. ISBN 9780152164720
San Souci, Robert D. 2000. CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH: AMERICAN WOMEN OF MYTH, LEGEND, AND TALL TALE. Ill. Brian Pinkney. ISBN 9780698118119

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel, Illustrated by Train Schart Hyman

Hyman, T.S. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. 1989.  From

Kimmel, Eric. 1989. HERSHEL AND THE HANUKKAH GOBLINS. Ill. Trina Schart Hyman. New York: Holiday House. ISBN: 9780823407699

Hershel of Ostropol walks into a village on the snowy first night of Hanukkah, looking forward to the warm traditions of the holiday, but there is not one Hanukkah candle lit in the village. Goblins have been tormenting the village year round, but most viciously during Hanukkah. Hershel offers to help and the rabbi informs him that to break the goblin’s power he must spend the eight nights of Hanukkah in the old synagogue, lighting the candles on the menorah each night, except the eighth night, when the king of the goblins must light them himself. Hershel uses his cunning to defeat each of the goblins, each one larger and scarier than the last. Finally, it is the eight night and the king of the goblins arrives. Hershel pretends he can’t see the king’s face and tricks the goblin into lighting the Hanukkah candles so that Hershel will be properly afraid. When the goblin king realizes that Hershel has broken the goblin’s power over the village he explodes the synagogue with anger. But Hershel is unharmed and after the candles burn out, he walks down to celebrate with the villagers.

This original story, written by Kimmel and first printed in 1985 in Cricket Magazine, focuses on the age old theme of good triumphing over evil. The unassuming Hershel outsmarts all the goblins with his cunning and unwavering belief in Hanukkah. Additionally, the story supports the use of brains over brawn, as the mortal Hershel defeats the immortal goblins.

The illustrations create a dark, chilling atmosphere, which helps to convey the urgency of the story, which grows as each night brings an even bigger, scarier goblin. Kimmel keeps the pacing urgent by summing up the defeat of goblins three through seven, “One had six heads. One had three eyes. All were terrible and fierce.” The characters and settings are drawn in great detail, which could be too scary for younger kids. On the other hand, children who delight in scary stories, such as Goosebumps, may find the drawings tame. If in doubt, try reading this story without showing the pictures. The text has a read-aloud quality to it and involves great descriptions and dialogue.

The book is set in a snowy 19th century European village filled with Jewish townspeople. The cultural heritage is accurately depicted in both the text and illustrations. Hershel is never without his prayer shawl and traditional Hanukkah items and rituals are present. It should be noted that although Hershel changes the rules of the dreidel game to trick one of the goblins, Kimmel includes an author’s note that includes the real rules for the game. Also included in the note are a brief history of Hanukkah and an explanation of the significance of the menorah candles.

Caldecott Honor Book, 1990
Colorado Children’s Book Award, 1992
Washington Children’s Book Award, 1992
National Council for the Social Studies – Notable Book, 1989
National Council of Teachers of English – Notable Book, 1990
1989 National Council for the Social Studies Notable Book, 1990 National Council of Teachers of English Notable Book

Review from BOOKLIST: “Hyman's eerie and effective artwork illuminates Kimmel's original tale of a wanderer who outwits the demons who have prevented a village from celebrating Hanukkah.”

*Practice writing the Hebrew letters on the dreidel, nun, gimel, hay, and shin, and talk about their meaning.
*Play with the dreidel using the rules Kimmel provides in the author’s note.  
*Bring in latkes, challah bread, sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and other foods traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.
*Non-fiction books for kids about Hanukkah
Ben-Zvi, Rebecca Tova. FOUR SIDES, EIGHT NIGHTS: A NEW SPIN ON HANUKKAH. Ill. by Susanna Natti. ISBN 9781596430594
Silverman, Maida. 1999. FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS: THE STORY OF HANUKKAH. Ill. by Carolyn S. Ewing. ISBN 9780613215329
*Other Hanukkah stories
Kimmel, Eric A. 1989. THE CHANUKKAH GUEST. Ill. by Giora Carmi. ISBN 9780823409785
Kimmel, Eric A. 2011. THE GOLEM’S LATKES. Ill by. Aaron Jasinski. ISBN 9780761459040
Kimmel, Eric A. 2001. ZIGAZAK! A MAGICAL HANUKKAH NIGHT. Ill. by Jon Goodell. ISBN 9780385900041

