Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Old and new meet in this perfect retelling of Cinderella!

                I’ve struggled trying to put my finger on Cynthia Rylant for some time now.  I’ve mentioned in my previous two posts on The Old Woman Who Named Things and If You’ll Be My Valentine, that I just couldn’t define her as a writer.  I know that she is a household (er—classroomhold?) name, and that she has great descriptive writing, but I just wasn’t feeling it completely.  I’m a girl who judges things on the way they make me feel, so I liked her, but I wasn’t yet in love with her.  After reading her Cinderella, I. Finally. Get. It. 

   The concept of Cynthia Rylant’s Cinderella (published 2007) is pretty brilliant.   Mary Blair was the person who originally painted the Cinderella pictures for Walt Disney’s film.  The people at Walt Disney gave Cynthia Rylant the pictures, and told her to write the story of Cinderella.  This version of Cinderella is all about the love.  It even tells you on the very first page that “This is a story about Love.”  Poor Cinderella’s father died, leaving her with an unkind stepmother, unkind sisters, and nothing else but “her beauty and a wish for Love.”  It seems that love is all she thinks of.  Likewise, the Prince has yet to find a wife because he has yet to fall in love with anyone.  His father wants to retire from the throne, and so they host the famous ball.  Cinderella is, of course, not invited, and so she cries.  Those tears cause a fairy godmother to appear, who allows Cinderella to go to the ball and enter onto her destined path.

                This is my new favorite version of Cinderella.  I’m left with a feeling of complete satisfaction and happiness for what occurs.  After reading several traditional fairytales over the past week or so, I have been left with a certain taste for them in my mouth—I’m not sure it’s one I like.  Every single fairytale features nothing but weak women, weird men who fall instantly in love and do things like offer to buy a dead girl’s casket (I should mentioned she was in the casket.  Does that make it better or worse?), and these horrible archetypical characters.  There has been zero depth to any of the characters that I have been reading about.  I found that aside from the sorceress in Rapunzel, who I am desperate to learn more about, I have not cared about a single character.  I don’t think the author(s) of these traditional folktales really wanted you to care either.  The traditional folktales seem to be focused on morality, justice, and everyone getting their come-uppance.  I find that in the end of these traditional fairy tales, I’m more fascinated by the fact that I have never heard of Cinderella’s sisters getting their eyes pecked out or Snow White’s stepmother having to dance to death in red hot shoes, than I am worried about any of the characters.

                Cynthia Rylant has changed this for me.  It may be because I’m a girl.  It may be because I’m from a different era.  It may be because I’m a big sappy.  Or it could be because I’m a sappy girl from a different era, but I appreciate her emotional take.  In all the other fairytales, the princes kind of creep me out.  This prince, though, is “a fine son, a son with integrity and courage and loyalty and honor.”  No other fairytale I have read has been concerned about the courage, loyalty, and honor of the prince.  And the poor prince just wants to find love! 

Cinderella, too, spends her life looking for love.  When they finally meet, the next four openings are just magic.  I love them so much, I have to retype them here:  First opening when Cinderella goes to the ball: “Who can say by what mystery two people find each other in this great wide world?”  Second opening when Cinderella goes to the ball: “How does a young man find his maiden?  His heart leads him.  He finds her in a room.  He asks her to dance.  And when he touches her, he knows.” Third opening when Cinderella goes to the ball: “Cinderella and the young prince danced into a private world all their own.”  Here comes the real kicker, people.  Are you ready for it?  Fourth opening when Cinderella goes to the ball: “In silence, Love found them.”  So may other fairytales have our prince/young maiden meet, and the prince immediately falls in love and whisks her away. In this one, they fall in love together.  It somehow feels real on these few pages.

Most fairytales also have the women as weak, subordinate, and fairly boring.  Granted, this Cinderella does spend her days wishing for love and doing what other people ask of her, but there is one critical difference for this Cinderella.  (I know it is in the movie as well, but I love that Cynthia Rylant preserved it.)  In most of the versions, Cinderella’s father or the manservant find Cinderella and make her try on the shoe.  In this version, Cinderella approaches the duke on her own, and asks if she can try on the shoe.  I appreciate this Cinderella who takes her destiny into her own hands!

