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Janet's Literature Reviews
Traditional Literature

On this page I review the following books:  CINDERELLA, MORE SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, THE FROG PRINCE, CONTINUED, and PAUL BUNYAN.
 
 
 
Cinderella 
 
     By David Delamare

Delamare, David. 1993. CINDERELLA. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0671769448.

David Delamare's version of CINDERELLA is set in a city of gondolas and canals, supposedly Venice.  The story begins before the traditional version with Ella and her mother living in "the grandest mansion on the grandest canal."  Ella longs for her father, a merchant, who returns home only once a year.   As in most fairytales, the storyline progresses quickly to Ella's 16th birthday where she happens to spy the young Duke Fidelio float by in his gondola.  She says to her mother, "I wonder if his father is as busy as mine?"  Ella's mother becomes ill and dies on the day her father arrives home.  Ella is immediately sent to boarding school.  After two years, Ella is summoned home to meet her new stepmother and two stepsisters.  She soon discovers that she is to be the family's maid.  Ella receives a new name when one of her stepsisters finds her covered in cinders from the fireplace and calls her Cinder-Ella. 

 

From this point, the story progresses like the traditional tale with a few variations that fit the Venice setting. An example is Cinderella going to the ball in a fish-shaped gondola with a pumpkin cabin on its back and a rat for the gondolier.  "He was elegant, indeed, despite his long tail."  At the stroke of midnight, Cinderella's gondola melts away and she falls into the icy water where she must swim for shore.  The story ends the next day with Cinderella producing the other glass slipper and the Duke taking Cinderella in a gondola, to his palace that is across the canal.

 

According to Publishers Weekly, "the distinguishing element here is Delamare's arresting artwork.  His paintings feature sharply defined images carefully juxtaposed so as to resemble collage."  The illustrations are realistic and elegant in nature, but there is a surreal and dream like quality to some of the illustrations, especially at the ball in the palace.  Delamare's paintings help to communicate the somber mood that is evident in this story from the beginning with his muted colors and characters with down cast eyes.  The most striking picture is the illustration of Ella walking, in the snow and cold, with her father from the cemetery.  Ella's father is walking beside her, but he is reading a book.   This illustration emphasizes how alone Ella really is now.      

 

Typical of all fairytales, the theme of Cinderella is that goodness and kindness always prevail.  In the end, Cinderella and Fidelio "live long and very pleasant lives.  Their love blossomed and grew deeper as the years passed, and when they were older they became good and kind rulers." The stepmother and stepsisters, showing that evil is always punished, live in jealousy the rest of their "long and unpleasant lives, and never stopped complaining."

 

This version of Cinderella is "longer and for a slightly older audience than most picture-book versions", writes Linda Boyles, in School Library Journal.  I also do not feel it would be the best choice for a read-aloud book because of the long pages of text included in the book.  As a side note, I found this book in a high school library where it would be useful during a study of traditional literature.

 

 

Boyles, Linda. 1993. Cinderella (book). SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL. Available from http://Amazon.com . Accessed 17 June 04.

 

1993. Cinderella (book). PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. Available from http://Amazon.com . Accessed 17 June 04.

More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
 
     By Alvin Schwartz

Schwartz, Alvin. 1984. MORE SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Ill. By Stephen Gammell. New York: J. B. Lippincott. ISBN: 0397320825.

MORE SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, is a collection of folktales retold by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Caldecott Honor Award winner, Stephen Gammell.  Alvin Schwartz's introduction explains that scary folktales were told for many reasons; to explain away things that scare us, to warn us about dangers around us, or to just have fun scaring ourselves.  The stories are loosely divided into chapters about ghosts, witches, the macabre, and funny scary stories.  Schwartz's book also contains interesting notes about some of the stories, lists of the sources for these stories, and an extensive bibliography.

 

The stories are short, usually one or two pages long, with the setting in one location such as a bedroom, a church, or a graveyard.  The language is simple, with a generous use of onomatopoeias and dialogue in several stories.  The plot develops quickly in these simple stories and then ends with an encounter with a ghost or something unexpected.  Cathryn Camper writes in School Library Journal, that Schwartz has "wisely chosen to record the stories just as children might tell them instead of rewriting them into literary tales.  Most of the stories are short and perfect for kids to tell aloud."

