Thursday, February 18, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan

Beautiful Blackbird
by Ashley Bryan 

Bryan, Ashley. Beautiful Blackbird. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003. ISBN 9780689847318

Plot Summary: The birds in the forest are all shades of bright, vivid colors, and then there is Blackbird. All of the other birds believe that Blackbird is the most beautiful, and they all want to have black spots or stripes in order to be beautiful, too. Blackbird assures all of them that beauty comes from the inside and not the outside, but he still paints them all with black so that they will feel beautiful as well.

Critical Analysis: 

This is a type of traditional literature that I have not read much of before this point. While I know many original fairy tales, I find it incredibly interesting that this book is a retelling of a story from people of Zambia, and this is evident in the pictures, diction, and style of the overall story. Because I have not read much of this literature before, I did find this story to be incredibly intriguing. It made me want to look more into the Ila-speaking people, and I do think that is one of the overall purposes of the book. 

The characters, setting, and plot are similar to other traditional stories. The characters are simple and easy to understand and relate to. Unlike some other stories, there is no real "evil" character here. Instead, they are all good in their own way, though some of them cannot see the wonderful points of themselves. The setting is also vague. It is said that they are in a forest and that they meet at a lake, but past that there are no real specifics to where the story takes place. Like the characters, the plot is simple as well. It moves forward well, though there is little tension and no dramatic conflict. They all want to be painted with black as well, and while Blackbird does not believe that they need it to be beautiful, he does agree to it and makes sure to paint all of the other birds when they ask. Therefore, there is no serious conflict between the birds aside from the initial jealousy. 

The theme and style in this story, along with the illustrations, stand out above all else. Unlike the other traditional literature stories I read, this story has specific diction and style to the text. There is repetition and rhythm that speaks to the people that the story is told by originally, and it is wonderful that Bryan kept these qualities in his retelling of the story. The theme overall is a wonderful one, especially for children. It teaches the lesson that everyone is beautiful and wonderful in their own way, and they do not have to be like someone else. The story also explains how birds received the black marks that they still have to this day, which adds even more interest and belief to it being an original oral tale.

The illustrations in this story were wonderful; they were bright and vivid, and caused me to stay on each page for several minutes in order to simply look at them. It is called "cut paper artwork," and it is not a technique that I have seen in many books, so it made it even more interesting for me as a reader. It drew my attention and kept the story moving. 

Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal:  "a life-enhancing folktale from Zambia--how birds got their black markings."

From Publisher's Weekly: "Bryan's singular voice provides rhythm and sound effects throughout this musical adaptation of a Zambian tale."


This is a wonderful story to use in order to teach diction and style when it comes to text, and would be a good mentor text when it comes to writing stylized works. It could also be used to discuss theme and basic plot qualities. 

Beat the Story - Drum, Pum-Pum by Ashley Bryan 
The Story of Lightning and Thunder by Ashley Bryan 

LS 5603 20 Review: The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

The Three Pigs
by David Wiesner

Wiesner, David. The Three Pigs. New York: Clarion Books, 2001. ISBN 9780618007011

Plot Summary: This Three Little Pigs story starts out quite similar to all of the others; the three pigs build their homes out of different materials, and the Big Bad Wolf tries to blow their houses down. This time, in the process, the pigs are blown right off of the pages of the book, and are allowed to escape from the Wolf altogether. Once all three pigs are off the pages together, they create all sorts of fun. They use their own book pages to create a paper airplane, and then move into different storybooks as well. They make a friend in Hey Diddle Diddle, and a dragon that they save from being slayed. In the end, they all return to the brick house, and the Wolf is scared away by the dragon. They all live happily ever after in the brick house together. 

Critical Analysis: 

The characters in this book are interesting and exciting, though still similar to what is seen in much of traditional literature. They are characters that many children and adults will recognize from some of their own favorite tales growing up, as well as some they may not know as well. Just like with every retelling of The Three Little Pigs, the pigs are our protagonist, while the Wolf is still the antagonist. Unlike the traditional version of the story, we have extra characters added in that bring more excitement and interest to the story. Much like the characters, the setting is quite similar to the original, at least in the beginning and end of the story. However, in the middle we get to see the characters in a new space, which includes being outside of books, and also in other stories that are not their own. The setting in this book is a bit more descriptive and important than in other traditional literature. 

