Monday, February 21, 2011

Hansel and Gretel by Cynthia Rylant

Hansel and Gretel....I can't believe this story dates back to the 1800's. The original by the Grimm's Brothers was interesting enough (kinda scary), but Cynthia Rylant's version takes it to a whole new level. Where the story line stays true, Cynthia Rylant version highlights certain characteristics of Hansel and Gretel. For instance, she emphazises the strength in Hansel and Gretel (especially when Gretel pushes the witch into the fire). I loved see how powerful and smart the children become in their attempt to survive.

The book is worth buying just for the illustrations. The colors are amazing and definitely adds to the mood.

My husband is German, so we have a very old Hansel & Gretel book at home that he was given as a small child (and his father before him). I almost want to replace the book with the Cynthia Rylant one. Just kidding.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I've read the story to my daughter 100 times, but never looked deeper into the meaning of Cinderella. Looking the name up (Cinderella) I found that it means "one whose attributes are unrecognized, or one who achieves recognition or success after a period of neglect." Who would have thought??

This particular rendition begins with the front cover of the book. It has this deep red color that definitely sets the book off from the rest. The title is written in black bold letters with the note "A worldwide Cinderella" which I now understand the meaning.

Each page that the author, Paul Fleishman, writes a bit of the story on has an illustration that is depicted in the country written in the corner of the page. For instance, the words "Mexico" is written on the first page, left corner. The story is told in a similar variation that we've heard before, but the illustration is of the couple from Mexico (as if Cinderella is a Mexican princess). On each page the author moved through the story (that we've heard), but the illustration depicts many different cultures such as those in Zimbabwe, Appalachia, Indonesia, Japan, West Indies, Iraq, Poland, Ireland, China, France, Iraq, and Korea. In fact, when you open the cover of the book a map of all of these places is labeled. Now I know why this map was placed in this book. This is definitely different than the typical story of Cinderella I've read in the past.

I like this story because it opened up my mind to the idea that the United States isn't the only place in the world to tell this story to their children. It shows you how closed minded you can be even over the simplest things such as the story of Cinderella. I'm assuming it is true for the rest of the Disney stories like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc...

I enjoyed the colors and illustrations throughout the book. Lots of deep reds, oranges, yellows, and greens are used. I think the use of these colors really set off the pictures. The pages are covered with illustrations of the various countries as if the author wanted you to believe that the background is part of your "idea" of the country depicted in the main picture.

Now I'm excited to find other variations of this story. Plus, I figured out what the title means....Glass slipper (like the original story we all know here in the states, and Gold Sandal (as others may interpret the shoe that Cinderella needs to fit in).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Faith by Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon

Faith by Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon
When I first looked at the book title of the upcoming book we were about to read, I thought Faith…..okay, we are about to read about someone who needed to have faith in order to overcome something… I was somewhat shocked that the book I found was a book about praying. And I liked it. But is more than that.

The book covers many, many religious praying/faith rituals…..depicted by children. It shows a small boy studying the Qur’an, and a boy chanting Torah verses, and young Buddhists making offerings at a shrine, and a young girl in Sri Lanka praying in Hindu. The book shows many more pictures of children of all ages practicing Faith as they have been taught.

If we were looking at adults doing the same thing, would we have the same feeling that we get when we see the innocence of children in their place?

I thought this was the perfect book to read after reading the book Let’s Talk About Race. As Let’s Talk About Race addresses how we are all alike when we get down to our bones, the book Faith conveys the message that even though the religious belief may be different, the acts are so similar, and in this book’s case, precious.

The authors could have used all types of illustrations to show the different practices of faith, but instead photographs were used. I thought this choice made it real (instead of just an idea) and the photographs were so colorful and vibrant. Even the book cover captured the brightness and endearing aspects of a young boy with his hands clasped together and his eyes closed as sunlight illuminates the side of his darling little face. Right away you know you are about to open a book and feel captured.

Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester

Straight to the point, as the title says Let’s Talk About Race.
The story begins, “I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.” This
means to me that we all have a background and a past, each and
everyone of us and that in itself makes us similar.

The author does this many times throughout the book to emphasize
the point….that if we took off our skin, our bones would be the
same, and we would be alike. He adds the words “yours” to
many of his sentences to get that point across:
My story begins the same way yours does;
Many people and many events are part of my story – and yours, too;
My story and yours have many elements;
There’s something else….part of my story. It’s part of yours,too.
That’s what race we are.

When I was reading this I had the feeling that I was reading a poem
(that didn’t rhyme). The words and sentences were arranged on the page
as if you were reading a Dr. Seuss book.

I wasn’t quite sure about the illustrations. I feel that the pictures didn’t help me follow the story line (or the message). Instead I thought I was looking at Hieroglyphics….lots of heads, lots of people in stationary positions (sideways and upside down), and lots of eyes. I know
that the idea was to show all kinds of shapes of eyes people have, but I thought I had gone back into time.

As I looked at the illustrations of the people without skin (as the author was emphasizing that we are the same if we took our skin off) it reminded me of a Halloween picture. Not scary to me but maybe for younger children.