 

While the stories are simple, Stephen Gammell's black and white drawings are surprisingly eerie and distorted.  Ms. Camper also writes about the illustrations, "Gammell's eerie drawings are excellent: they give realistic definition to the ghouls he's illustrating and at the same time create a mood."  Personally, I find some of the drawings to be startling and scarier than the stories and feel some children will find them disturbing.

 

Some of the folktales are familiar with only different characters portrayed.  One example is "The Wreck" involving two high school students, Fred and Jeanne, that meet for the first time at a dance.  They dance and Fred offers to take Jeanne home at the end of the dance when Jeanne absently mentions that she needed a ride home because she had accidentally driven her car into a tree on the way to the dance. On the way to Jeanne's house he gives her a piece of tinsel and she puts it in her hair.  Jeanne asks Fred to drop her off short of her house because the road was bad.  Fred realized that he didn't have her phone number to ask her out later, so he turned around and followed the rode to her house.  He soon comes around a curve and found the wreckage of a car that had burned and was still smoking.  In the car was Jeanne with the tinsel he had given her still in her hair.  This is an example of what Alvin Schwartz would call a "living ghost" story.  The story seems to start in the middle with the students at the dance and then develops simply to the surprise ending.  The author leaves a lot of the story to the imagination of the reader especially the ending when Fred realizes he has just been dancing with a ghost.

 

Another story, "The Brown Suit" was in the funny story chapter and was one I was not familiar with.  A widow goes to a funeral home to view her recently deceased husband.  She mentioned to the undertaker that her husband looked very natural except that he had on a blue suit instead of his usual brown suit.  The undertaker said they would take care of that little problem.  When the woman returned, her husband was indeed in a brown suit.  There had been another deceased man at the funeral home wearing a brown suit and this man's wife thought he would look more natural in a blue suit so they switched the suits.  The first wife expressed that changing all those clothes had been a big job and a lot of trouble to the undertaker.  " 'Not really,' said the undertaker. 'All we did was exchange their heads.' "  This ending really surprised me, but it also made me laugh.  The possible purpose of this story would be to warn about unscrupulous people we may encounter.

 

Camper, Cathryn A. 1985. More scary stories to tell in the dark (book). SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL 31, no. 6: 38. In Academic Search Premier (database online). Accessed 15 June 04.
 
 

frog_prince_continued.jpg

The Frog Prince, Continued 
 
     By Jon Scieszka

Scieszka, Jon. 1991. THE FROG PRINCE, CONTINUED. Illustrated by Steve Johnson. New York: Viking. ISBN: 0670834211.

Jon Scieszka's, THE FROG PRINCE, CONTINUED, begins after the original folktale ends.  The prince and the princess do not live happily ever after.  They complain and criticize each other so much that the princes says, "Sometimes I think we would both be better off if you were still a frog."  So, the prince decides to run away and find a witch to turn him back into a frog.  This is where the prince's adventures begin.  He runs into witches that are not interested in granting him his wish to be a frog again.  In fact, these witches are from other fairytales that he remembers and they are more interested in eating him or keeping him from rescuing other princesses.  He finally runs into the Fairy Godmother.  In her attempt to help him, she turns the prince into a "beautiful.carriage."  The prince waits in the spooky forest until, unexpectedly at midnight, he turns back into the prince.  He runs home, where it is safe, to find the princess waiting for him.  He realizes that he loves her and when he kisses her, they both turn into frogs.  Now, they will live happily ever after.

 

Linda Boyles in School Library Journal says,  "Scieszka offers another tongue-in-cheek 'rest of the story,' telling what happens after the Princess kissed the frog."  In this fractured fairy tale, Scieszka includes characters from many fairy tales and combines them into a funny and surprising story that children will love.  The author also uses "reverse personification" to show that the prince has retained some of his frog-like qualities which really irritates the princess and adds to the humor of the story.  The princess says, "Stop sticking your tongue out like that," or "I would prefer that you not hop around on the furniture."  To further parody the fairy tale style, the author uses repetition in his story when he repeats the phrase, "Miss Witch, Miss Witch.  Excuse me, Miss Witch.  I wonder if you could help me?"  The prince never gets very far with his request because the witches, portrayed in the story as bumbling and dimwitted, always interrupt him.   