The Three Swingin' Pigs by Vicky Rubin, Illustrated by Rhode Montijo

Montijo, R. The Three Swingin' Pigs. 2007. 
Rubin, Vicky. 2007. THE THREE SWINGIN’ PIGS. Ill. Rhode Montijo. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN: 9780805873355

“Once and only once there were three pigs who kept perfect rhythm.” So begins this jazzy retelling of the classic three pigs story. The three pigs, Satch, Mo, and Ella, are the members of a jazz trio that perform to sold-out audiences. There was also a wolf, “the baddest cat to walk the land,” who is set on catching the pigs and eating them for dinner. Wolfie was badly burned by the pigs’ uncles when he tried to huff and puff their houses down and he just won’t let it go. When the wolf finally catches up with the pigs during a performance the pigs turn the tables on the wolf by asking him to sing. He realizes if he eats the pigs he won’t be able to make sweet music with the band. The band becomes known as 3 Swingin’ Pigs and Wolfie.

This fractured fairytale parodies the classic Three Pigs story while at the same time celebrating and paying tribute to the world of jazz. The swinging text is full of fun slang words, “Daddy-O,” and a phrase of scatting that is repeated throughout the story. Even the names of the pigs tip their hats to jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Although the story is based upon the Three Pigs story it does not follow the traditional plot or format; there are no houses that are huffed and puffed down nor is the wolf defeated in the customary manner. The wolf tells us that he’s a “classic fairytale villain,” but instead of defeating the wolf, these pigs decide to convert the wolf. In this version the theme focuses on the transformed wolf’s decision that music, “sweet music,” is far better than getting revenge on the pigs.

The illustrations bring to life the jazzy settings and quirky characters with neon colors and spiffy duds. The pictures help to keep up the brisk pace of the book. Time passes very quickly in this fairytale world full of references and flashbacks to other fairytale characters and stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood and the Gingerbread Man. Readers unfamiliar with these other fairytales may miss these allusions, however the main storyline can be appreciated by all.

For the most part the characters are spunky and original and it’s wonderful to see a strong female pig leading the band and using her noggin. The only character choice that doesn’t serve or support the plot is the running joke of Wolfie’s bad breath. Kids will find his green tinted breath hilarious, but viewed within the context of the plot it seems a tad gimmicky and beside the point. However, this is a minor flaw, easy to overlook because the illustrations and characters are so lively and fun.

 Review from LIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION: “Rhode Montijo’s illustrations capture the jazz era perfectly. Children will love the pictures, and those who know the story of ‘The Three Little Pigs’ will truly become engaged in what happens next.”

Review from THE SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Full of porker-inspired puns and clever repartee, this fast-paced tale has definite appeal. The colorful, cartoonlike acrylic illustrations are a perfect match for the zany, slightly over-the-top story line.”

Review from PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY: “The text is as smooth as the main characters, the token wolf dubbed the ‘baddest cat’ and the pigs referred to as Satch, Mo and Ella (a nod to the great Armstrong and Fitzgerald).”

Review from THE KIRKUS REVIEW: “Montijo's red-hot pictures and Rubin's skit-scat-skedoodle words make this take-off a hand-clapping, foot-stomping romp.”

