Stop Pretending: what happened when my big sister went crazy by Sonya Sones

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Bibliography

Sones, Sonya. Stop Pretending: what happened when my big sister went crazy. New York: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 1999. ISBN 9780064462181

Plot Summary

Sonya Sones draws on memories and journals from a time when she was almost thirteen and her nineteen year old sister had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for a time. Sones uses a series of poems to express, through her main character Cookie, what she went through during that time and how she was able to eventually come to terms with the situation and deal with it.

Critical Analysis

In this free verse novel, Sones creates a main character in almost thirteen year old Cookie, who tells the story of when Sones’ own sister had a nervous breakdown. Cookie writes her experiences and feelings in a series of mostly one page poems, with a handful of them taking up two or even three pages. The author includes some notes at the end to explain to readers that the book is based on her actual experiences and was taken from the journals she wrote during this time in her life. This book deals with some serious issues and is most suited for slightly older children such as middle grades and up.

The rhythms in Sones’ book are sometimes staccato, other times smooth and lyrical, depending on the subject of each poem. For example, when Cookie’s parents make her go see a psychiatrist, she uses short sentences with a lot of periods at first, creating a choppy rhythm to indicate her discomfort- “I don’t/want to be here./My parents made me come.” Later on in the book, when Cookie has met a boy and begins to feel normal again, her poems display the more lyrical rhythm as she describes an encounter with John “Walking home/together,/our fingers laced,/a thrilling silence/connects us.”

Despite the free verse form, some of the poems feature rhyming such as a poem titled, “It’s Been Forever”- “Ollee ollee oxen free./Show yourself./You’re scaring me./Come out,/come out,/wherever you are./You’ve taken this thing/way/too far.” In using a popular children’s game and the accompanying rhyme to describe how long it has been since she has seen her sister as she remembers her, Cookie reminds the reader of her innocence as a child and hints at the fact that she feels like maybe this is a game and her sister could just end it at any moment and return to normal.

Sones employs several literary devices to provide depth to her words. In one of the shortest poems in the book, “The Truth Is”, Cookie says, “I don’t want to see you./I dread it./There./I’ve said it.” This use of short, abrupt lines of text and the assonance of dread/said make the words seems as if they are spewed from Cookie’s mouth; like if she doesn’t get them out quickly, they won’t come out at all, but they must come out. Another example of assonance is found in the poem on the adjacent page and is interwoven this time with an example of consonance, “Balmy,/bonkers,/daffy,/loco, loony,/raving,/nutty,/psycho, buggy,/cuckoo,/batty,/wacko,”. These two literary devices combine to create a bouncing rhythm and indicate the importance of this particular poem, for it is in this poem that Cookie lays to rest any thoughts that she is the one that is crazy. Cookie’s next phase in dealing with her situation is worrying about and being upset about what other people think and say about her, her family, and her sister. One day during class, she discovers a note “COOKIE’S SISTER IS CUCKOO”  that one of her classmates was passing around the room. Even though Cookie previously called her sister this same word, the use of capital letters and the alliteration show the reader that it is not acceptable for other people to use this word and it angers Cookie.

Sones’ use of spacing in words and lines also demonstrates concrete ideas throughout the book. The poem that tells when Cookie mustered the courage to tell her two best friends about her sister is titled “MOLLY, KATE,         AND ME”. The deliberately large space between the other two girls and Cookie shows the gap the two girls place between themselves and Cookie after they learn of her sister’s condition.

Board games are a recurring theme in the book as well. Approximately one third of the way through the book, there is a poem entitled, “Trying to Play Monopoly”. This venture does not turn out well, ending with Cookie’s sister throwing a tantrum, but twice during the poem, Sones uses similes to help create vivid pictures of the uncomfortableness and intensity of the event. Cookie describes the experience as “about as much fun as being stung by a bee,”and when her sister yells and throws things at the end, she says, “my stunned parents stare,/like witnesses at a car crash.” The last poem of the book, “In the Visiting Room”, features the family playing another board game, this time Scrabble. This scene goes much differently than the last though. In stark juxtaposition to the monopoly game, this time the family is smiling and joking with one another and the for the last word of the book, Cookie plays “BETTER” on the Scrabble board.