I didn’t think I would like the pictures, because they aren’t what I remember from the movie. That being said, I do love them.  Looking at these pictures, I feel like I am glimpsing into history.  The idea of Cynthia Rylant and Mary Blair being connected across the generations amazes me.  Folktales are always changing and adapting, and I like taking something old, like the original paintings that Mary Blair did for the movie, and making it into a modern, yet timeless tale.  It’s incredible, and I think Cynthia and I can be best friends now.
In related news, did you know that Walt Disney gave Mary Blair's pictures of Alice in Wonderland to Jon Sciezska and had him write the story?!?!  Does that not just sound like perfection to you?
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Reader

Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by the fabulous people over at The Broke and The Bookish.  Each week they offer up a topic, and everyone is welcome to join.  So here is mine for this week—Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Reader.  When I first started this, it just came out sappy and kind of weird.  I decided to take it the complete opposite route, and so sarcasm it is.  Especially with number 9; don’t get me started on the Percy Jackson movie!

1.       I don’t need money anyway!  Sure, I’ve got a car payment, my hair hasn’t been cut in months, and my shoes should have been thrown away a year ago, but what does that matter when the final book in the Shatter Me series and the sequel to Pivot Point came out within a week of each other this month?  Priorities, people, you need to have some.
Okay, I'll make a car payment as long as I can keep my awesome license plate!

2.       Who wouldn’t want most of their friends to not exist in real life?  We all sometimes forget that Percy Jackson and Annabeth aren’t real, right?  I can’t be the only one who kind of hoped for a few years that Eric Northman was going to open up a vampire bar in my town.  Oh, and my pretend friends get along really well with my make-believe boyfriends (see #4).

3.       Running into walls is my favorite thing to do.  It’s not my fault books aren’t see-through.  Thank goodness for audiobooks, or I probably would've driven into a ditch by now.

4.       Make-believe boyfriends are the best.  Let me know Etienne, when things between you and Anna go south!  I’ll be here. J   Unless Dmitri breaks up with Rose and shows up first. 

5.       Having 37 boxes of books makes it really easy to move.  When I moved out of my ex-boyfriend’s house a few years ago, I had six different 5-shelf bookcases.  All of them were upstairs in my book room.  Having to pack up my boxes and put them in storage was the most fun I have ever had.  The books have somehow, without my knowledge, multiplied since that time.  I’m can’t wait to move them all again.

6.       I like the look people give me when I say literary things like they actually exist.  One time my aunt was feeling really tired and worn out for a few days, and I actually thought, “Huh, she should get some ‘v.’” Then I thought of the ramifications of my aunt being hooked on vampire blood and realized we didn’t need that kind of drama in our life.  I also can’t walk into a grocery store without thinking maybe I should stock up on canned soup—thanks for the idea Life as We Know It!  I’m ready for the day the moon moves closer to the earth.

7.       I’m still waiting on my letter from Hogwarts.  I refuse to acknowledge that I am a squib.  You can’t make me believe it!

8.       The Amazon man who brings the packages to my house every other day is very nice.  He so doesn’t judge me at all as he hastily throws my package at my front door without knocking and runs away.  My mom says we should tip him.

9.       They do such a good job of turning my most loved stories into movies.  Just look at Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief—I mean, it was like they took the story right out of my head.  Perfection!  And can we talk about The Tale of Despereaux?  I mean, the worst thing about it was having Hermione be Princess Pea.  Other than that, perfection.  Book to movie adaptations like Holes and Matilda should really take some notes.

10. Above all, and with all seriousness for this one, I love reading because aside from the people in my life that  I love, reading has made me the most happy in life. :)

Monday, February 17, 2014

This Book is a Very Good Idea


 Have you ever had an author that you knew, with unfailing certainty, you would absolutely love anything they wrote?  You wait for their books with a kind of feverish zeal, and you give it a five-star review as soon as you put it on your to-read list because there is no way that book could be anything but fabulous.  When it comes to picturebooks, Mo Willems is that guy for me (Don’t worry Chris Van Allsburg, you’re still my favorite.  You just don’t make me laugh all the time.)  Anytime I see there is a new Mo Willems book, I know I will love it.  I have read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus to my fourth-graders every single year.  I love it, they love it, and there is no way I would ever say it is just a “kid’s book.”  I can’t put the word “love” into this paragraph enough times.  So, imagine my delight when I am flipping through my Scholastic catalog, trying to figure out what to buy with the rest of my paycheck that wasn’t spent on glue sticks, and I see THERE IS A MO WILLEMS BOOK I HAVEN’T READ!  I immediately bought That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems (published 2013), and soon discovered it is misleading, because this book is a very, very good idea.

