Book Reviews; Traditional Literature

Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock
(Live Oak Readalong Book)

Bibliography:

Kimmel, Eric A. Ill. Stevens, Janet.  Nar. Jerry Terheyden. 1991. Anansi and the Moss-Covered rock. New York. Live Oak Media.  ISBN 978-1591126751.

Plot:

Anansi, the local trickster, discovers a rock with a magical power.  He decides to use this new-found magic to trick his friends.  In the end, the trick is turned on him with the hope that Anansi will learn a lesson.

Critical Analysis:

Caldecott honor winner, Eric Kimmel, crafts this tale using the Ashanti character Anansi the trickster spider.  In this familiar theme where the trick rebounds on the trickster, the heroine is the small, shy deer.  After Anansi tricks the whole neighborhood, he tries to lure Little Bush Deer into his trap.  Unbeknownst to him, she has been observing him and knows his ploy.  Little Bush Deer eventually turns the tables on him and sets everything right with the previously outwitted neighbors.

While the setting for this book is a forest, the character list is composed of favorite animals, and the pictures are skillfully illustrated.  Lion, Elephant, Giraffe, Rhinoceros, and Zebra are all depicted as honest and friendly neighbors. The larger animals, painted with soft colors and accurate detail, are standing on two legs, verbally interacting with the spider who is drawn realistically, standing on all eight legs. Including modern and familiar objects such as lawn chairs, porches, and pitchers of tea, Stevens’ art will appeal to the youngest of readers. 

Kimmel begins the tale with Anansi discovering that when he speaks a certain phrase he is put to sleep for one hour.  Using Anansi’s curios nature and combining that with his trickster personality, the author crafts a story that will appeal to the childish nature of the reader.  The phrase, “KPOM! Down fell the (Lion)” repeats as each animal in the forest is felled by the magic words.  Using repetition moves the story along its predictable path. The phrase, “Isn’t this a strange moss-covered rock?” provides an opportunity to engage the reader as the magic words are spoken, in turn, by each character.  The illustrations provide foreshadowing as one can glimpse Little Bush Deer peeking through the bushes throughout the book.

In the audio reading of this book, the male narrator uses a different voice for each character, and the background music is mysterious, with a consistent drum beat that successfully builds excitement.  Page turns are suggested by the sound of rustling paper instead of the stereotypical chime. A second track is included on the compact disc which omits the page turning prompt.

Reviews:

“…This new picture book Anansi tale will be welcomed by all trickster fans.” Salvadore, M. B. (1988). Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock (Book). School Library Journal35(3), 104.

“A marvelously paced Anansi tale involves the West African spider trickster’s success in fooling Lion, Elephant, Giraffe, and Zebra, but not Little Bush Deer! The bold, bright illustrations are especially effective in a group setting.” Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

Connections:

Use this book in a discussion about how to handle trickery, deceit, and other personality elements in this story. 

Talk about the use of onomatopoeia as an effective tool used by authors.

Ask the question, “Does this story have a happy ending?”



The Three Pigs

Bibliography:

Wiesner, David. 2001. The Three Pigs. New York. Clarion books. Live Oak Media.  ISBN 9780618007011.

Plot: Once upon a time there were three pigs who went out to seek their fortune.  They each build their homes of different materials and a big wolf comes to blow down the house and gobble up the pigs.  In this retelling of the familiar story, the wolf blows too hard and the first pig is blown right out of the storybook.  What happens when he gathers his brothers and they explore the world outside their own story? Eventually finding their way back to the brick home, they live safely ever after.

Critical Analysis:

The story begins in the usual way, with the same familiar text supplemented by beautiful, soft but realistic illustrations.  The reader is lured in by the beautiful artwork and is poised to enjoy the story and to revel in the watercolors.  As the page is turned and the wolf, who blows down the first pig’s dwelling of hay, begins to look confused.  One takes a closer look.  Even though the text says otherwise, the little pig has escaped.  Using text balloons, the pig speaks directly to the reader or to himself.  Then he proceeds to pull his brothers out of their original story-lines, and the three pigs begin a detour from the traditional tale. 

Using a slightly different hand in illustrating the pigs who are outside of the story line, the illustrator brings an element of surprise which keeps the reader wanting to turn the page to find out what happens next. At one point, one of the brothers folds a page of the storybook, creating a paper airplane.  After soaring around on the airborne creation, and experiencing a crash landing, the pigs find themselves in different stories. The pigs return home after rescuing some new friends from their stories, bringing them along.  ”Many thanks for rescuing me, O brave and noble swine.” Says a dragon as he changes from a black and white drawing to a fully painted and very impressive creature.  The illustrations drive the story as the contrast between the storybook pages and the characters who have discovered the outside world is drawn.  Leaving blank pages builds drama as the reader wonders what the pigs are going to do next.

Wiesner’s retelling of the story with a very creative twist, coupled with the beautiful artwork make this book a must-have for a good children’s collection.

Awards:

The Caldecott Medal

Reviews:

Kirkus: “…On the last few pages, the final words of the text break apart, sending letters drifting down into the illustrations to show us that once we have ventured out into the wider world, our stories never stay the same.”
Kirkus Book Reviews

Publishers Weekly:”As readers have come to expect from the inventive works of Wiesner, nothing is ever quite as it seems in his picture books. This version of the pigs’ tale starts off traditionally enough—warm, inviting watercolor panels show in succession the tiny houses, their owner-builders and their toothy visitor. But when the wolf begins to huff and puff, he blows the pigs right out of the illustrations.”
Publishers Weekly

Connections:

This book would be great spring board for students to take familiar tales, and mix it up by adding a surprise element to them.Discussion could center on “what would happen if?” Finally, comparisons of the artwork within the storybook pages and the escaped pigs could be drawn, and the technique examined.



Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

Bibliography:

Tabak, Simms. 1999. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. New York. Viking. ISBN 9780670878550.

Plot:

Joseph takes his old, worn-out overcoat and breathes new life into it by transforming it into re-purposed pieces of clothing.

Critical Analysis:

Simms Taback retells the story (based on a Yiddish folk-song) of a lovable character who has an old favorite overcoat.  As the coat begins to wear out, the author uses die-cut pages to reveal the fabric of the overcoat as it transforms over time.  The combination of watercolor, gouache, pencil, ink and collage give this story its appeal.  By writing the text in his own hand, Taback ties in the personality of this thrifty gentleman from Eastern Europe.  The Yiddish culture is highlighted by the illustrations and the events that the character attends.

Because each page is filled with so many things to look at, the story is only part of the experience.  The childlike quality of the paintings and collages keep the story believable.

Awards:

Caldecott Medal

Reviews:

Publishers Weekly: “Taback’s inventive use of die-cut pages shows off his signature artwork, here newly created for his 1977 adaptation of a Yiddish folk song. This diverting, sequential story unravels as swiftly as the threads of Joseph’s well-loved, patch-covered plaid coat.”
Publishers Weekly

Cooperative Children’s Book Center: “The Yiddish folk-song about resourcefulness and resilience is brought to life in Simms Taback’s wonderfully inventive watercolor, gouache and collage illustrations.”  Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Connections:

This book would be an excellent book to discuss re-purposing items in conjunction with a lesson on recycling, or how to avoid throwing things away.  Art teachers could use the illustrations to demonstrate mixed media styles, while music teachers could teach the class the original Yiddish song, and discuss how the book is similar or different to the story.  Craft lessons on how to take something and transform it into a new, equally useful item would be a fun way to tie in the lessons taught in this book.