The reader is taken on the emotional journey with Cookie in this book and is never left wondering how the she feels at any given moment. The stages of denial, fear, acceptance, and beginning the road to recovery are raw and real and never feel contrived. Sones does an excellent job creating vivid images with her word choice, her use of literary devices, and her honesty. Stop Pretending is not only a great example of a novel in verse, it is a helpful tool for anyone dealing with a similar situation to Cookie’s.

Review Excerpts

Bluegrass Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2001 )

Maine Student Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2001 )

Christopher Book Awards

( WON AWARD in 2000 )

Evergreen Young Adult Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2002 )

Beehive Young Adults’ Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2002 )

Garden State Teen Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2002 )

Volunteer State Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2004 )

ALA Top Ten Quick Pick

ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults

IRA/CBC Young Adult’s Choice

“An unpretentious, accessible book that could provide entry points for a discussion about mental illness-its stigma, its realities, and its affect on family members…An insightful author’s note and brief list of organizations are included.” — Sharon Korbeck, Waupaca Area Public Library, WI in School Library Journal, October 1999

“The poems–some as short as five lines, none longer than three pages–have a cumulative emotional power that creeps up on the reader, culminating in a moving, unexpected line or phrase: “’ blink / and there you suddenly are / inhabiting your eyes again. . . and I’m feeling all lit up / like a jar filled / with a thousand fireflies.’ “ — Booklist, November 1999

“The simple verses are occasionally glib, but more often sensitively written, gathering cumulative power as they trace Cookie’s feelings of loss, despair, and loneliness…” — Horn Book Guide, April 2000

Connections

Read other novels in verse by Sones:

  • What My Mother Doesn’t Know ISBN 9781442493858
  • What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know ISBN 9781442493841
  • One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies ISBN 9781442493834

Read other books on dealing with mental illness in friends and family:

  • 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, ISBN 9781595141880
  • You Know What You Have to Do by Bonnie Shimko, ISBN 9781477816424

Bring in a school or family counselor to have a discussion and answer questions about mental illness.

Have students create their own free verse poem about a time in their life where they struggled with something.

Break students up into groups and ask them to discuss what they would do if they were in Cookie’s situation. Have each group share out with the class.

(Image from Amazon.com. Accessed February 22, 2015. Cover art copyright IT Stock Int’l/eStock Photo/Jupiterimages)

We Are America: A Tribute From the Heart by Walter Dean Myers, Ill. by Christopher Myers

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Bibliography

Myers, Walter Dean. We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2011. ISBN 9780060523084

(Hardback with audio CD)

Plot Summary

Walter Dean Myers presents a collection of poems illustrated by his son, Christopher Myers, that tell the story of America. The poems describe the people, events, places, and ideals that make up our great country. This collection is the Myers’ tribute to the spirit of the country.

Critical Analysis

The free verse poems in Myers’ book all carry an easy, smooth rhythm created by the arrangement of short lines interspersed with longer lines of text and the strategic placement of commas throughout the poetry. There are no rhymes in these poems, but Myers still manages to employ other literary devices. He displays an example of consonance with “A chorus of chaos filling the air” and an example of assonance with “Flat plains that absorbed the warm summer rains”.

Myers relies mostly on personification, similes, and metaphors, to create grand images in the reader’s mind. He writes of a time before America was discovered, when the ships’ “white sails ablaze/against the clear blue sky” as witnessed by a Lakota Indian whose “grandmother/stitched the giving earth/to the distant sky”. He goes on to describe the discovering of America and its “Canyons that swallowed the imagination/And freedom/Freedom like water on the tongues of thirsting men/Freedom as sweet as young love”. He talks about how freedom lived “In my heart/Like an eagle/Longing to fly” and how “We were the youth that could not fail”. Myers also uses repetition of  words and phrases to assign importance and to create the ebb and flow of his verse: “And still, and still…”, “And yet, and yet…”. The phrases “freedom dream” and “we are America” are also repeated throughout the book. One more literary tool that Myers uses near the end of the book strikes a particularly deep chord. He juxtaposes a few of the great things about our country with their opposites, reminding us how we are “Wealthy beyond belief/and not wealthy/The land of equal opportunity/and not equal/The land of justice/and injustice.” In the audio recording, the first half of each of these is read by a single person. The second, “and not” lines, are read by a chorus of voices, suggesting that the positive side of these things is only true for a small minority, while that majority still struggle for wealth, equality, and justice.