                Warning: spoiler alert in the summary! 
I’ll let you know when the spoiler part comes up!  The story revolves around a fox and a goose.  In the first two pages, we see a goose and a fox, a red line connecting their eyes as they stare at each other.  There is utter delight on both their faces, and the reader knows without a doubt that this fox is going to do something to this poor motherly goose. There is an exchange, and these two decide to go off to have dinner.  With each page that passes, as they go farther and farther into the “deep, dark woods” and eventually back to a house, we feel a complete sense of dread for momma goose.  Why doesn’t she know that she is going to be eaten?  Why isn’t she thinking of the poor family that she must have somewhere that will never know that she has been killed, cubed, and cooked into stew?  After every few pages, when the fox and the goose go on their adventures, we are given a page with an increasing number of chicks who tell us “That is really not a good idea” with an increasing number of “reallys” to let us know the severity of the situation. ***START SPOILER!*** It is the goose who in the end gets the last laugh, as she ends up pushing the fox into the pot of soup.  The little chicks who we think have been warning the goose the whole time were actually warning the fox.  Moreover, those little chicks were actually the goose’s babies.  Oh, the irony, the hilarity, the complete and utter lack of feeling for the poor fox.  Fantastic!  ***END SPOILER!***

                I love it when a book surprises me.  I read a lot and so I am very familiar with story plots, and most of the time I can pretty much guess what will happen in the end.  If you can surprise me, I will almost certainly love your book (Unless that book is Allegiant: I’m still angry, but moving on.)  I did not see the ending for That is Not a Good Idea, and I think that is fabulous.  Imagine your children’s delight while reading the whole book they are predicting and anticipating for one thing to happen, only to find out that they were completely wrong.  It is a fabulous feeling, being absolutely surprised, like coming home to a surprise birthday.  This is Not a Good Idea is a surprise birthday part in a book.

  The illustrations are classical Mo Willems.  They are simple, they are helpful, and they make animal murder not so scary!  I love the opening picture with the fox and goose looking at each other.  Once you have read the book, reread it again and take another look at the illustrations.  It changes everything!  What is really interesting about the illustrations and text is that they make you read the story like a silent film.  Remember how in silent films there would be a scene, followed by a black screen that had text?  That is how this book is set up.  We have the animals interacting without any words on their illustrations, followed by black pages with white words.  I’m fairly certain the font is even the font that was used in old silent films.  I don’t know how it adds to this particular storyline, but I do think it is a very cool concept.
Did I mention that Mo Willems and I are friends?
 In my head?

                I’m always amazed at what Mo Willems is able to do in his picturebooks.  They look so simple, but they are really just great books for everyone.  As soon as I finished reading this book tonight, I immediately read it to my mom.  She is 53 years old and laughed right along with me!  If you are ever on the lookout for a funny author that children adore, pick up Mo Willems.  This is Not a Good Idea is a book of his that is sure to be a crowd pleaser for everyone, at any age.

I love sharing this “movie poster” with people who are fans of Mo Willems.  I laughed out loud for a solid minute after seeing this!

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Rapunzel--Sounds familiar, but do you really know the story?

                Rereading fairy tales as an adult, I have to say I am completely in shock.  I remember growing up on a steady diet of fairy tales likes Snow White, Rapunzel, The Frog and the Prince, and so many others.  One of my favorite shows to watch was Shelly Duval’s “Fairy Tale Theater.”  In all my years of growing up on fairy tales, I never realized how not-child-friendly are many parts of the story.  When I think about it, it makes sense because these stories were not originally made for children, but were oral legends that were written down much later, yet still not for children.

     Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel (Published 1997) does not stray far from the classic Rapunzel tale that we see with the Grimm brothers.  We begin with a couple who has tried so long and so hard to have a child.  Finally, the woman gets pregnant.  She has such a terrible craving for the Rapunzel that grows in the garden of the sorceress next door that her husband decides to sneak in and get it for her.  He does this, but the next day her craving comes back even fiercer.  The loyal husband decides to sneak in again, but this time he gets caught.  The sorceress allows him to take the Rapunzel, but only if he promises to give her the child that his wife is carrying.  He agrees, and when Rapunzel is born, she takes her away and raises her as her own.  As the years pass and Rapunzel grows up and grows more beautiful, the sorceress locks her in a tower.  It is there that the prince hears her voice, and manages to sneak up into the tower.  Rapunzel and the prince fall in love, and the consequences of that love prove to be long lasting.

                This story is one that I feel children will love, but I can also see how there are parts that would make grown-ups feel uncomfortable.  Paul O. Zelinsky has one of the most poetic ways of talking about pregnancy I’ve ever read.  In the beginning, he states that, “Then one spring, the wife felt her dress growing tight around the waist.”  Later in the story, in the span of three pages, Rapunzel goes from being an innocent woman who has never seen a man, to having her dress grow tight around the waist, too.  I love a good fairytale, and I know that this is a fairly faithful retelling of the Grimm tale, but as a modern woman of the 21st century, I have a little bit of an issue with this.  It breaks my heart that Rapunzel is just so weak.  She never questions her stepmother (in this version), and she barely even knows a man before she decides to marry him and have her dress grow tight around her waist!  The men in the story aren’t much better—the husband willingly goes into a witch’s garden and when she tells him the price for the Rapunzel will be his first born child, he goes with it!  The prince is so love-struck by the sound of Rapunzel’s voice that he just won’t go away.  I can’t think of any characters, aside from the babies, who are not guilty of some ignorance of malevolent behavior.

                If Paul O. Zelinsky was alive during the Renaissance, I think we would be calling him a
Renaissance master today.  I still think that his illustrations are worthy of the Sistine Chapel.  Since we don’t have any spare one of those laying around these days, the American Library Association decided to give this book a Caldecott Award.  The paintings all evoke feelings of the Renaissance, which is evidenced by the clothing and the sort of Greek and Roman revival feeling that you see in the buildings.  In the picture where Rapunzel is playing as a child, there is a Pantheon-esque ruin in the background.  These oil paintings feel like they were drawn in the 1500s.  A part of me doesn’t ever want to know what Paul O. Zelinsky looks like, because I’m going to be really disappointed if he doesn’t at least resemble Michaelangelo.  My favorite painting is the one where the sorceress cuts off Rapunzel’s hair after discovering her pregnant with the prince’s child.  We can only see half of Rapunzel’s face, and the half that we see if full of nothing but despair.  As for the sorceress, Zelinksy could have painted her simply angry and bitter.  There is anger, yes, but we also see hurt in the wrinkles and frown of the old woman’s face.  She feels that Rapunzel has done her wrong, and Zelinksy shows us her pain.  In a way, this painting actually reminds me of the Akedah, the biblical story where Abraham goes to sacrifice his son Isaac.  The scissors look more like a knife, and you get the sense that the sorceress is going to do more than cut off her hair.  A great deal of Renaissance paintings dealt with biblical scenes, and I can't help but wonder if Paul O. Zelinsky himself thought of this while painting.

                I think there needs to be a story written from the sorceress’s point of view. I thought it was such a good idea that I knew I couldn’t be the first one to think of it.  Sure enough, when I went on the internet, there was a bunch of fan fiction told from the point of view of the evil witch/sorcerer character.  Surprisingly, though, I couldn’t find much that was actually published.  There is the Jessica Gunderson book Really, Rapunzel Needed a Haircut!:  The Story of Rapunzel as Told by Dame Gothel.  Jessica Gunderson has a whole series of “The Other Side of the Story” fairytales that are told by the villains.  They are very light-hearted, and I can’t help but feel there is a lot of sadness to the sorceress that a light-hearted story wouldn’t do her justice.  Why is she all alone?  What prompted her to want to take the child in the first place?  What kind of intense, misguided love must she have had for Rapunzel to keep her locked up?  I think that a seriously dark and depressing sort of tale (my favorite!) is necessary to get her side of the story out.  Rapunzel, the prince, and their two twins get a happy ending, but why should they be the only ones?

