Category Archives: classics

The Westing Game

There is something truly joyous when your children read and ENJOY books that were childhood favorites of yours. Not that we don’t adore new books (we are currently fighting over an Advance Review Copy to be shared soon), but there are times when you remember that classics are classics for a reason. The latest in a series of books J has enjoyed that I remember loving as a kid? The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.

westingThe Westing Game is a mystery reminiscent of the board game Clue (another family favorite). In this book, 16 people find themselves at the reading of a man’s will which says that a) he was murdered, b) the murderer is in the room, and c) whoever figures out who did it will win a sizeable inheritance. The group is split up into 8 pairs and they are set off on their journey to figure out who did it.  At the same time, each of these characters holds a secret or two.

Turtle Wexler might be one of my all time favorite characters created and feels like the star of this particular book. Given that this was written in 1978 when you didn’t have a lot of spunky, unusual female characters, she was special. She is exceptionally bright and not as “pretty” as her older sister, Angela, but she has a very caring heart. She is a character that feels very true to life and that doesn’t seem to change with a different generation reading the book.

Another interesting thing about this book is that while there is an external focus on solving the mystery of who killed Sam Westing, there is a deeper, more internal mystery unfolding throughout the book – figuring out just who the characters are, their secrets, and how they are all related (literally and figuratively).

J, at 10 and in 4th grade, adored the book. She couldn’t put it down, kept asking me questions that I couldn’t remember the answers to, and repeatedly said “this book is awesome!” That’s pretty high praise from an avid reader. Ellen Raskin received a Newbery Medal for The Westing Game in 1979 and the award hasn’t lost its shine.

Traveling the World through Fables

“Long ago, everything from the changing of the seasons to the passage of the Sun through the sky was an unsolved mystery. So people came up with stories to explain how things came to be. These stories – known as myths or fables – varied from place to place, but all had a shared thread running through them: they set out to explain the inexplicable, to offer a version of the world that made some sense.”traveling-the-worldthrough-fables

So begins the book the Usborne Illustrated Fables from Around the World. This beautiful book offers 18 wonderful myths and fables from around the world that at one point helped people try to understand the world around them. Continue reading →

Serving Up Soup from a Stone

Over the years, many have told the story of Stone Soup in which hungry strangers trick a town into feeding them by making soup from a stone. As with many folk tales, the story changes with each retelling, but the backbone stays the same. A hungry stranger, or two, enters a town. When the locals refuse to help him he proceeds to make some form of stone soup. The natives are curious about how you could possibly do this and set about watching him. They are then wisely tricked into providing the actual sustenance and the town shares a meal together. It is a tale in which people are initially unwilling to help a stranger, but in the end, realize that kindness and sharing make everything better.

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fandango-stew1A very fun version of the story is Fandango Stew, by David Davis. In this telling, Luis and his grandfather are dead broke, but as they ride into the town of Skinflint, they have a plant to make Fandango stew for the town, with one tiny bean. They slowly get people to offer up ingredients, playing on the fact that the folks of Skinflint don’t want to be out done by any of the other town that Luis and his abuelo have been to. The town comes together, as all do, and make a fine fandango stew. When the sherriff asks where he can find a fandango bean, they explain that they are just simple pinto beans – “Any bean makes a fine fandango stew. Just add generosity and kindness.”fandango-party

cactus-soup-coverIn a very similar style, Eric A. Kimmel brings forth his version in Cactus Soup. Per his author’s note, Kimmel sets his version in the time of the Mexican Revolution, somewhere between 1910 and 1922. When a group of hungry soldiers ride into San Miguel, the townspeople don’t want to share their food. They hide their tortillas, tamales, beans, and flour and put on torn clothes to look poor. But the Capitán is not fooled. He asks for a cactus thorn to make some cactus soup, and before long he has tricked the townspeople into giving him salt and chilies, vegetables, and a chicken as well! He goes a step further and tells the town that cactus soup always tastes better if you have something to go with it, and soon a full fiesta is thrown with tamales, chorizo, camotes, and several fat roasting pigs.cactus-soup-inside