The audio version of this book really serves to deepen the emotion felt while reading these poems. Several voices in unison combine to read the repeated phrase of “We are America” as well as other lines and phrases. The reader really gets a sense of the community of our country while listening to the audio recording. Myers uses plenty of sensory words and vivid phrases to enrich the experience such as “burned”, “taut bow of anticipation”, “we danced a youthful dance”, “stumbled as we invented our own truths”, “learned to light the darkness/with the blazing torch”, and “sweet taste of liberty”. These words and phrases are effective on paper, but are captivating and inspiring when paired with the audio version. The reader is left with an ache at the realization that our country still has strides to make, but there is also the hope and the promise of liberty and of the idea of America and all for which that stands. The real strong point of the audio recording is the ethnic and gender diversity of the artists who lend their voices. This melting pot of voices mirrors the melting pot of America.

Christopher Myers adds beautiful illustrations in rich, bold colors of the history of America and her people. There are notes at the end of book describing the events and people found in the images, but they are referenced by page number and there are no page numbers on the book. The notes would be slightly more helpful if this issue was cleared up. There are also extensive notes on the quotations used throughout the book and a note from the author and illustrator explaining the background for the project.

This is a visually appealing book that is enjoyable on its own, but pairing it with the audio recording takes it to another level. It makes you remember where this country started and makes you hopeful that it can find its way back to those roots.

Review Excerpts

Audie Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2013 )

“…the Myers grapple with the meaning of the country’s founding principles. They pair big ideas with specific individuals (real or imagined) culled from a wide swath of peoples. The imagery is beautifully crafted, and the tone allows space for readers to draw conclusions; while acknowledging imperfections, Myers reserves judgment.” — School Library Journal, May 2011

“The promise and potential of America are explored with a quotation (credited in the notes), poem, and mural-like painting on each spread.” — Horn Book Guide, October 2011

“…pays homage to the entire United States in a soul-searching, free-verse poem examining the people, ideals, and promise of America. The verse journeys along a rough historical chronology…Christopher Myers’s evocative paintings often juxtapose different eras; a scene in which a firefighter turns his hose on a group of African-Americans melds into the Boston Tea Party.” — Publishers Weekly, March 2011

“Across the spread from each poem are Christopher Myers’ colorful paintings, which incorporate references in the lyrical lines. The appended back matter includes more information about the quotations, along with notes about the artwork.” — Booklist, May 2011

“The sweeping scope of Myers’s free verse poems (HarperCollins, 2011) is captured beautifully and interpreted dramatically on this CD by a diverse cast of narrators. This eminently patriotic book celebrates free expression and attempts to paint with word pictures the depth and breadth of the varied American experience. Rarely are all ethnicities given voice in a treatise on American freedom, liberty, and values, but the panorama of people who built America is well represented here. In fact, the book alone, without the CD, falls flat with its oddly-proportioned, crowded murals in a sea of white space. It is only with the soaring music, stirring sound effects, and talented team of multicultural readers that this book’s meaning and powerful purpose come to life.” — School Library Journal, February 2013

Connections

Read other poetry books by Walter Dean Myers:

  • Jazz ISBN 9780823421732
  • Here in Harlem ISBN 9780823422128
  • Looking Like Me ISBN 9781606840016
  • Harlem ISBN 9780590543408

Read other patriotic picture books:

  • I Pledge Allegiance by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson, Ill. by Chris Raschka, ISBN 9780763625276
  • Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood by Valerie Pfundstein, Ill. by Aaron Anderson, ISBN 9780578135106

Have students pick one of the historical events or people in Myers’ book and do a mini research project on it.

Have students pick from a list of events and people not included in the book and create their own free verse poem on the topic.

Have students volunteer to share about family members or friends who are veterans.

Have students pick one of the poems and create their own original illustration for the poem.

Discuss each illustration and have children participate in looking up information about the events taking place in the illustrations.

Pair the students up and have them practice reading one of the poems out loud to each other.

Play the audio recording of the book after reading the book aloud to the students and have them compare and contrast the two. Discuss whether or not students would have selected the same background music and sounds for the recording.

(Image from Amazon.com, accessed February 23, 2015. Cover art by Christopher Myers.)