                The illustrations are what I love most about Rapunzel, although I do think Paul O. Zelinksy did a good job retelling the tale.  I think that above all, it has raised my awareness.  I am an avid reader, but I don’t always take the time to read the books that I put in my library.  I have had this book in my classroom library since I began teaching, and this is the first time I have read the book through.  I was completely unaware of the weak characters that are hidden behind beautiful words and illustrations.  Would I recommend this book to a child or a parent?  Absolutely, but I am also now aware of the fact that it is not the book I would go to for helping my students find strong characters they can emulate.
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Sunday, February 16, 2014

A beautiful retelling of "Cinderella"

I’ve been waiting for my own personal Cinderella story for the past 26 years.  There was a time period, age ranging about 10-12, that I think I was actually convinced some random prince was going to come pluck me up out of my mom’s apartment and whisk me away to a lifetime of happiness.  I’m fairly certain that this personal conviction that my own happily ever after was just one royal visit to Virginia away is due to my reading of Ella Enchanted.  Ever since that day, and that book, I’ve had unrealistically high expectations of men.  And now that Prince William is married, my own hopes of a Cinderella ending have been woefully shot down. 

                Ruth Sanderson’s Cinderella (published 2002), is a classic retelling.  It is different from the Walt Disney tale, but this particular storyline is the one told by the Grimm brothers, with some changes.  Cinderella’s father remarries after her mom dies.  His new wife rules his life, and because of this he allows her to mistreat Cinderella.  Cinderella is forced to work all day long, until she finally falls asleep in the ashes of the hearth.  One day, Cinderella’s father asks his two stepdaughters and Cinderella what they would like from town when returns from his trip.  The stepsisters ask for pearls and a fancy necklace, but Cinderella asks for, “The first twig, Father, that brushes against your hat on the way home.”  He brings her back her wish, and this twig turns into a hazel tree.  With the help of birds from this tree, as well as her fairy godmother, Cinderella is able to attend the ball and win over the prince.  And unlike me thus far, Cinderella achieves her happily ever after.

                There are so many fractured fairy tales out there that I really appreciated this classic version of Cinderella.  This version mirrors Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Ashputtle very closely.  In that version, the daughter also receives a hazel twig that turns into a tree.  Ruth Sanderson added in the fairy grandmother, and that part of the story more closely resembles Charles Perrault’s Ciinderella, where the godmother takes a pumpkin, mice, and a rat to transform Cinderella.  I liked the addition of the fairy godmother, because it makes her hasty departure from the ball much more understandable. In the Grimm version, she just decides she wants to go home and goes home, leaving her dress by the hazel tree for the birds to pick up and make disappear.  In the Perrault version, as well as Sanderson’s version, Cinderella has to be home by midnight because the magic wears off.  I really enjoy Ruth Sanderson’s mixing of classic versions of Cinderella to create something that is slightly different from what most people are used to, yet still entirely recognizable.

                I have to mention some of the changes that Sanderson made, simply because they are so amusing.  In the Grimm version, one sister chops off her toe and another sister chops off her heel in order to get her foot to fit in the glass slipper.  It isn’t until some birds point out the bleeding shoes that the prince even notices that the woman is not the one he’s been searching for.  In the end of the Grimm tale, the two sisters get their eyes pecked out by some birds, leaving them blind for life.  In Sanderson’s version, birds attack the sisters and their mother, forcing them into the house.  For the rest of their lives, they are not allowed to step one foot out of the door, or else the birds will attack them.  In a way, I find the Sanderson ending a lot more satisfying than the eye-gouging one that the Grimms present.  I also like the prince better, because he immediately recognizes Cinderella as the girl from the ball and doesn’t fall for the old cut-your-toe-off-to-fit-the-shoe trick.

Doesn't it just feel French to you?!
             Ruth Sanderson also illustrated this book.  The illustrations are full-bleed oils, and the entire book takes place in what appears to be France in the 1700s.  Looking at the pages, one gets the idea that perhaps King Louis XIV is the king and the ball is taking place in Versailles!  The woman and men are all wearing clothing indicative of France in 1700 and 1800s, and the decorations within the house are all of the same style. Above all, Sanderson makes Cinderella beautiful.  Cinderella looks to be a young woman, and Sanderson paints her with such beauty and honesty on her face that you have to root for her.  The prince is, of course, handsome and kind, and you can’t help but feel like their happily ever after is completely justified in the end.  These illustrations give the reader the sense that this is taking place in the very distant past.  Ruth Sanderson does not make an attempt to modernize it, and I am okay with that.  There are so many different Cinderella stories out there that buck the norm, I appreciate her beautiful attempt at recreating a classic, yet keeping it a classic.  I will admit that it is a very western, very European approach to Cinderella.  If you are looking for diversity, this book is not where you turn.  Luckily for us, there are many books like that that you can also use to supplement your library.  For those who are looking for a classic Cinderella tale, I would certainly recommend Ruth Sanderson’s Cinderella.  This could be a great introduction into a unit that studies all different kinds of Cinderella stories, because this is the kind of story that would be most familiar with children. 
As for me and my fairy tale, I suppose I’ll have to just wait around and hope that Prince Harry makes a surprise visit to Gloucester, Virginia.

