Book Reviews and More

Hi! This blog is for my classes at Texas Woman's University.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Traditional Tales - Genre Two Reviews

Review for The Story of The Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross, Illustrated by Virginia A. Stroud

Bruchac, Joseph, and Gayle Ross. The Story of The Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale. Ill. by Virginia A. Stroud. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1995. ISBN 0803717377.

The Story of The Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale is a retelling of a Cherokee legend about how the Milky Way appeared in the night sky. In the story, an elderly couple discovers that some of their cornmeal has gone missing from their bin overnight. They are upset that someone has stolen from them, and their grandson decides to figure out the identity of the thief. He watches in the night and sees a mystical dog eating out of the bin. The village is unsure what to do, so they consult the wise old Beloved Woman. She says the creature must be a powerful spirit dog, and recommends they hide in the night, then make noises with their drums and rattles to scare it away. The plan works, and the spirit dog runs away dropping cornmeal in the sky as he escapes, which turn into the stars of the Milky Way.

This retelling of a classic Cherokee tale is an example of a pour quoi tale, because it explores the reason of why or how something is the way it is (Vardell 82). In this case, the story shares why there is the Milky Way, or as the Cherokees call it Gil’liutsun stanun’yi  - which means “where the dog ran” (Bruchac and Ross 32). The story is clearly set up as a folktale from its opening line, “This is what the old people told me when I was a child” (Bruchac and Ross 5). The story focuses on the young grandson and his determination to help his grandparents, and then on the wise elder woman of the tribe. These elements make it a positive representation of the relationship between the young and the elderly. As author Gayle Ross states, “Joe Bruchac and I felt it was important to identify the elder who provides the solution to the riddle of the theft… We added the character of the grandson to our version to represent the love children everywhere feel for their grandparents” (Bruchac and Ross 3). The appealing acrylic illustrations in this book incorporate vivid color with a traditional style. Elements such as the types of clothing the characters wear help establish the setting and provide rich cultural details, which enhance the folkloric feel of the book. The patterns, textures, and colors all work well together to draw the eye of the reader.

The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale was the winner of the Scientific American Children’s Book Award. Author Joseph Bruchac was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas in 1999. Kirkus Reviews says “A simple, well-phrased text introduces ideas of respect for elders, cooperation, and reverence for the spirit world, without ever veering from the storyline.” Publishers’ Weekly states “Bruchac and Ross subtly underscore the role of tradition in shaping narrative.”

Bruchac’s books Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places and How Chipmunk Got His Stripes, and Ross’ book How Rabbit Tricked Otter: And Other Cherokee Trickster Stories are more examples of folk tales that would pair well with The Story of the Milky Way. Older children interested in native cultures and history may enjoy Bruchac’s novel Code Talker: A Story About the Navajo Marines of World War Two; which former Horn Book editor Anita Silvey says “stands as a testament to the power of language – and why all languages should be respected and kept alive” (Silvey 2011). Myths and fairy tales may also be paired with folk tales for a well-rounded look into traditional literature. Students may also enjoy Classic Myths to Read Aloud by William F. Russell or stories by Rachel Isadora such as Rapunzel or The Princess and the Pea

Quote from Joseph Bruchac:
"It is important to understand that there are many different ways of seeing the world and expressing the wisdom of Native belief... No one voice speaks for all voices..."

Bruchac, Joseph, and Gayle Ross. The Story of the Milky Way: a Cherokee tale. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1995.

"Joseph Bruchac Home Page: Author biography, published works, performance schedule, multimedia videos, music and poetry." Joseph Bruchac Home Page: (accessed February 8, 2014).

Silvey, Anita. "Book-A-Day Almanac." BookADay Almanac. (accessed February 8, 2014).

"The Story of the Milky Way." Kirkus Reviews. (accessed February 8, 2014).

"The Story of the Milky Way: a Cherokee Tale." (accessed February 8, 2014).

Vardell, Sylvia M. Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

Review for The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Illustrated by Dan Santat 

Schwartz, Corey Rosen. The Three Ninja Pigs. Ill. by Dan Santat. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012. ISBN 9780399255144

In this clever version of the "Three Little Pigs" tale, author Corey Rosen Schwartz places the pigs in the world of martial arts. The three pigs are being bullied by the big bad wolf and decide that ninja school is their best defense. The first pig studies aikido but only learns the basics; the second pig studies jujitsu but then leaves before making much progress; the third pig studies karate, and continues in her studies until earning the highest belt. When facing the wolf, the first two pigs discover their skills are no match, and rush to the third pig for help. The third pig shows the wolf her expertise, who quickly admits defeat and runs away. The first and second pigs decide to return to ninja school to improve their skills and the three pigs end up opening a dojo.

What a fun take on a classic tale, which completely updates the story while remaining true to the original premise. The book’s ninja angle will help this story appeal to all ages, both boys and girls, since two of the pigs are boys and the third is a girl. The story is done in rhyme, which is not an easy thing to do – especially with words such as aikido and jujitsu. Schwartz does a remarkable job and the words flow smoothly and rhythmically in an A, B, C, C, B pattern. If readers are uncertain about some of the martial arts terms, a glossary with pronunciation is provided in the back of the book. Artistically, Dan Santat uses a combination of full-page spreads and comic book styling to create fun, vibrant pages. Santat’s background as a television animator comes through on the page, creating a style that will be familiar and appealing to children.