Poem Runs: Baseball Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian

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Bibliography

Florian, Douglas. Poem Runs: Baseball Poems and Paintings. New York: Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt Children’s Books, 2012. ISBN 9780547688381

Plot Summary

This collection of fifteen poems by Douglas Florian takes the reader through the positions on a baseball team and some of the events surrounding a baseball game and the team’s season. Each poem focuses on a different position or event such as “Warmup”, “Our Slugger”, and “The Season is Over”.

Critical Analysis

These fifteen poems by Florian come together to make a highly enjoyable, easily shared book of baseball poetry. Florian employs several types of poetry form in this book, but they all feature a catchy beat with lines and verses arranged in accordance with those beats. The rhythm of each poem fits its words and meaning well. For example, the poem “Warm Up” which talks about getting ready to play, features a light and springy rhythm: “Bend to the left/Bend to the right/S t r e t c h out those muscles/Too tense and too tight.”

Each poem in this book features clever rhymes in one way or another. Some of the poems contain sets of rhyming couplets (“Our Slugger”- Our slugger is strong/our slugger is mean/with arms very long/and eyesight quite keen) and some poems have each line rhyming, while adding in some alliteration for good measure (“A Baseball”- Stitch it/Pitch it/Drive it/Ditch it/Pound it/Ground it). Florian’s rhymes have a wonderful flow to them and lend themselves readily to being read or chanted aloud by students. Florian’s grasp of literary devices shines in these poems, especially in his example of assonance (“Shortstop” – He spears each/Hard-to-reach ground ball./He dives for line drives./Leaps for flies.). The onomatopeias sprinkled throughout the book such as “snatch”, “zing”, “bash”, “smash” and “spears” enhance the action in the poems.

Florian has chosen words and phrases such as “plummets” and “I’ve done the deed/My feet are fleet” for his poems that may not routinely be used to describe baseball positions and plays. These choices help to make his book unique and interesting. He also compares some of the positions to animals through the crafty use of similes, helping readers to create vivid mental images. For example, from “Third Baseman”, “A leopard, I leap on line drives,/Catch fly balls like a bird.”

With each new poem, the reader can feel and see the excitement, determination, and resilience of the players. When the umpire laments the fact that he is “not too well-loved”, the reader feels sad for him. The illustrations, which are rendered in gouache watercolors, oil pastels, colored pencils, and pine tar on primed paper bags, add another layer to the already vivid pictures Florian paints with his words. The over-exaggerated movements, stretches, and body parts of the baseball players help to convey the enormity of their physical feats on the field. In the illustration for the poem about the baseball itself, the laces of the ball have come undone and curl into the words from the poem that describe what has been done to the baseball (“crash”, “bash”, etc.). This illustration really personifies the actions in the poem.

This book of baseball poems is intended for 1st through 4th grade students and is well-suited for that age range. It is not too cluttered, with one poem per two page spread, with the exception of two small poems on the first two page spread.

Poem Runs is a fun, light-hearted poetry book that children in the younger grades will enjoy regardless of whether they are baseball fans. The illustrations, poem forms, and use of literary devices combine to offer a good example of children’s topical poetry.

Review Excerpts

“Upbeat poems that exude a bravado and competitive spirit that’s perfect for the subject matter…this one’s a blast…Florian exaggerates the players’ physicality, as they bend, leap, and swing, their limbs stretching across the spreads.”–Publishers Weekly, starred review, February 2012

“The poems are printed, one to a spread, in legible white font against dark backgrounds. Some of them have creative typesetting, and the titles are set in a variety of hues…A great choice for sandlot players who just want to have fun.”–School Library Journal, March 2012

“An enjoyable collection of verse aimed at children who play the game…Colorful and expressive, the pictures use exaggeration effectively for poems.”–Booklist, May 2012

Connections

Read other poetry books by Douglas Florian

  • Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings ISBN 9780152053727
  • Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings ISBN 9781416979784
  • UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings ISBN 9781442426528
  • Poetrees ISBN 9781416986720

Read baseball poetry by another author:

  • Lineup for Yesterday by Ogden Nash, Ill. by C.F. Payne ISBN 9781568462127

Create baseball magnetic poetry with students. (Kit available from amazon.com for $10.27)

  • activity could be done as a class
  • activity could be done in small groups

Share a non-poetry book about baseball with students:

  • Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen ISBN 9780763649463

Have students volunteer to pick a favorite poem from the book and read it aloud.