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"Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A worldwide Cinderella"

                I know about Cinderella, just like I know about most traditional folktales, thanks to the fine people at Walt Disney.  I can still remember singing “Cider-elly, Cinder-elly” along with the mice.  Who didn’t want a bunch of mice who would be your friend and make awesome dresses for you?  I carried this tale of Cinderella in my heart preserved exactly the way it was portrayed in the film.  I don’t recall reading many different versions of it as a child.  It wasn’t until I read the brilliant Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levin in fifth grade that I saw a different side.  Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, attempts to bring not just one, but many different versions of Cinderella to a wide audience.

The basic premise of the Cinderella story is the same in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella (published 2007).  Cinderella’s father marries a widow with two step daughters.  There is a man who is royal, who is putting on a ball.  Cinderella desperately wants to go, but her stepmother thwarts her by giving her a seemingly impossible task.  Thanks to some magic, Cinderella is able to go to the ball.  No one at the ball, not even her stepmother, knows who this radiant young woman is.  The prince falls in love, a shoe is left behind, and the prince and Cinderella are eventually married when he finds her again and the shoe fits. 


                So what makes this book special?  Like I said, it follows through with the same plot that we have all seen.  Since there are over 1,000 different versions of Cinderella (according to the author’s note), what makes this one unique is Paul Fleischman’s ability to weave so many different stories into one text.  In the author’s note, he says he wants us to “listen in on the tale-tellers we don’t often hear, who’ve breathed this story to life around fires of peat and pinon pine, swinging in hammocks and snuggling under deerskins.”  In a country that is oftentimes very focused on ourselves, Paul Fleischman wants to give us the Cinderella stories of all different kinds of places.  On the end pages, there is a map dotted with where all the different sources for the story came from, including Appalachia, Mexico, West Indies, Ireland, Germany, Poland, France, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe, Russia, India, China, Laos, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan.  You have to admire a man who weaves together almost 20 different stories!

                On each page, there is at least one, and sometimes more than one, different country
on the page.  Thankfully, Julie Paschkis tells us which country is being discussed on the page.  While keeping the same plot, the text changes to accommodate the story of each country.  On one page that is Korean, Cinderella is forced to sleep in the hearth for warmth.  When the great ball is announced on the Zimbabwe page, all the woman dressed up in “their finest robes.”  There are three different types of footwear presented in the text, glass slippers for France, diamond anklets for India, and sandals of gold for Iraq.  Perhaps my favorite page is the one from Laos, where to hide Cinderella from the king’s messenger the stepmother rolls her up in a mat and hides her.

                Julie Paschkis’ illustrations were done using gouache.  According to my computer’s dictionary, this is “A thick, opaque watercolor paint made with gum containing an inert white pigment to make it opaque.”  I’m not familiar with art, but from what I can tell, this method makes the illustrations very bold, and fine details are not possible.  On the dust jacket, it says that “she was particularly inspired by the traditional textiles of the cultures, weaving together the various colors and design motifs to create one story.”  There are framed illustrations, but surrounding these are illustrations that look like textiles.  Each of the textile-like illustrations changes slightly to fit with the country of origin.  These illustrations serve dual-purpose of being both beautiful to look at and letting the reader know when a different country is being discussed.