stone-soup-matzoh Linda Glaser takes us to the village of Chelm, known in Jewish folklore as a village of fools, in Stone Soup with Matzoh Balls. When a poor stranger arrives as Passover is about to start, even though it is a part of the Passover tradition to welcome the stranger, the village encourages him to go elsewhere. No food? No worries. He will make the most delicious matzoh ball soup from a stone. He of course tricks them into bringing the specific ingredients, but Yenta is unconvinced because there are still no matzoh balls. Oh yes! “That stone of mine makes the best matzoh balls in the world – so big and heavy they’ll sit in your belly like rocks all 8 days of Passover.” Very few people like heavy matzoh balls and most claim theirs are the lightest and fluffiest. The women of Chelm step up and say they make the best matzoh balls ever and make hundreds to add to the soup. The town must hold their seder in the synagogue for it is the only place in town that will hold everyone, and that Passover, everyone in Chelm had a fully belly and a full heart.matzoh-inside

muth-stoneJon J. Muth retells the story with three monks who are contemplating what makes one truly happy as they come upon a village that had been through many hard times. The villagers had become distrustful of strangers and even of other villagers. When the monks entered the village, all inhabitants pretended not to be there. “These people do not know happiness, but today we will show them how to make stone soup.”As with all stone soup stories, the monks trick the villagers into adding extras. “Something magical begins to happen among the villagers. As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more and as this happened the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.” The town was able to enjoy a wonderful feast together, and as the monks got ready to leave, the villagers thanked them for making them realize that “sharing makes us all richer.”muth-interior

forrest-coverHeather Forest takes the stinginess to a different level in her rendition of Stone Soup. Two hungry travelers arrive at a village expecting to find a household that will share a bit of food, as has been the custom along their journey. They come to the first door and kindly ask the woman, “Please, we are hungry. Do you care? will you share? do you have any food?” To their surprise, villager after villager refuses to share, each one closing the door with a bang. As they sit to rest beside a well, one of the travelers observes that if the townspeople have no food to share, they must be “in greater need than we are.” With that, the travelers demonstrate their special recipe for a magical soup, using a stone as a starter. They explain that the soup would be better with a carrot or onion, but knew that they had asked before and everyone had nothing to share with them. However, before long, everyone in the town had been able to give just a little and it soon became a lot. The town was amazed that the travelers had made such a delicious soup out of a stone.  But it was not just a stone, it was “out of a stone and a magical ingredient…sharing.”forest-interior

bone-button-coverIn Bone Button Borscht, by Aubrey Davis, a hungry beggar comes to a poor town on a cold and snowy evening. No door is opened to him until he sees a light and enters the synagogue. The caretaker, the shamas, does not answer his greeting so the beggar takes the five buttons off his coat and asks for one more in order to make Bone Button Borscht. Bowls, cups, ladles, and a pot wouldn’t hurt either, he explains. As the shamas goes from door to door seeking the ingredients, the incredulous townspeople gather round and provide the food that will make the soup just a little more tasty. Such a miracle. Such a joyous feast. They don’t need a single button to make a soup. In times of scarcity, they need each other. And that, writes Davis, is “.. the real miracle the beggar left behind.”bone-button-inside

No matter which version you choose, this is a timeless story that encourages children to think of the bigger society instead of just themselves. Soup, and food in general, always tastes better when it is shared with others. Now I’m off to make some more soup here before the snow hits.

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Starting a love of Shakespeare with Anook the Snow Princess

51ctb4JQZOLIn my random grabs at the library, I picked up a book called Anook the Snow Princess, by Hans Wilhelm. This story was inspired by Shakespeare’s tale King Lear and while both girls enjoyed the story, it was J’s desire to know more about the story of King Lear and Shakespeare in general that made me realize how marvelous this book truly is.

For those that don’t remember, here is a quick explanation of King Lear as it pertains to this story:

Lear, the aging king of Britain, decides to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters. First, however, he puts his daughters through a test, asking each to tell him how much she loves him. Goneril and Regan, Lear’s older daughters, give their father flattering answers. But Cordelia, Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter, remains silent, saying that she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. Lear flies into a rage and disowns Cordelia.

Anook is a bear version of Cordelia. Anook is one of three sisters. She is a kind bear, but being the smallest, her sisters tended to tease her and make life a little more difficult. She was not one to she never spoke up for herself when they were mean.2

When her father decides to “choose the daughter who shows him the most love and loyalty,” one sister plans to sing a song, the other will write a poem, and Anook tries to catch him a fish. She gets the fish, but falls into a hole in the ice and her sisters steal the fish from her and leave her in the hole. The girls pretend the fish is theirs and the king is furious when Anook doesn’t have anything to give him, so he banishes her.