Have students break into partners, pick a favorite poem, and read aloud to his/her partner.
(Image from Amazon.com, accessed February 18, 2015. Cover art by Douglas Florian.)

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

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Bibliography

Pinkney, Jerry. The Lion and the Mouse. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. ISBN 9780316013567

Plot Summary

The mouse narrowly escapes the talons of an owl only to find himself taking refuge in the fur of a lion. The lion shows kindness to the mouse and lets him go. Later on, when the lion ends up in a hunter’s rope trap, the mouse hears the lion’s roars and bring his family to help rescue the lion. The mice nibble through the ropes and set the lion free.

Critical Analysis

Jerry Pinkney takes one of the most recognized of Aesop’s fables and presents it here in a beautifully illustrated, wordless story that takes place in the African plains. The two title characters are featured, one on each cover, in the same size to demonstrate their equality. The mouse represents the small, feeble parts of all of us and our status as prey as he runs away from the screeching owl. When the mouse ends up on the back of the king of the jungle, the lion portrays the mercy and grace of a good ruler when he decides to let the mouse go.

The only letters Pinkney uses throughout the book are the sounds made by the owl, the lion, the mice, and the truck of the hunters. These written representations of the sounds help the reader to better immerse herself in the story. Pinkney creates light and shadow with his mottled illustrations which bring the wildlife and the plants of Africa to life. The full, multi-colored mane of the lion and the detailed features of the mouse serve to highlight the main characters well. The reader never sees the faces of the hunters who come to capture the lion, which is fitting because those who seek to harm us are often faceless, nameless people, looking out only for themselves. Also, people with these motives do not warrant as much recognition as giving them faces would garner. The panic on the lion’s face when he is caught in the trap evokes the same sense of dread in the reader. When the mice finally free the lion from his trap, he looks down on the mouse with admiration and gratitude.

The endpapers of the book show the mouse and his family riding on the back of the lion who is accompanied by his family. In this poignant illustration, the reader sees that the lion cares deeply for his family and that he now counts the mouse and his family as some of his own. Pinkney needs no words to capture the true roots of this fable. He maintains the moral lessons of how the great and powerful need the seemingly insignificant and of the notion that no act of kindness is too small.

The first time I read through this book, it took me probably less than two minutes since there are no words. I already knew the story, so I just needed to refresh my memory. However, as I went back and re-read it several times, I found myself slowing down further each time and poring over the pages. Each time I open the book again, I find some new detail in the illustrations that makes the experience that much richer. After spending a short time with this book, it is easy to see why it is a Caldecott award winner.

Review Excerpts

Caldecott Medal

( WON AWARD in 2010 )

Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books

( WON AWARD in 2009 )

Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2010 )

Volunteer State Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2011 )

Indies’ Choice Book Award

( WON AWARD in 2010 )

School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

( WON AWARD in 2009 )

“… the value of even the smallest creature is recognized in this stunning Caldecott winner rendered in expressive watercolors. A visual feast.” —School Library Journal, April 2011

“*Starred Review* The intricate lion’s face that crowds the cover of Pinkney’s latest folktale adaptation is unaccompanied by any title or credits, and that is entirely appropriate there are no words inside, either…And involved they will be how could they not get drawn into watercolors of such detail and splendor? Pinkney’s soft, multihued strokes make everything in the jungle seem alive, right down to the rocks, as he bleeds color to indicate movement, for instance, when the lion falls free from the net. His luxuriant use of close-ups humanizes his animal characters without idealizing them, and that’s no mean feat.” — Booklist, July 2009

“Pinkney enriches this classic tale of friendship with another universal theme-family-affectingly illustrated in several scenes as well as in the back endpapers, which show the lion walking with his mate and cubs as the mouse and her brood ride on his back.” — Publisher’s Weekly, July 2009

Connections

Read other retellings of Aesop’s fables:

  • The Ant and the Grasshopper by Rebecca Emberley, Ill. by Ed Emberley ISBN 9781596434936
  • Town Mouse, Country Mouse by Jan Brett ISBN 9780698119864
  • The Fox and the Crow by Manasi Subramaniam, Ill. by Culpeo S. Fox ISBN 9788181903037

Read other books by Jerry Pinkney

  • Noah’s Ark ISBN 9781587172014
  • The Little Red Hen ISBN 9780803729353
  • Puss in Boots ISBN 9780803716421
  • The Tortoise and the Hare ISBN 9780316183567

Have students write a manuscript for the book since it is wordless.

