The Snake’s Tales by Marguerite W. Davol and Illustrated by Yumi Heo
Davol, Marguerite W. 2002. The Snake’s Tales. Illustrated by Yumi
Heo. New York: Orchard Books. ISBN:
The Snake’s Tales is a story about the origin of stories. It tells the tale of a boy that lived in the time before stories were told who was
sent to the other side of the forest to gather strawberries for his mother. The
boy came upon a snake who told him stories in exchange for the strawberries. When
he told his mother that a snake ate the berries, he left out the part about the stories thinking she wouldn’t believe
him. Later, the same thing happens with his sister and the snake tells her more
stories. Finally, when the boy and girl go together and trade apples for stories,
they tell their parents about the snake and all the stories he has told them. From
that day forward people have been telling the snake’s stories and even making up stories of their own.
The setting is very vague, which is appropriate for this type of story. It takes place “Way back in time there were no stories”, in an unspecified
location near a forest. This is a good way to present this story and it fits
well with the style of writing. It is presented as a folk-tale although it actually
The illustrations by Yumi Heo are very good in that they serve their intended
purpose, to illustrate the text. The text of each page is virtually retold in
each illustration. The style employed by Heo could be considered a strength in
one regard but a weakness in another to this book. It is a strength because he
does have things in the artwork that children can look for that are not the primary focus of the illustration but are mentioned
in the text. Many children enjoy searching for this type of thing. As a weakness, the illustrations could be distracting since they are very busy. This is possibly an issue of personal preference but I found myself looking away from the text as I was
reading to try to take in more of the illustration.
I enjoyed this book, I like the style of presenting an original work as a folk
tale, and it adds something to the overall experience. Susan Pine of the
New York Public Library suggests this book as, “A useful way of introducing the oral tradition” in her review
in School Library Journal. I however feel that children need very little introduction
into oral tradition since they are inundated with folk and fairy tales from a very early age in most cases. That is not to say that this is not a lovely book that children would enjoy, I certainly think that many
would. I personally am impressed by the creativity of Davol, who would think
to write a story about how stories began? What a novel idea.
by Denise Fleming
Fleming, Denise. 2003. Buster. New York:
Henry Holt and Company. ISBN: 0-8050-6279-3
Buster is the adorable story of a dog who has everything he could ever
possibly want until one day his owner, Brown Shoes, brings home a kitten named Betty.
Buster is terrified and annoyed by Betty to the point where he runs away to get away from her. When Buster wakes up in a strange place he is hungry and scared and does not know how to get home. Finally, Buster sees Betty way up in the tree at his house and she is his beacon home. Through this Buster realizes that he does like Betty and now he has everything a dog
could want and more.
The theme of this book could be viewed as even things you do not like or understand
at first can be among the best things that ever happened to you. Change is not
always a bad thing, and just because someone is different than you does not mean that you cannot be friends. It really does a good job of relating to children in this situation as well. When they do not like someone, they ignore them and if that does not work then they will just run away. This book shows children that maybe running away was not as good of a plan as it seemed
in the beginning and maybe what they were running away from was really not so bad after all.
The writing style of Denise Fleming is very appropriate for this story. The short sentences that she uses help the reader imagine a dog saying or thinking
in those exact words. It is as if there is a little Buster telling the story
in your head as you are reading. The illustrations are also absolutely perfect
to accentuate this story. This is accentuated by the story being told completely
from his perspective. For instance, his owner is referred to as “Brown
Shoes” since that is the part of him that Buster sees. Buster is exactly
as I would have pictured him and the page with the map and legend that shows his route home is precious. Not to be over-enthusiastic, but this is one of the best examples of the illustrations complementing the
text I have seen. Lauren Peterson of Booklist offers the insight that the "...double-page spread map with an aerial
view of the area marks Buster's route from park to home in orange dashes, which provide a fun way for kids to practice map
skills." This is an educational aspect of this book that I may have overlooked without reading Peterson's review.
A strength of this book is that it is an engaging story with wonderful illustrations
that is sure to entertain children and become a favorite. It also provides a
message of acceptance and even embracing others for their differences without even a hint of didacticism. Another strong point is that is a very quick and easy read, so even those just learning to read could enjoy
this as they learn. However, even though the text is easy it never “talks
down” to the reader.
I personally adore this book and found myself laughing out loud in places. I think what really makes this book particularly enjoyable for me is the expressions
on Buster’s face in the illustrations that perfectly capture the emotion described by the text. The character is completely brought to life by Fleming’s enormous talent.
Where, Where is Swamp Bear? by Kathi Appelt and Illustrated by Megan Halsey
Appelt, Kathi. 2002. Where, Where is Swamp Bear?. Illustrated by Megan
Halsey. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN: 0-688-17102-8
Where, Where is Swamp Bear? is a story that follows a boy and his “granpere”
as they spend a day in the swamp. Pierre
is full of questions about the ecology of the area and especially about Swamp Bear and her whereabouts. Granpere has an answer to all of Pierre’s questions and
he provides those answers in a manner that is attainable to children without being dumbed down.
The setting of this story is not overtly stated, but appears to be in a swamp
region of Louisiana. The environment
and animal life that are depicted support this assumption as well as the dialog which is full of Cajun flavor. The setting is essential to this story since the story is about finding Swamp Bear and learning about the
Appelt’s style is very distinctive; the rhyme of the text provides a
nice rhythm for the story. Another interesting aspect of this book is that it
is presented as a complete dialog; there is no narration at all. In a review
of this book by Publisher’s Weekly it is noted that “Appelt infuses the text with a gentle rhyme and rhythm that
never intrudes into the subtle science lesson.” There are many educational
aspects of this book, but the reader never feels like they are being lectured.
The illustrations By Megan Halsey are another fun element of this book. With the ever elusive Swamp Bear present on each page (sometimes more obvious than
others) it provides children with an interactive activity of trying to “find Swamp Bear”. As children get older they can also search for other indigenous wildlife that is labeled on the endpapers.
Halsey does a good job of illustrating the text of the book. The activities of
Pierre and Granpere are shown in such a way that the story and the pictures flow nicely together.
A strength of this book is that it introduces children to a new dialect that
they may be unfamiliar with as well as providing an interesting and fun science lesson.
The tidbit on the last page that tells the real story of the Louisiana Black Bear and the history of the Teddy Bear is especially interesting and informing. The
dialog style of writing with the speaker’s name preceding every exchange could be construed as a weakness since this
can be distracting and impede the flow of the text.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and think children would like the subject matter
as well as be drawn by the rhythm and rhyme of the story. Not to mention that
every child I know loves to search for the “hidden” pictures that the characters do not seem to see.