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Out on her own, Anook is kind to a young wolf cub and is thanked by the wolf pack by being asked to stay with them. The taught her how to run and hunt and play. Anook and the little wolf club grew stronger as their friendship also grew. One winter, her father’s advisor find her because when her sisters became queens, they threw him out of the palace. Along with her new wolf pack, they rid the castle of her selfish sisters. She rescues her father, he apologizes for his behavior, and live happily ever after.

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This is definitely a simplified version of the story, but it’s the most important part of the King Lear story. The message is clear – love doesn’t need to be displayed in large items, big gifts or showy productions, but love is something that is earned over time and displayed on a daily basis.

My daughters did enjoy this book. The full story of King Lear is definitely beyond them, but this is a great way to teach a good lesson and perhaps get them interested in classic stories.

Hosting a book club on Matilda

Maybe a year ago a good friend started a kid’s book club for our, at the time, first graders. Most of this had actually started because a few of them had gotten into Harry Potter and they had a lot of fun watching the movie together and then discussing the differences. So when deciding to start a book club for such young readers, and given the fact that they needed more than just a book to read and discuss, we went with books that also had movie counterparts. The group fizzled out due to a variety of reasons, but a few weeks ago I decided to give it new life.

Over the holidays I purchased some soundtracks for my Broadway loving 8 year old. One of the picks was Matilda: The Musical. I wasn’t initially enamored with the soundtrack, but it has definitely grown on me, especially since I listen to it EVERY DAY. That said, it can be hard for a kid to fully understand what is going on just by listening to songs. So when we were driving with another friend one day, I tried to explain some of the story to them. Then I said, “You know, we should read this for our book club and then we can watch the movie.” Needless to say, the girls loved the idea.

J had already read two Roald Dahl books in the past, one being The BFG with our book club, but she didn’t seem all that interested in reading others. Perhaps because they both had male leads and she has a thing about strong female protagonists. Regardless, her love of Roald Dahl has done a complete turnaround.

matildaThe story of Matilda is about a little girl who loves to read but is completely misunderstood by her parents who are completely self-absorbed and think the television should be the center of their universe. Mom plays bingo all day (leaving Matilda on her own) and Dad is a crooked used car salesman. Matilda sticks out like a sore thumb having learned to read by age 3 and her parents generally think of her as a nuisance or a scab. When she finally convinces her parents to sign her up for school she winds up at a horrible place run by Miss. Trunchbull, who happens to also hate children. Luckily, she does have a wonderful teacher and she discovers that she has some remarkable powers of her own to deal with grown-ups who are so awful to children.

J immediately took to reading Matilda. We started reading it together because that is fun, but she quickly left me in the dust and read it on her own. When she finished, I asked her what she thought and this was her response: “It was a really good book. It told all about this girl that had a family who didn’t love her and how she escaped them. It also tells how girls can be strong. Matilda has a family that thinks she is weird so they send her off to school with a mean principal who is evil. Matilda has special powers to make things move with her mind and she escapes.”

The magical powers was a theme that the kids really loved. When we got 4 girls together yesterday to talk about the book and watch the movie her superpowers and the chalk writing scene came up. J also later talked about how it was cool that she used her powers to get Ms. Honey’s doll out of Ms. Trunchbull’s house without going back on her promise of not actually going into the house.

Matilda is also a great story to encourage kids to think about writing themselves. One of our book club members talked about how she liked that there were unexpected twists and turns in the book, similar to the much loved Harry Potter. She added that among the books that she has been reading, a lot of them don’t have that aspect. That led us to a conversation about what makes good writing and thinking about books that we look forward to reading.

Hosting a children’s book club is an awesome way to get kids engaged in what they are reading and to help make it that much more fun. It is great to see how these young minds thing about the books that they read and it is always wonderful to broaden their horizons about the books that they are reading.

matilda quote

Lessons from Leo Lionni

Every once in awhile you find an author that just clicks with your child. For E, one of our current favorites is Leo Lionni. His books appeal to both of us with  wonderful artwork and lessons. Without being pedantic, his books talk about issues of community and creativity, encouraging children to make the most of their world while also making the world a better place.

