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Books on Parade

Evaluating Books

Avi -- Author Study
Evaluating Books
Picture Books and Easy Readers
Traditional Literature and Poetry
Nonfiction and Biography
Realistic Fiction

Section 1: Evaluating Books

What’s the Hurry Fox? and Other Animal Stories  collected by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Joyce Carol Thomas and Illustrated by Bryan Collier


Thomas, Joyce Carol. 2004. What’s the Hurry Fox? And Other Animal Stories. Collected        by Zora Neale Hurston. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN: 0-06-000643-9



What’s the Hurry Fox? and Other Animal Stories is a wonderful collection of pourquoi tales that have been adapted especially for children.  Originally collected by Zora Neale Hurston, and published in her book Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-tales from the Gulf States, these tales have a very distinctive flavor that is appealing to both childen and adults


The overall plot is hard to define, since this is a collection of one to two page stories.  However, the overall theme would be to explain why certain animals are the way they are.  These stories are not obviously meant to be taken literally but are true to oral storytelling tradition and demand the audience to accept things as they are told and use their imaginations.


The style of writing in this book is very true to the origins of the stories.  The oral flavor is kept alive through the printed words.  The stories have been written in such a way that you can hear them being spoken as you are reading.  This style really helps the story to come alive.  Another point about style or formatting that is important to mention is that any of the stories in this book can be taken on its own.  A child can turn to any page and go in any order that s/he chooses and still come out with the same literary experience as someone who reads from cover to cover.  The segmented nature of this book makes it easy to break it up into smaller servings if that is what is required in a particular situation.  This is a major strength of this book.


Bryan Collier’s illustrations of these folk-tales are very imaginative.  He uses a collage style which is a refreshing change from the more typical mediums.  The illustrations complement each tale very nicely.  They neither overpower the story or under exert themselves.  They are the perfect accessory to this collection of tales.  Zarina Mullan Plath, a literature and creative writing instructor at Illinois Wesleyan University agreed with this assessment in her review of this book for the Parent's Choice awards committee when she stated, "Bryan Collier's collages are a nice supplement to the text (especially the laughing portrait of Hurston on the last page, but it's really the folktales themselves that are of intereset, as an important slice of Americana."


This book has many strengths.  One that has already been mentioned is the ability to break it up into smaller segments.  Another thing worth mentioning is that these are timeless tales.  In one hundred years these stories will still be appealing to children.  They are silly and imaginative; these are things which never go out of style.  This book definitely has the potential to be around for a very long time.


I personally enjoyed this book immensely.  I enjoy pourquoi tales, and was unfamiliar with most of the ones adapted for this book.  My favorite selection is “Why the Waves Have Whitecaps”.  Although it is a little melancholy for a children’s book I found the tale to be very moving.  The most stirring line for me is; “Every time she called them, the waves stirred up and the Wind’s children showed their white feathers to let their mother know where they were, but Water wouldn’t let them go.”


In short I would recommend this book to children of all ages.  Two thumbs up!



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: 0-439-31769-X



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 is not. 


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.



Buster 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 swamp itself.


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.