The plot of this story is fairly different from original versions of the tale. The story is still very much plot driven, but instead of being so methodical and rhythmic as the original, it takes a bit of a field trip and has some added conflict within the story. The pigs are able to escape from their own stories in order to run from the wolf, but they can also move into other stories, where they deal with some characters they do not know in Hey Diddle Diddle, and save a dragon from being slayed by a knight. In the end, they still have to deal with the original conflict of the Wolf trying to eat them all, but it is the dragon that scares him away this time. Along with these details, the theme remains the same; good triumphing over evil. 

The illustrations and style of this story add to the plot and tension by adding important details. While on the pages of the stories, the characters and settings seem very cartoon like, and the colors are incredibly dull. However, when they come off of the page all of the characters, the dragon included, become much more life-like, and the colors become more vivid than before. The characters talk in a very stylized way that adds to the story as well, making them relate able to the reader despite the fact that they are all animals. 

Review Excerpts: 

Top 100 picture books #68 by School Library Journal 

From Publisher's Weekly: "...he takes the idea of 3-D characters operating independently of their storybooks to a new level here."

The best connections to use with this book would be different versions of The Three Little Pigs. Students could compare the different versions in order to see what is the same and different about the plot, characters, setting, theme, and conflict. 

It would also be beneficial and fun for students to read the other tales that are discussed throughout the story in case they do not have background knowledge about the stories and characters before hand. 

LS 5603 20 Review: Rapunzel by Paul Zelinsky

by Paul Zelinsky

Title: Rapunzel 
Reteller: Paul Zelinsky 
Genre: Folktale 
Publishing Info:New York: Puffin Books
Publication Date: October 1997
ISBN: 9780525456070

Zelinsky, Paul. Rapunzel. New York: Puffin Books, 1997. ISBN 9780525456070

Plot Summary: 
A man and woman have longed for children, but have struggled to conceive. That is, until the woman finds herself suddenly pregnant with a child. She spends her time looking out the window at a sorceress' garden and dreaming of her child. She then spies one of the plants in the garden, rapunzel, and has a sudden dire craving for it. Her husband attempts to sneak into the garden, but is caught by the sorceress, who requests his child in exchange for the plant. The husband, desperate to save his wife, agrees. Rapunzel is born and taken by the sorceress, who raises her well until she is twelve, when she takes her far away and locks her away in a high tower. For years, the sorceress is the only one to visit Rapunzel, using the girls' hair to climb the tower. Eventually, a prince comes across the tower and hears Rapunzel's beautiful singing. Using the sorceress' method, he climbs Rapunzel's hair to meet her. The two are married, and Rapunzel becomes pregnant. The sorceress, angry at her betrayal, banishes Rapunzel and informs the prince. Despite the most difficult odds, love prevails.

Critical Analysis: The characters, plot, and setting of the story are common for what is usually seen in folktales or traditional literature. The characters are inherently good or evil. The sorceress is the definition of evil, requesting that "[the husband] must give [her] the child [his] wife will bear" (p.9). Then, she locks Rapunzel up in a high tower to keep her from everyone else. Rapunzel, on the other hand, is the definition of good. She was said to be a "child of rare beauty, with pale skin and an abundance of flowing red-gold hair" (p. 13). Her innocence is obvious in the words and illustrations throughout the novel. The characters are simple, and do not change or grow much throughout the story.

The setting is developed quickly and without much deal; it is clear that it is set far away, and that there is a kingdom nearby as the prince falls in love with Rapunzel. The sorceress has a large, elaborate garden and the pictures make it clear that wilderness surrounds them. The plot is simple, and time passes quickly. The conflict drives the story, as Rapunzel has to deal with being constantly alone, and then must deal with the sorceress' cruelty when she finds her pregnant. Despite the many conflicts, the ending is happy and satisfying.

The theme of the novel maintains the ideals of traditional literature as well, with good triumphing evil in the end. I do wonder if this is a theme or lesson that young children will achieve simply from reading the story, however. While the ending is happy and they will realize this, I am not sure that all children will understand that this means that they have "defeated" the sorceress in some way. Still, I do believe that it is a worldly theme that older children with understand. Despite many identifying plot points, I do not feel like there was any obvious style in the writing. It does seem like the story could easily be a retelling, but does not have any dialect or language that stands out culturally.

The illustrations in this book follow the story beautifully. They add to the setting, plot, and characters by expressing the time period and heritage that the story takes place in. It can be determined that it is a long time ago based on the way that they are dressed and styled. Along with adding to the overall emphasis of the story, I do believe that the illustrations also help to move the plot along. They are detailed and used to emphasize what is happening; especially in the most tense moments.

Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal: "Why Rapunzel? I thought the story was compelling and mysterious, and I was interested in learning to paint hair."

From Publisher's Weekly: "Daringly--and effectively--mimicking the masters of Italian Renaissance painting."


This version of Rapunzel would be wonderful to teach conflict and basic plot development at the middle school or elementary level. They could discuss where the climax and resolution is, and how those things affect the conflict

This version could also be used to discuss the differences between flat and round characters, and the general theme of good vs. evil.

-Rumpelstiltskin by Paul Zelinsky

Thursday, February 4, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems

I Will Take a Nap!
by Mo Willems 

Title: I Will Take a Nap!
Author: Mo Willems
Illustrator: Mo Willems
Genre: Picture Book
Publishing Information: New York: Hyperion Books for Children
Publication Date: June 2015
ISBN: 9781484716304
Willem, Mo. I Will Take a Nap!. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2015. ISBN 9781484716304
Plot Summary: Gerald is an elephant who is very tired and in desperate need of a nap because he has become quite cranky. He begins to try to nap, when Piggie comes along to see what Gerald is doing. When Piggie asks him, Gerald does quite a bit of yelling, as he is quite cranky. This yelling causes Piggie to become cranky as well, and so he decides he needs a nap, too. They briefly discuss their stuffed animal buddies before both laying down to nap. There is a problem, though. Piggie snores. A lot. Gerald has a hard time napping, and soon things he was not able to nap at all. However, Piggie has begun to float, and his head has turned into a turnip. Therefore, Gerald realizes he has been napping, and wakes up feeling much better, and not at all cranky. 
Critical Analysis: This is not the kind of picture book that I would currently read now as an adult, unless I was reading it to my young niece. While the book still tells a story, it is not as detailed as other picture books I have read currently. Despite not being detailed or descriptive, the story is very well written. It has a point to make, and it gets it across quickly and accurately. There is an obvious theme to get from it, and I do believe that children could understand that the idea is not to take out their crankiness on others, and that napping can help to improve their attitude if they do become cranky. The text is large and clear, and there is capitalization and punctuation which helps to bring attention to certain parts of the book. 
The illustrations in the book are cute and simple, which I do believe can be great in picture books similar to these ones. The characters are obviously cartoons, and have many cartoon-like characteristics, which seem to make them even more interesting and likable. The drawings are fun, and the facial expressions and detailed lines help to express the feelings and emotions of the characters throughout the book. While the illustrations are limited and quite similar on each page, I do not feel like they get too repetitive or boring throughout the book. 
Review Excerpts: 
From School Library Journal: "Willems delivers another exemplary entry for beginning readers."
From Publisher's Weekly: "Elephant and Piggie return in the Geisel Award-winning early reader series."
From Booklist: "The simple line illustrations turn the comical exchange between Gerald and Piggie into pure slapstick."
While this book may be more difficult to use in the secondary classroom, I do believe that it could be used as a good example of dialogue, and how they could write a more amusing conversation between two characters. 
Similar Books: 
  • Goodnight Already!
  • Ballet Cat
  • I Don't Want to be a Frog 

LS 5603 20 Review: Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear
by Lindsay Mattick
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Title: Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear
Author: Lindsay Mattick
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Genre: Picture Book
Publishing Information: New York: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: October 2015
ISBN: 9780316324908

Mattick, Lindsay. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. ISBN 9780316324908

Plot Summary: Finding Winnie is the story of how the character Winnie-the-Pooh originated. The story begins with a young boy, Cole, asking his mother to tell him a bedtime story. Despite being late, his mother tells him that she will tell him a true story about a bear. She then begins to tell the story of Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian who ends up being drafted into the war in order to help take care of soliders' horses. On the way to his destination, he comes across a man with a bear cub, and decides he wants to buy the cub. He names the small bear Winnie, after Winnipeg where he is from, and she becomes a bit of a mascot to the soldiers in his unit. Eventually, Harry must go overseas once again, and decides it is not safe for Winnie to be on the front lines. Instead, he takes Winnie to the London Zoo where he knows that she will be safe. After she had been in the zoo awhile, Alan Milne began taking his young son, Christopher Robin, to visit Winnie. He named his bear after Winnie, and soon his father wrote tons of famous stories about the pair.