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color of his ownA few weeks ago, we randomly pulled “A color of his own” off of our shelf. This sweet book is about a little chameleon who struggles with the fact that all of the other animals have a color of their own while he changes colors wherever he goes. He even tries to stay in one place so that he can stay one color, but picks a leave the changes colors with the season and then falls to the ground. When he meets another chameleon, he learns that true identity comes from who you are rather than what you look like. The world may change around you, but being true to yourself and embracing who you are makes you a happier person in the long run. What a beautiful sentiment.

alphabet treeSince I loved the message in his story and because E loved the artwork and the simplicity, we hunted down more books. The only other book that we own is the Alphabet Tree, which is above E’s level, but worth mentioning. This book teaches how letters come together to make words and how words come together to make sentences and how powerful our words and thoughts can be. The letters need to band together to form words so that they can stay on their tree when the wind blows, but they learn that a strong message will take them even further. The final message is one of peace. Truly beautiful and great to repeat to young children to place the crumb of the power of words in their heads.

We then hit the library and found some other gems…

fish is fish coverFish is Fish is a very cute story about a tadpole and a minnow who are inseparable. As the tadpole starts to change into a frog, the fish doesn’t understand because “how could you be a frog if only last night you were a little fish?” Then the frog goes away and experiences the world outside of the water. When he returns, he tells the fish all of the extraordinary things he has seen. The fish’s imagination runs wild and the illustrations that go with this are some of the best in the book. The fish can’t stop thinking of all the things above land and feels that he must go see them for himself, not thinking about the fact that he can’t breathe or move on land. Luckily the frog saves him when fish jumps out of the pond. Back in his home, fish realizes that he is surrounded by spectacular beauty of his own. Sometimes it is hard for children and adults to hear our friends’ experiences and not wish that we could do what they do, but Fish is Fish reminds us that finding happiness and making joy in our own worlds is the way to experience life.

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Frederick_coverFrederick is a fabulous take on the classic Ant and the Grasshopper fable. Frederick is a mouse who lets all of the other members of his family do the work during the fall to keep them alive during the cold winter months. When they ask him why he isn’t helping, he always has some artistic response – “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days,” or “I gather words for when we run out of things to say.” Winter comes and when the mouse family does start to run out of food and grows tired of their boring surroundings they turn to Frederick and ask about his supplies. He paints images with words to bring warmth, color and beautiful poetry to their lives. One of many books by Leo Lionni that highlights how important the arts are.

frederick colors

matthews dreamIn the same vein, Matthew’s Dream is a story that explores art and the artist’s role in shaping our visions and our dreams. Young Matthew’s parents want him to get a good job and provide for them. One day he visits the art museum with his class for the first time and Matthew is blown away by what he sees. That night, he dreams that he is walking in an abstract painting. When he wakes up, he realizes that he wants to be an artist himself. Given the fact that we keep taking the arts out of our children’s education, this is a wonderful reminder of just how important art is.

Matthew

 

If you are looking for some wonderful books that quietly teach lovely lessons to kids, definitely check out Leo Lionni.

Hooray for Dr. Seuss!

read across america

My daughter’s elementary school is in full swing Dr. Seuss celebration this week, so I thought it seemed appropriate to to throw in some Dr. Seuss love. I have been a long time fan of Dr. Seuss and even wrote a term paper on him in high school. My love for his stories has changed over the years, but there is no doubt in my mind that this man was a genius. Here are some of my personal favorites.

lorax quoteBy now we all know the story of the Lorax who speaks for the trees, but when I first heard this story in the early ’90s, I was absolutely captivated by it. I’ve never been a big environmentalist, but the story is so spot on about not only speaking up for the environment, but speaking up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves for whatever reasons. It also does highlight all of the atrocious things that we are doing to our environment. Dr. Seuss wrote in back in 1971. I only wonder what he would say if he saw the state of our environment now.

don't give upI have a soft spot for dear old Horton and Horton Hears a Who. Such a marvelous story about a kind-hearted elephant. When he hears voices from a speck of dust, pleading for help, to find a stable, quiet place for them to live, he promises to help them. What he doesn’t expect is that the other animals in the forest are going to make it difficult for him, especially the head kangaroo who doesn’t believe in the Whos and who convinces every other animal that Horton is crazy and that they need to get rid of the speck. I always saw this as a book about standing up for the little people, not allowing a bully to have his way and to stand up for what you believe. Horton has a number of marvelous lines that we know by heart – “I said what I meant and I meant what I said, an elephant’s faithful 100%.”