*Talk about the different slang words used in the book. Compare them to slang used today.
*Explain the idea of scatting. Play examples of vocalists scatting (see below) and try scatting to a familiar song, such as The Alphabet Song.
*Play music performed by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Recommended songs:
Ella Fitzgerald:
A-Tisket A-Tasket (Traditional, Lyrics by Ella Fitzgearld & Al Feldman)
Blue Skies (Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin)
            (You’ll Have to Swing It) Mr. Paganini (Music & Lyrics by Sam Coslow)
Louis Armstrong:
            When the Saints Go Marchin’ In (Traditional)
            What a Wonderful World (Music & Lyrics by Bob Thiele & George Weiss)
            On The Sunny Side of the Street (Music by Jimmy McHugh and Lyrics by Dorothy Fields)
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong:
Isn’t This a Lovely Day (Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin)
Cheek to Cheek (Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin)
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off (Music by George Gershwin, Lyrics by Ira Gershwin)
I Won’t Dance by (Music by Jerome Kern, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II & Otto Harbach)
*Suggested sound recordings:
Armstrong, Louis. The Essential Louis Armstrong. © 2004 Columbia/Legacy. C2K 89280. Compact disc.
Fitzgerald, Ella. First Lady of Song. © 1993 by Verve Records. Compact disc.
Fitzgerald, Ella, and Louis Armstrong. The Complete Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong on Verve. © 1997, 1957 by Verve Records. Verve 314 537 284-2. Compact disc.
Fitzgerald, Ella, Louis Armstrong, and Oscar Peterson. Ella and Louis. © 1985, 1957 by Verve Records. Verve 825 373-2. Compact disc.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

RAPunzel: A Happenin' Rap by David Vozar, Illustrated by Betsy Lewin

Image from
Vozar, David. 1998. RAPUNZEL: A HAPPENIN’ RAP. Ill. by Betsy Lewin. New York: A Doubleday Book for Young Readers. ISBN 9780385323147

In this modern retelling of the classic Rapunzel story, the characters have been updated and placed in an urban setting. Rapunzel’s father accidentally spills his ice cream all over the witch, who uses her “zapping” powers to kidnap Rap and lock her in a tower in the city. Rap becomes spoiled as the witch uses her zapping magic to give Rap anything she wants. Enter Prince Fine, sporting a neon green mohawk, who immediately falls in love with Rap and sets about climbing her hair (well, after she styles it a few times). Alas, no sooner does the prince make it into the tower, than the witch arrives and zaps him away. The witch is so mad at Rap for demanding more and more stuff, her head explodes and Rap is blasted out of the tower. Prince Fine and Rap open a hair salon and live happily, and stylishly, ever after.

The characters in this modern retelling are unique and humorous. The use of dogs instead of people keeps the emphasis on the story, rather than the ethnicity of the characters. Thematically, this book seems to wander. Rap is spoiled, whiny, and greedy, but she never learns her lesson. It’s also troubling that Prince Fine is so in love with Rap that he doesn’t even notice these flaws. Unlike traditional fairytales, this version is more concerned with rapping than making sure each character gets what they deserve. Although Rap and the prince live happily ever after, I found the resolution disappointing.

The story is split into three sections with headings to denote each one and the passage of time is indicated in the rapping text. Unfortunately, the playful text is marred by an abrupt change in perspective. Half of the story is told in third person flashbacks and then suddenly shifts as Prince Fine takes over the narrative. However, the loose line drawings, full of funny details and color, help to bring the elements of the story together by providing context for the words.

The urban setting of this book is appropriate to the rapping format and style and it’s the rapping that will hook the readers. The joy of this book is in rapping it out loud. Along with rhythm and rhyming, the text uses humorous imagery, such as “covered in goo like a humongous s’more.” Even though the story lacks a satisfying resolution, I think children and adults alike will enjoy the humor and rapping of this modern fairytale.

Review in BOOKLIST: “This happenin' rap gives an old story an urban setting, a rhythmic beat, and a contemporary silliness that kids will love.”
Review in KIRKUS: “The rhyme is bouncy with a solid beat; Lewin's expressive black lines and wild doggy outfits are a good match for the words.”
Review in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Bright, cartoon illustrations add action and appeal, and are far superior to the overly long text.”

*Read some other versions of Rapunzel and compare the different depictions of the characters, the settings, and plot points.
Isadora, Rachel. 2008. RAPUNZEL. 9780399247729
Storace, Patricia. 2007. SUGAR CANE: A CARIBBEAN RAPUNZEL ISBN 9780786807918
Zelinsky, Paul O. 1997. RAPUNZEL. ISBN 9780525456070

*Have a rapping storytime to celebrate the fun of rhyming words. Other Picture Books in Rap Format for Kids:
Vozar, David. 1995. YO, HUNGRY WOLF!: A NURSERY RAP. Ill. by Betsy Lewin. ISBN 9780440409533
Minters, Frances. 1997. CINDER-ELLY. ISBN 9780140561265