Have students create their own version of the story using different characters, but demonstrating the same moral.

Have students share, either orally or in writing, about times when they experienced where little friends or little acts of kindness have turned out to be big things.

Identify each of the different animals in the background illustrations and have the students search for information about those animals.

Image from Amazon.com, accessed February 13, 2015. Cover art by Jerry Pinkney.

The Three Little Tamales by Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by Valeria Docampo

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Bibliography

Kimmel, Eric A. The Three Little Tamales. Ill. By Valeria Docampo. New York: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2009. ISBN 9780761455196

Plot Summary

In this southwest version of the three little pigs, three tamales escape from a restaurant before they can be eaten. The first tamale settles in the prairie and builds a home of sagebrush because she likes the smell. The second tamale built a house of cornstalks because he liked the rustling sound of them. The third tamale built a house of cactus because she thought the thorns would protect her. One day, the big, bad wolf, Senor Lobo, comes knocking. He banters with the first two tamales before huffing and puffing like a “Texas tornado” and blowing each house down. The first two tamales end up in the third tamale’s cactus house and manage to trick the wolf to fall into a pot of boiling water. The wolf, not wanting be a tamale himself, escapes back up the chimney and runs away, never to be seen again. The tamales celebrate by having a fiesta with their friends, the runaway tortillas.

Critical Analysis

Kimmel and Docampo team up to provide an entertaining version of the three pigs story that highlights elements of a southwest/Spanish culture in the Texas plains. Readers who have enjoyed any version of this tale can easily follow and predict the plot, but the fresh take on characters and building materials, the Spanish words sprinkled in, and the wolf’s refrain “I’ll huff and I’ll puff/like a Texas tornado/and blow your casita/from here to Laredo!” make it anything but boring. Docampo’s oil on paper illustrations give movement, breath, and life to the characters and the story. The first two tamales have simple desires: the sweet smell of sagebrush and the melody of the cornstalks. The third tamale, the traditionally wise character, is portrayed as a female in this rendition, providing a strong model for young girls. When Senor Lebo comes calling, each tamale has a rhyming exchange with him that begs to be chanted by a classful of youngsters.

The unique and clever take on this time-honored tale is an enjoyable read and lends itself to class participation. One of the tamales even encourages children to resist running away and hiding from their problems! Each encounter leads up to the final showdown between the tamales and the wolf wherein good once again triumphs over evil as the tamales outwit the wolf and are rid of him for good. It is a little ironic, perhaps, that what finally convinces the wolf to flee for good is the tamales’ threat to make him into a wolf tamale. The amusing illustration of the wolf picturing himself as a tamale, however, erases any uneasy feelings the reader may have about the tamales’ suggestion of eating one of what they are.

Review Excerpts

Volunteer State Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2011 )

 “Docampo’s oil-on-paper illustrations add dimension to the story and bring the three little tamales to life. An excellent addition to collections of fairy-tale retellings. Grades K-3.” –Shauna Yusko, Booklist, June 2009

 “ The tamales have got character, as shown in Docampo’s motion-filled oil illustrations…Kimmel’s text is eminently readable, as usual.” — Horn Book Guide, March 2009

 “The colorful artwork combines with a text brimming with humor and sound effects (“Ay! Ay! Ay!”) for a delightful parody sure to satisfy readers’ appetite for fun.” –Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library (in School Library Journal), June 2009

Connections

Read other imaginings of the three little pigs tale:

  • The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas, Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury ISBN 9780689815287
  • The Three Pigs by David Wiesner ISBN 9780618007011
  • The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell, Illustrated by Jim Harris ISBN 9780873585422
  • The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark by Ken Geist, Illustrated by Julia Gorton ISBN  978-0439719629
  • The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara, Illustrated by Mark Fearing ISBN 978-0375866890

Compare and contrast these other books to The Three Little Tamales.

Create a reader’s theater script; have students create costumes and props as art projects; assign parts and act out the story.

Have students build their own versions of the three houses with three different materials and do science experiments to see which ones withstand a fan being blown on them to simulate the big bad wolf.