Yertle_the_Turtle_and_Other_Stories_coverAnother story that was always powerful to me was Yurtle the Turtle. According to Seuss, Yurtle was a representation of Hitler, of a man who let power go to his head and needed to be toppled. Yurtle wanted to be ruler of all he could see and made the other turtles in the pond pile up below him so that his range of vision could keep expanding. Of course, having a pile of turtles on your back is rather difficult and the turtle at the bottom asked for respite. Yurtle refused, but in the end he wound up toppling into the mud.

sneetchesSimilarly, Star Bellied Sneetches, is a very powerful book about anti-Semitism and racism in general. They story of the Sneetches is about yellow bird-like creatures, with some who have stars on their stomachs, and others without. The “in” crowd are those who have the stars, and they look down on those who do not have it. Then a man named McBean comes to town with a machine that will put stars on your belly. When the original “out” crowd has stars, the “in” crowd goes through the machine to have their stars removed. This way, they can differentiate themselves once again and gain their superiority. The birds keep going through the machine until they run out of money and no one can remember if they originally had a star or not. They finally come to realize that they are not so very different after all.

oh-the-places-youll-goDr. Seuss was a man of amazing imagination. His book, Oh the Thinks you can Think, is a fabulous example of encouraging children to be creative. To think outside of the box and even outside of normal vocabulary. These days we put so much pressure on our kids to know all of the right answers that sometimes it is a good reminder that it is vitally important for them to explore, be creative, make mistakes and just have fun.

wacky wednesdayWacky Wednesday is a book that doesn’t get a lot of play, but it was a favorite of mine as a child and now my younger daughter just loves it. Not all of his books had to have deep symbolic, some were just plain fun.

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Oh the Places You Go was one of Dr. Seuss’s last books written in 1990. It gained large popularity as a graduation gift throughout the 1990s which is exactly when I was graduating from high school and college. At the time, I simply couldn’t understand why people thought this was a good graduation gift. Fast forward a number of years and I reread the book and the giant lightbulb went off. Not only could I understand it as a graduation gift, but as a gift to anyone who had gone through some seriously hard times. Not only does the book touch on making those first important life decisions, but it is a story of success and failure, of facing challenging times and finding your way out.

 

diffendooferDr. Seuss’s final book, which actually was never finished and was completed by Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith, is a powerful book that resonates a ton with parents these days with all of the tests that our kids face – Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! At Diffendoofer School, the teachers don’t necessarily follow all the rules and teach the kids a variety of things, but mainly, they teach them how to think for themselves, how to laugh, how to create. The principal is concerned about whether they are learning certain things and then one day it gets put to a test – “All schools for miles and miles around must take a special test, to see who’s learning such and such – to see which school’s the best.” If the students don’t perform well, they will close Diffendoofer down and everyone will have to go to dreary Flobbertown. Of course, the kids at Diffendoofer out-perform the other schools and everyone is happy in the end. I have a hard time with all of the tests that kids are subjected to these days and wonder if a little creativity isn’t the answer.

I could go on and on, and I’m not even mentioning the Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Seuss just encouraged children to read and explore and have fun with it all. As I said before, a genius.

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a lucky find – the lion, the witch and the wardrobe

I went into one of our local used book stores the other day and made a great find – an illustrated abridged version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I’ve wanted to bring J in to the world of Narnia for some time, but we started with The Magician’s Nephew and I believe she got bored. The story jumped around a lot. I think that The Lion is a more cohesive story and J immediately got sucked in to it. She thought I had brought home yet another library book and when she realized that she got to keep this one she was incredibly excited. I also purchased a used copy of the full The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe knowing that at some point in the not to distant future she would want to read that as well.

What makes this book special is that it is not a dumbed-down version of the story and it is filled with absolutely beautiful illustrations. There are other illustrated versions out there, we just got lucky to find this one at a used shop. The original is still the best, but sometimes these editions help draw our kids in.

Here are some other illustrated versions I was able to find online.

lion blue

aimed at ages 4-8

http://www.amazon.com/Lion-Witch-Wardrobe-Graphic-Novel/dp/0064433994/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389923988&sr=1-1&keywords=lion+witch+and+the+wardrobe+abridged

graphic novel – age 8+

 

Cinderella – The tale told around the world

You didn’t think I could stop with Little Red Riding Hood, did you? When I was finding those books in the library, various Cinderella tales attracted my attention as well. In fact, I almost find Cinderella more amazing because it truly is a multicultural phenomenon. Every country seems to have its own take on the story and it is an amazing way to see how similar we all are throughout our differences.

cinderella collage

Walt Disney’s Cinderella
disneyI know it seems crazy to start with this, but those of us with children know this story the best. My 3 year old listened to some of the other Cinderella stories below and would make comments about how she liked the Cinderella with the yellow hair better. In this version, Cinderella is friends with the animals, the mice talk, and the fairy godmother makes everything possible for our heroine. It is a prettified version of the Brothers Grimm version, but loved by children around the world.