I decided to see what other people thought of the illustrations and I stumbled across a few reviews from children. One said that the illustrations were scary. I can now understand that.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Babymouse - Queen of the World

Just the book size and color, in itself, is appealing – especially to girls. So much, that when I went to buy this book my daughter grabbed it out of my hands and began thumbing through the pages. The cover of the book is pink with a cute little girl mouse, named Babymouse. Very hard for girls (and little girls) to resist. I have never been into comic books, although I enjoyed reading the comic pages in the newspaper on Sunday. But, this book drew me in right away, even as an adult.
Babymouse examines the everyday happenings of her life. The entertainment piece is that she provides the reader with her every minute thought. As an adult lady it was easy to feel a connection between myself and Babymouse. The biggest hurdle in her life is dealing with her insecuries. She wants to be popular. What child or adult can’t relate to that? There happens to be a very popular girl at school, named Felicia Furrypaws (the name is also a kid magnet….they would think that is so funny). But, Felicia, in Babymouse’s eyes, is the bomb. Felicia’s whiskers are straight (where Babymouse fight’s to straighten her whiskers each day). Felicia has the whole student body fighting for her attention, and to top it off she is about to have a big slumber party. Babymouse is dieing for an invitation as she endures all of the other kids at school open there invitation up with enthusiasm. However, Babymouse is determined to get one because she feels that this invitation will open up her social world, and the other kids will see how super cool she really is.
Babymouse has a good friend, named Weasel. Sometimes she forgets how important this friendship is to her. Weasel is always there for her. And by the end of the story she realizes how much she truly counts on him and how easy it is for her to be herself around him (without him wanting more than to just be her friend, too).
This whole story paints the picture of life for many young girls. The authors seem to be able to really hit home on some of the most important concerns in a young girls life (popularity, boring class subjects, and what to do on the weekend).
The book was a simple read with a storyline that made me want to find out what was going to happen next. The illustrations work for this book. They were simple and meaningful and the rest was up to the individual reader.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sidewalk Circus

I didn't understand this book the first time I went through it. The only words in the book are the ones that are one signs of buildings and ones that have been put up to advertise the Garbaldi Circus is coming. I thought, "How easy..." But, the second time I went through it I read the inside cover and the title again. How funny, there is so much more to this book.

The Garbaldi Circus is coming, but as it turns out our everyday lives are filled with the same dare devil, incredible stunts that one would see at the circus.

The illustrations tell the story. Each page is covered with people doing their jobs....flipping pancakes, walking with paint cans across a tight wire, climbing ladders with obsticles all around. Each page shows the chaotic world we live in and how we completely overlook it, yet we are so excited pay to see someone walk across tightwires and juggling bowling pins for entertainment.

But, my favorite illustration is the picture of a man with a large object attached to his back with a rope. I believe the object is a large piece of meat because it appears that he is going into a butcher shop. It is obviously very heavy because the man is bent over in an attempt to carry it. And then on a poster there is a picture of a man named Goliath The Strongman. This man is shown picking up some barbells. Very ironic, but hardly a comparison.

We are in a different state of mind when this occurs.

What a clever approach to examining the realities of life.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

I gathered up all of the Cynthia Rylant books I could find from our sister school (the Academy) and pondered on which ones to read. I chose The Relatives Came. What spurred my interest was the cover...A carload of people driving down a dirt road with luggage tied to the top of the car and heads and arms hanging out of the car - and big smiles on all of their faces. All four wheels of the car are in the air as if the car is driving so fast to get to where they are going that as they hit bumps it's making them airbourne. I thought this book had possibilities of being very light hearted and funny compared to some of the other Cynthia Rylant books I've been exposed to so far.

And then the story hit home again when I opened to the first page and saw that the "Relatives" that "came" were from Virginia. How cute.

The pages were illustrated in a manner that was funnier than the actual story, although the story was good. While the author told of the bologne sandwiches, crackers, and soda pop that were packed in an ice chest, the illustrator prepared pictures of a jam packed car driving fast down a dirt road. A mailbox was sadly in the way of the car (the mailbox base was apparently broken in two as the car zoomed by and must have hit it), and a piece of luggage had fallen off the car in an effort to get where "The Relatives" have set off to get to as quick as they can! But, even funnier was the illustration of the car arriving to the destination. The author described how it must have been a long drive because all of the food and pop that was packed was consumed, and they finally arrived (they traveled to Ohio to see family). But the illustration is of a car barreling into a fence. The back of the car is up in the air because it hit the fence so hard and the luggage is also flying all over the place.

The relationship between the "Relatives" from Virginia and the relatives that they were visiting (in Ohio) is a very loving relationship as described by Cynthia Rylant, "Then it was hugging time. Talk about hugging..., crying sometimes. They hugged us for hours." And the next two pages showed how much the family hugged each other.

I thought is was also humerous how the depiction of the family from Virginia was obviously from a more rural area. When the "Relatives" first set off on their journey to Virginia the author mentioned the different mountains they encountered and that this reminded them of their grapes back home (that were almost ready to pick being "almost purple"). The illustrations of the family reunion showed the "Relatives" playing a fiddle and a banjo. They must be from deep in the mountains or attended Juilliard.

The "Relatives" stayed a long time with their Ohio family, but the Ohio family enjoyed the company "they helped us tend the garden and they fixed any broken things they could find....We were so busy hugging and eating and breathing together." But, I came to the conclusion that they left to go back home to harvest their grapes that were finally dark purple and ready to be picked. I pictured them selling these grapes to a vineyard.

I have a large extended family and during holidays everyone comes together. I can relate to the large dinner table strewn with food, and babies crying and dropping their food everywhere, people sleeping all over the house. The book was a delight.