                I really enjoyed this book, but I do have a few reservations about it.  I don’t think that the story is always easy to follow, and it doesn’t always feel like an integrated whole.  I, at 26 years old, found a few parts of the story confusing.  When Cinderella was finally able to go to the ball, a page follows that has three different countries.  The text reads “The girl was free to go, but she had nothing to wear except rags. (Laos)  Then she reached into the hole in the birch tree. (Russia)  Then a crocodile swam up to the surface—and in its mouth was a sarong made of gold.. (Indonesia)”  Wait, what?  My first thought was, “A crocodile swam up to the surface of a birch tree?”  I had to reread the text and realize that there are points in the book where Paul Flesichman decides to maintain multiple perspectives of the same event. I just think it’s confusing.  Does she wear a sarong made of gold, a “cloak sewn of king-fisher feathers” or a “kimono red as sunset” to the ball?  I understand what he is trying to do, showing us all the different ways that the Cinderella story has been told; I just don’t think it always works.  I strongly feel that a child reading this text might get confused.  I like the parts of the story where the story shifts from one country to the next, changing slightly but still maintaining the one storyline approach.

                That being said, I do like this book.  I love the idea of bringing in multiple perspectives for a reader.  Children probably won’t even know that some of these countries exist, and I think it is always great to raise awareness with our children.  I really like the framing of the story, wherein it starts with a woman reading a Cinderella story to a little girl with the text reading “Once upon a time there lived a wealthy merchant whose wife had died.  They had one daughter, gentle-eyed and good-hearted.”  Then, at the end, the book closes with the same two figures and it reads “and such a wondrous turn of events… that people today are still telling the story.”  It’s a great closure that hints at the ever-changing nature of the story that Paul Fleischman is getting at in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal.  I feel that Paul Fleischman and Julie Paschkis have met their goal, and that many people, myself included, will be able to move beyond the simple fairy godmother, dress-making mice kind of Cinderella.
If you are interested in reading more versions of Cinderella, check out this teacher's website  As an extra-credit assignment, they compiled different versions of Cinderella that you can download as a pdf.
The American Library Association as a very cool list of multicultural Cinderella stories that you can view here.  Very cool!
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Kung Pow Chicken"

            In an earlier post, I wrote about a book called Boris on the Move that is part of a new Scholastic division called Branches.  I wanted to see if the rest of the books in the Branches division were as wonderful as Boris on the Move.  After reading Kung Pow Chicken: Let’s Get Cracking by Cyndi Marko (published 2014) this morning, I am reassured that Scholastic has a great thing on their hands.  I have no doubt that this part of Scholastic will explode in the near future.

Kung Pow Chicken: Let’s Get Cracking is the first in a series that centers around a little chicken named Gordon Blue and, to a lesser extent, his brother Benedict.  Gordon and Ben’s uncle is a scientist, and one day while visiting his lab Gordon and Ben accidently fell into a toxic sludge.  Ever since that day, Gordon felt strange.  Indeed, “He tingled when danger was near.  He flapped his wings like the wind.  And he crowed louder than other chickens.  His bok was worse than his bite.”  Gordon decided that he needed to be a superhero, and so Kung Pow Chicken was born.  His little brother becomes his sidekick, egg drop, and they wait for the day when they can fight crime.  They finally get it when all the chickens around town mysteriously begin to lose all their feathers after eating a strange, glowing cookie.  Kung Pow Chicken and Egg Drop soon find themselves up against the forces of the evil Granny Goosebumps, and they must use their skill to save the day.

            Your elementary school boy is going to love this book.  It has everything a little boy would love—adventure, humor, great graphics, and the classic fight between good and evil.  I’m not entirely sure they would get all of the humor, like when they go to the old folks home and it is called the “Old Yolks Home,” but I think that if this book was read with an adult, those things could be easily explained to add to the humor.  There are a great deal of chicken and egg-related puns.  There were a couple times where I thought it was a little overdone, but I could imagine a child thinking it was the funniest thing they ever read.  Even if they didn’t have an adult with them to explain all of the jokes, I think there are plenty of jokes within the text that they would understand on their own.

            This book has many features of both a graphic novel and a chapter book.  This is a characteristic of the Branches division of Scholastic.  I won’t repeat what I wrote before about how amazing Branches is, but I will direct you here if you are interested in finding out more information.  The book reads like a graphic novel because of the amount of pictures in the text that utilize thought and speech bubbles.  There are also pages that have more than one frame on them.  It also reads like a chapter book, however, because it is divided into chapters, has lines of text throughout, and does not have great number of frames on each page that are characterized by graphic novels.  It is the best of both worlds, and I think that a young and struggling reader would find this very appealing.  Although it is geared more towards boys, I think that girls would also be able to enjoy this.  My favorite part?  Gordon’s little brother, Benedict/Egg Drop, is a baby chicken in a shell the whole time.  I have no idea why, but that cracks me up looking at it!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Top Ten Books That Will Make You Swoon!

Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by the fabulous people over at The Broke and The Bookish.  Each week they offer up a topic, and everyone is welcome to join.  So here it is, the Top 10 Books That Will Make You Swoon—also known as the top ten books that set unrealistically high expectations for men!

1.       Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins—This book deserves to be number one on my list, without a doubt.  Even if I had just read the scene where they fall asleep on the same bed, it would be the most swoon-worthy.  Anna is a girl who is sent to Paris by her father for her senior year in high school.  There, she meets Etienne, an oh-so-attractive Frenchman, who just happens to have a girlfriend.  I haven’t read any other author that makes me fall in love with a relationship like Stephanie Perkins can do.  Etienne and Anna are my favorite make-believe couple, even though he has a girlfriend in the book.  (Don’t worry, he’s not a jerk.  You’ll be in love with himself yourself by the time the book is done.)

2.       Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins—A while back, I was dating a man that I only got to see on the weekends because he lived an hour away.  I was ridiculous and would drive the hour all the time.  Well, one day I was supposed to go to his house in the afternoon.  I started reading Lola and the Boy Next Door and ending up lying to my then-boyfriend about when I was coming over because I didn’t want to stop reading the book.  I am absolutely in love with the relationship between Lola and Cricket Bell.  This book is such a feel-good romance novel that leaves you wanting more.  I will read anything Stephanie Perkins is willing to write!

3.       Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins—Okay, so I haven’t actually read this book yet, seeing as it doesn’t come out until August.  The release date of this book has been pushed back a few times.  After reading Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, though, I have no doubt this book will be incredible.  I’ve actually considered taking a personal day off work the day it comes out to read it.  She’s that good.  (Side note:  I absolutely despise it when covers get changed mid-series.  Do they have any idea what it does to my bookshelf?  This new cover is just boring.)

   4.       The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith—I can’t even remember the entire plot of this story.  All I remember is the feeling I was left with, and it was a sappy, lovey-dovey, mushy-gushy kind of feeling.  And I loved it!

5.       Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols—I feel for the girl in this story, Leah.  She’s had a rough life, and the author doesn’t pretend that she is perfect in any way.  She’s got this authentic feel about her, and I appreciate that.  Essentially the story of a young poor girl who loves to fly that is caught in the middle of a “love triangle” between two brothers.  A great read for anyone who wants to swoon over something not so bubble-gum pop happy.

   6.       Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead—There’s no way I could pick just one of the books from the series to be my favorite.  I always knew to never start a Vampire Academy book later in the evening, because I’d stay up all hours of the night just to finish it.  Rose is the kind of girl that you just wish you could be, and the…. Ahhh hemmm… tension between her and Dmitri that drags on book after book is absolutely addicting.  You just can’t walk away from the books and their relationship.

7.       Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead—Just take my money, Richelle Mead.  And keep writing scenes like the sorority house one in The Indigo Spell.  I can’t decide who I love better, Sydney and Adrian, or Rose and Dmitri.

  8.       Just One Day and Just One Year by Gayle Forman—There are no words that I could form into a good enough sentence to tell you about these two incredible books.  Just read them, and try not to fall in love.

9.       The Program by Suzanne Young—This book isn’t one you would typically think is “swoon-worthy.”  Set in a dystopian future where teen suicide is an epidemic, this novel centers around a girl named Sloane.  Any hints of depression, and teens are sent through “The Program” where they are rehabilitated and their memories are wiped.  Sloane and her boyfriend James eventually are forced to go through “The Program.”  I think the reason this one really got me was because of the question it poses.  If you are really meant to be with someone, really meant to love someone, will you always find them?

    10.   The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller—This book doesn’t get the credit it deserves.  I never really heard much buzz around it.  I got this book on Christmas day a few years ago, and you can see me in pictures as the day progresses.  In each picture, I am getting further and further through the book.  A story about reincarnation, I just can’t help but love the idea of always finding the one person that is supposed to be in your life.