The Three Ninja Pigs is a 2013 2 X 2 reading list selection (TLA), a Junior Library Guild Fall selection 2012, and a Los Angeles and Chicago Public Library Best of 2012 selection. Booklist says “Anyone who knows the original story will be well aware of what comes next, but this standout version has so much motion, action, and laughs, kids will feel like they’re hearing it for the first time.” The New York Times Book Review states “A fractured fairy tale to outcharm the original, The Three Ninja Pigs manages to one-up the well-worn story…” Kirkus Reviews also compliments the book calling it "A standout among fractured fairy tales, masterfully combining rollicking limerick verse with a solid story…”

This story would be great to include in an analysis of "Three Little Pigs" stories. Children could compare this version to David Wiesner’s Three Little Pigs, John Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and a more traditional version such as Paul Galdone’s The Three Little Pigs. Other traditional stories, such as "The Three Bears" could also be analyzed in this way with such examples as Galdone’s The Three Bears, James Marshall’s Caldecott Honor version Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldie and the Three Bears by Diane Stanley, Mo Willems’ Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, and Schwartz’s new book Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears. For more examples of excellent rhyme, try books by Liz Garton Scanlon such as A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes or All the World. Children who enjoy Santat’s artwork may also like his work on Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, and will be happy to find out that Schwartz and Santat will be teaming up again for Ninja Red Riding Hood, coming out in Summer 2014.

Quote from Dan Santat: 
“If every illustration you do is money driven and you constantly find that you’re asking yourself, ‘Can I sell this?’ then you’re not being true to yourself and your work is suffering because of it.”

Santat, Dan. "Dan Santat on Breaking Into The Business." The Animation Anomaly. (accessed February 11, 2014).

Schwartz, Corey Rosen. The Three Ninja Pigs. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012.

"The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat." Corey Rosen (accessed February 11, 2014).

Review for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback 

Taback, Simms. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. New York: Viking Press, 1999. ISBN 9780670878550

In Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, Simms Taback shares his version of a Yiddish folk song called “I Had a Little Overcoat” in picture book form. The story tells the tale of Joseph who proves to be very resourceful with his overcoat, turning it into a jacket, a vest, a scarf, a necktie, a handkerchief, and a button. In the end, he figures out how to make “something out of nothing” when he loses the button but turns the tale into a book.

The artistic design of the book is superb. Taback uses cutouts within the illustrations to depict the progression from overcoat to a button. The cutouts are cleverly hidden and then revealed within the pages. It is so much fun to try and predict how the next piece of clothing will look from the hidden cutout on the previous page, and so satisfying to see how it looks once the page is turned. Taback makes wonderful use of details so readers can spend a long time pouring over the pages, enjoying the way he uses collage to layer in extra meaning to the story. The colorful palate throughout the book adds vividness to the story and the depiction of the characters. My favorite spread is on pages 18-19, when Joseph goes to visit his “married sister in the city." Not only do I love the language of that page, but enjoy the detail in the looks of uncertainty on the faces of his nephew and niece over meeting their boisterous uncle. In contrast to the folklore style of the page, Taback includes a collage of modern photographs of faces in the windows of the background building – perhaps this is to emphasize Joseph is in the city, and away from his more traditional home.  The book is designed from cover to cover, with the book jacket, hard cover, and end pages all contributing to the theme of the story.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat won the Caldecott medal in 2000. Barbara Z. Kiefer, chair of the 2000 Caldecott committee said of the book, "The patchwork layout of the pages, the two-dimensional paintings and the exaggerated perspectives, reminiscent of the folk art tradition, are the very fabric that turn this overcoat into a story" (Kiefer 2000). According to Publishers Weekly, with “its effective repetition and an abundance of visual humor, this is tailor-made for reading aloud.”

Pairing this book with Taback’s Caldecott Honor award-winning There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly would showcase the author’s talents and abilities. Other recommended interactive books featuring textural elements include Taback’s Safari Animals and City Animals, or Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth or Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. There is also an audiobook version of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat read by Taback himself. Teachers may also want to showcase different types of collage techniques, by pairing the Taback books with Eric Carle’s work or the recent Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore. 

Quote from Simms Taback:
“You can always make something out of nothing.”

Kiefer, Barbara. "2000 Caldecott Medal and Honor Books." American Library Association. (accessed February 13, 2014).

Taback, Simms. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. New York: Viking Press, 1999.

"This Is The Official Simms Taback Site." Simms Taback Site. (accessed February 13, 2014).


  1. Hey there! What a wonderful blog! (sorry, I wanted to comment more on the blog as a whole rather than this specific entry right now, but if you can do that, I dunno how. I'm blogspot illiterate xD) I am excited to check it out and i have bookmarked it for later perusal :3

    1. Thanks for checking out my blog :) I am new to blogspot as well - but am learning as I go along. Hope you enjoy it! I will have new reviews for non-fiction and biography books next week, as well as my very first book trailer!