Image from Amazon.com, accessed February 12, 2015. Cover art by Valeria Docampo

The Golem’s Latkes Adapted by Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by Aaron Jasinski

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Kimmel, Eric A. The Golem’s Latkes. Ill. by Aaron Jasinski. New York: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2011. ISBN 9780761459040

Plot Summary

Rabbi Judah leaves to visit the emperor on the first night of Hanukkah and tells his maid to have the golem help her make latkes while he is gone. He only gives her one warning: not to leave the golem because he does not know when to stop. After seeing how efficient the golem is at making latkes, the maid leaves to visit her friend, planning to return quickly. Time gets away from her and when she returns, the latkes have spilled out of the house and taken over the entire city. The rabbi comes home to find this mess and is not sure how to fix his problem. His maid suggests inviting everyone to a Hanukkah party to help eat the latkes. The rabbi does just this and every last latke gets eaten. The rabbi then questions whether he should fire his maid for not listening to him, but she reminds him that another holiday is coming up and he will surely need her help, along with the golem’s, to prepare the feast for Purim!

Critical Analysis

Kimmel’s rendition of the golem story combined with a bit of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice flair features a dutiful Rabbi, a gossiping maid, and a title character who works tirelessly until told to stop, all in a nondescript house and neighborhood in Prague. Jasinski’s beautiful facial expressions rendered in acrylic on wood panels and Kimmel’s bold word choice as well as his refrain of “Peel. Chop. Mix. Fry. Peel. Chop. Mix. Fry.” draw the reader into the traditional Jewish tale and help to educate children on the culture. Each decision made by the characters creates a larger sense of dread for the reader until finally, it appears all is lost when the latkes take over the city and block the streets, but the maid comes through with a clever solution and the problem find its satisfying solution. Through his story, Kimmel reminds readers that they should do as they are told and also that problems can be solved when everyone works together. The author has also included a note at the beginning of the book explaining the original legend of the golem and defining a few Jewish terms, providing a real insight into the Jewish customs featured in the book. Overall, Kimmel manages to create a nice read-aloud story through the rythym of his words and the vivid illustrations by Jasinski, such as the golden mountain of latkes, enhance the story.

I very much enjoyed the author’s note at the beginning of the book. It gives a solid, concise background for the story and truly educates the reader on a bit of Jewish history. The illustrations in this book were also enjoyable, with the facial expressions being the standout.

Review Excerpts

National Jewish Book Awards

( WON AWARD in 2011 )

“Kimmel has the pacing of a comic, and the illustrations by Jasinski (The Heart’s Language) are richly detailed. A selection of the PJ Library.” — Publisher’s Weekly, September 2011

“Not as scary as traditional golem monster stories, this lively picture book blends the Jewish legend with the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice… The mayhem is great messy fun for storytelling, with bright acrylic double-page spreads that show the huge giant with his latkes filling the kitchen, tumbling into the street, and then forming a golden brown mountain above the city” — Booklist, November 2011

“However, one must wonder how batches and batches of latkes are made from a single basket of potatoes. This conundrum is exacerbated by the general flatness of the narrative, in spite of a text perked up by the refrain “Peel. Chop. Mix. Fry. Peel. Chop. Mix. Fry.” Richly hued acrylic-on-wood illustrations nicely depict golden latkes piled high, but are marred by the portrayal of the golem as a large gray Gumby-like figure with the letters EMET (Hebrew for “truth”) etched on its forehead. By focusing solely on the golem as automaton, young readers unfamiliar with this character’s rich and complex history in Jewish mysticism and literature are being shortchanged.” –Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library (in School Library Journal, October 2011)

Connections

Read retellings of the original Golem story:

  • Golem by David Wisniewski  ISBN 9780395726181
  • The Golem: A Version by Barbara Rogasky  ISBN 9780823409648

Read The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Sally Grindley and Illustrated by Thomas Taylor ISBN    9780803727267 and compare and contrast.

Read Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat: A Chanukah Story by Naomi Howland ISBN 9780395899038 and compare and contrast.

Bring in a local rabbi, staff member who is Jewish, or possibly a parent to speak about Hanukkah.

Make latkes in class.

Have students make their own scale versions of the Golem.

Image from Amazon.com, accessed February 8, 2015. Artwork by Aaron Jasinski