Cinderella
mcclintockBarbara McClintock’s version of Cinderella is based on the French telling of the story, complete with stately French dresses. The illustrations in this version are what make it stunning and it most closely mirrors the story that most of us think of when we envision Cinderella. In this tale, as in the original, Cinderella is a very kind soul even when confronted with the cruelty of her step-sisters. She offers them oranges at the ball and yearns for their friendship. In the end, she forgives them their cruelty and finds husbands for both of her sisters.

Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella
This is an incredibly fun take on the Cinderella story. The Bigfoot prince is a nature lover looking for a bride. All of the female bigfoots want to win his love, but it is Rrrrella, with her big feet, ability to knock him off a log, and hatred of wearing flowers that wins his love. A completely unexpected twist on the old classic.

Adelita – A Mexian Cinderella Story
adelita spreadTomie dePaola’s imaginative retelling is absolutely beautiful. No princesses, no fairies, no magic other than love. In this tale, Adelita’s mother dies early on, but her nanny Esperenza helps raise her. Her father remarries a cold woman who of course gets worse after Adelita’s father dies. Adelita spends her time in the kitchen to be near Esperenza and bask in her love, until Doña Micaela sends Esperenza away. When the family is invited to a party and Adelita is left home, Esperenza swoops in like the fairy godmother. When Adelita goes to the party, she asks to be called Cinderella. The young man of course falls in love with her and the book ends with a happy ending. The magic to me was how real the story felt. The splashes of Spanish and the sheer simplicity in the story are charming. My 6 year old also loved it, even though my 3 year old still prefers the Disney version.

The Orphan – A Cinderella story from Greece
orphan insideThis is not the Greek version, per se. The author’s note says that it is inspired by 2 Greek versions. In this tale, they are paying homage to the original notion of Cinderella going to a second ball and losing her glass slipper there, however, instead of a ball, everyone tries to gain the prince’s favor at a church service. The authors also note that they had their Cinderella “step out of the traditional role in which she waits patiently for her prince.” Rather than wait in the cinders, she heeds the words of her dead mother and gets herself to the church to meet the prince. An interesting take on the classic tale and a nice look at Greek culture.

Gospel Cinderella
Joyce Carol Thomas creates a completely different take on the classic tale in this version. Here, Cinderella is separated from her mother, Queen Mother Rhythm, after a hurricane and is taken in by the mean Crooked Foster Mother who wants a kitchen hand. Years later, the Great Gospel Choir is looking for a new lead singer. Cinderella has her mother’s voice, but of course is not allowed to audition. She is drawn to the gospel convention anyway and wows everyone, then disappears. In the end, she is found and reunited with her mother. A beautiful story that portrays the importance of gospel and music in the African American community.

Ella’s Big Chance
ella spreadShirley Hughes transforms the Cinderella story with the glamour of the jazz age. Ella Cinders is a top-notch dress maker in her father’s shop. Her father remarries a woman who changes everything at the shop making Ella’s life much harder. The only source of happiness in her life is her friendship with Buttons, the loyal delivery boy at the shop, who would sing songs and dance with Ella to remind them of happier times. Ella manages to go to a special party where she meets the Duke and he falls in love with her. The awesome twist is that Ella realizes that she doesn’t love the fancy Duke, but rather, her heart belongs to Buttons, her long-time friend and confidant. There is something completely charming about the fact that Ella doesn’t feel the need to run away with the prince/duke. Life isn’t about riches but instead about finding true happiness.