 

Steven Johnson's illustrations, though dark and muted, are delightful. Through the detailed illustrations, Johnson has added humor to the book as well as depth to the story.  The dragonfly wallpaper, lily pad carpet, frog portrait on the wall, and the frog shaped chair make the reader think that maybe the prince is really more frog than human.  The illustrator also foreshadows the ending when he displays two frogs linked arm-in-arm on the family crest which is seen throughout the book.  The illustrator also adds humor and interest when he transports the witches to the 20th century with a TV, electric hairdryer, recliner, and a "nasty spells" remote control device prominently displayed.

 

I really enjoyed the surprise ending and I think older children will enjoy discovering the identities of the witches and the details in the illustrations as they read this more sophisticated tale.

 

Boyles, Linda. 1991. The frog prince, continued (book). SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL 37, no. 5: 83-4. In Academic Search Premier (database online). Accessed 15 June 04.  

 

 

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Paul Bunyan 
 
     By Steven Kellogg

Kellogg, Steven. 1984. PAUL BUNYAN. New York: William Morrow & Company. ISBN: 0688038492.

The book, PAUL BUNYAN,  retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg is an example of a traditional tall tale.  The story of Paul Bunyan begins with his birth, "the largest, smartest, and strongest baby ever born in the state of Maine."  Paul grows into an extraordinary lumberjack whose size and strength allow him to perform amazing feats. The story follows Paul as he and his blue ox Babe travel west through the United States clearing the land and encounter many adventures.  Paul's adventure ends in Alaska where even now his "great burst of laughter can be heard rumbling like distant thunder across the wild Alaskan mountain ranges."

 

Steven Kellogg's PAUL BUNYAN is set in a picture book format with the pictures taking center stage.  Kellogg's illustrations, done in pen and watercolor are used to capture the true character of Paul Bunyan and to fully show the chaos that usually surrounded him.  The text on one page read, "Even before he learned to talk, Paul showed an interest in the family logging business.  He took the lumber wagon and wandered through the neighborhood collecting trees."  In Kellogg's illustration, Paul is pulling up full-sized apple trees full of ripe apples from an orchard owned by "Miss Ama and Miss Hannah Screach."  You can just hear the "screeching" his actions have caused.  In the story, Paul must hire armies of new woodsmen to clear the Midwest of trees, but first he must build them new bunkhouses.  My favorite illustration shows depth of Kellogg's imagination when he depicts these bunkhouses as modern day skyscrapers where "the men sailed up to bed in balloons and parachuted down to breakfast in the morning."       

 

The story proceeds quickly, which is typical of a folktale, with Paul going from one adventure to the next in his good natured style.  Steven Kellogg also makes use of hyperboles in his story to add to the fun of this tall tale.  He describes Paul as "a sturdy lad who was so quick on his feet that he could blow out a candle and leap into bed before the room became dark." The formation of the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, and the Great Lakes are explained through the many antics that Paul performs to take care of his men.  An example is that Paul hand digs the St. Lawrence River so barges can bring Vermont maple syrup to his men.  The language is simple and easy to read aloud with a few interesting words such as "Gumberoos" and "rough-and-tumble rumpus" thrown in for fun.  In a review in School Library Journal, Kenneth Marantz said, "This imaginative, humorous, yet respectful interpretation captures the spirit of the tall tale.  It is one of Kellogg's best books."

 

Marantz, Kenneth. 1984. Paul Bunyan (book review). SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL 31, no. 4: 72. In Academic Search Premier (database online). Accessed 15 June 04. 

 

 
 


These reviews were prepared in fulfillment of requirements for "Literature for Children and Young Adults", LS5603, Texas Woman's University, Summer 2004.