Critical Analysis: Finding Winnie is a nostalgic and heartwarming picture storybook for anyone who has read and enjoyed books in the original Winnie-the-Pooh series. The tale told throughout the book is unique in that it seems to travel into the past and forward to the future seamlessly. While the book is a bedtime story being told to a child, it is easy to forget that and simply fall in love with the story that is being told. Winnie is a wonderful bear that you love, and Harry seems like a wonderfully caring man who was very endearing throughout the book. The story is easy to follow, though the text can be a bit long for those readers who may not be as strong with fluency or advanced vocabulary. 

The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful; some of the best that I have seen in quite some time. They are detailed incredibly lifelike. It is impossible not to linger on the pages simply to stare at these pictures. The characters are drawn in a way that is realistic, but still has a very cartoon feeling about them, which makes them interesting. The colors are vivid and draw attention when and where necessary. The drawings are added perfectly, and add to the overall experience of the book.
Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal: "Written by one of the descendants of the veterinarian that started it all.  Add in the luminous artwork of Sophie Blackall and you’ve got yourself a historical winner on your hands."

From Publisher's Weekly: "she proves that she’s equally imaginative at chronicling straight-on reality, too."

From Booklist: "Mattick’s family ties to Winnie-the-Pooh form the backbone of her cozy debut."

This book could be used for many different ways in not just elementary classrooms, but middle school classrooms as well. It can be used in these ways:
  • Focus on figurative language 
  • Work on advanced vocabulary
  • Mentor text for correct writing skills 
  • Use as a connection piece in a history classroom while studying WWI 

Other books that are similar:
  • Midnight, a True Story of Loyalty in World War I
  • Stubby the War Dog

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Eloise by Kay Thompson

by Kay Thompson

Title: Eloise
Author: Kay Thompson
Illustrator: Hilary Knight
Genre: Picture Book
Publishing Information: New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 1969
Copyright Renewed: 1983
ISBN: 9780671223502

Thompson, Kay. Eloise. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1969. ISBN 9780671223502

Plot Summary:
Eloise is a book about a six year old girl who lives in The Plaza Hotel with a nanny of whom she loves, but also causes an extreme amount of mischief for. Eloise has nothing but time on her hands, and she uses said time to be very active and "helpful" around the hotel. All of the hotel staff know her, and do not seem nearly as thrilled about her help as Eloise is herself. Eloise is at a stage where she seems to be finding herself and determining what things she enjoys, and everything to her is a lot of work. While Eloise can be a bit of a trouble maker, she also has a knack for seeing details that others may ignore; like the design on the front doors, her maze of fun on the elevators, the way Nanny speaks and repeats certain words, and the size of the coat rack in her room. Despite being six years of age, Eloise believes herself to be older and wiser than that, which really only adds to her desire to help out the other adults. The entirety of the book takes place throughout only one day of Eloise's life, proving her point that she lives an incredibly busy life at the hotel.

Critical Analysis: Eloise by Kay Thompson is an enjoyable, enthusiastic take on a picture storybook for children and adults alike. While I tend to not read many children's books myself, thinking I am a bit too old for them, this is a book that I was able to enjoy immensely. Eloise is a lovable, mischievous child, and throughout the book it is exciting to see what kind of trouble she may get into next. We are able to follow through the day in the life of her as she moves about The Plaza Hotel, and the details provided are incredible. She has many things worked out, from how to be incredibly obnoxious on the elevator (without realizing it), climbing to the circle shelves in the banquet room, and attending weddings of guests that she does not know. Her antics keep the book upbeat and enjoyable, and it was certainly a page turner. 

The illustrations throughout the book are very detailed and incredibly amusing. Eloise is described as bring "not yet pretty but already a Person," and the drawings help to support this idea, as the little girl in the drawings is not 'perfect' like we tend to see in some illustrations. The thing that I enjoyed the most about the illustrations was that they were mostly in black and white, with only pops of pinks in different shades to draw contrast and bring attention to things. The words were arranged differently on each page, which made the layouts interesting to look at. The drawings go wonderfully with the text, adding amusement to every page.

Review Excerpts: 

Top 100 Picture Books #76 by School Library Journal

From School Library Journal: "one of the most iconic six-year-olds in children’s literature."

From Publisher's Weekly: "In the history of book properties, brands and licensing, Kay Thompson's Eloise, first published in 1955, stands as a prototype for success."


Other/similar books that readers may enjoy:
  • Angelina Ballerina series by Katharine Holabird 
  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Other books in the Eloise series 

Students could use this book to focus on:
  • Vocabulary - there are some words that my middle school students would not know the definitions to, so they could use context clues to determine them 
  • Different types of writing for English class - understanding that grammar rules do not always have to be followed for creative uniqueness 

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