Yeh-Shen – A Cinderella story from China
This Chinese version of Cinderella pre-dates the European version we are so familiar with by about 1000 years. In this story, Yeh-Shen’s father had two wives who each bore a daughter, but Yeh-Shen’s mother dies when she is very young. The only friend that Yeh-Shen has is a fish that she caught and raised. Her step-mother kills the fish and cooks it for dinner. A spirit tells Yeh-Shen that there is power in the bones of the fish and it helps to keep her alive. When the spring festival comes, where Chinese go in hopes to find a husband or wife, Yeh-Shen is not allowed to go, but she asks the bones to help her borrow clothes fit to wear to the feast. She is given a beautiful dress and woven shoes and told not to lose the shoes. As she is leaving the party, since her sister found her familiar looking, she accidentally loses a slipper. The King gets hold of her second shoe and looks for its owner. Yeh-Shen gets the shoe back late at night when no one can see her and the King is entranced by her beauty. When she put both shoes on, she was once again transformed into the outfit she wore to the party. The King falls in love and they are married. It is very interesting to read a story so similar to our traditional Cinderella story.

Kongi and Potgi – A Cinderella story from Korea
kongi insideOki Han tells the story of Cinderella as her father told her as a child in Seoul, Korea. In this story, Kongi and Potgi are step-sisters. Kongi is treated poorly and made to do harder work while Potgi gets the soft bed and simpler tasks. Even though Kongi has to do more work, she never has a bad word to say about her step-mother or sister and when it seems a task is insurmountable, the animals always seem to lend her a hand. When a party was to be held for the prince to find a bride, Kongi’s step-mother tried to give her a task that could never be done in time. Thanks to birds who came to help and angels who gave her beautiful clothes, Kongi was able to go. The story ends with Kongi becoming Queen and even her step-mother and step-sister changing their ways and helping others. Both J and I really enjoyed this story. She liked the notion of it being similar to the original story but Kongi only having one sister. I like the fact that it is Kongi’s kindness that brings out the kindness in the animals. This is also one of the rare stories that doesn’t have both of Cinderella’s parents die. The illustrations and depictions of the Korean way of life are also wonderful.

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal – A Worldwide Cinderella
world singleThis book is amazing and the inside front cover puts it perfectly – “Once upon a time in Mexico…in Iran…in Ireland…in Zimbabwe…There lived a girl who worked all day in the rice fields…cooked in the royal kitchen…tended the cattle…then spent the night by the hearth, sleeping among the cinders. Her story has spanned centuries and continents, changing to match its surrounds.” This book manages to tell the Cinderella story from a variety of perspectives, each page showing what country the story is from, some pages going back and forth between different countries to show how the same story changes slightly from place to place – “And on the girl’s feet appeared a pair of glass slippers (France)…diamond anklets (India)…sandals of gold (Iraq).” This is a must read for all lovers of the Cinderella story.

worldwide spread

Fascinated with Frozen

Both of my girls are obsessed with Frozen. We saw the movie over Thanksgiving weekend and it has been three weeks of non-stop Frozen in this house since then. I know this doesn’t seem like something to discuss on a blog about books, but go with me on this.

The story, if you somehow missed it, is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen.  The official synopsis says “When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction.”

By now, everyone is talking about the movie, so I shouldn’t be giving anything away when I say that it is a change for Disney to have made a movie that focuses on the power of the love of two sisters. So as a mom of two girls, I love to see my girls so infatuated with this movie and sharing the experience with each other. We have the full CD and it gets played over and over and over again – actually, they each have a copy burned and it is what is listened to every night at bedtime.  This past weekend found the two of them “rehearsing” the story and then acting it out with costumes and everything. In the same way that the sisters Anna and Elsa are kept apart from each other at the beginning of the movie, Frozen has in some ways brought my girls even closer together.

It doesn’t surprise me that my book obsessed girls are also obsessed with the books that go along with Frozen. E got a copy of the story with CD for Hanukkah and it is a great option, especially for little ones who enjoy listening to their stories on CD, which is her current favorite thing. We have also purchased the large Golden Book, which is miles better than the small Golden book and completely worth the $9. It tells the whole story rather than a very condensed version.

While those are the only books we currently own, we have  spent enough time in the local bookstores reading all of the other books that I feel pretty comfortable highlighting a few of those as well. There is a book that is  “2 books in 1” – each book goes until the center staple and it comes with stickers. The stories are incredibly shortened and told from the point of view of each girl, but it completely captivates E and I am asked to read it whenever she can get her hands on it.

There are a ton of step into reading books and a junior novelization to encourage readers to pick up a book on a familiar topic. We don’t need to buy any of those since J isn’t a reluctant reader, but they are a great thing to have and marvelous for emerging readers. We might find ourselves purchasing the Essential Guide put out by DK as we have enjoyed other versions of those in the past.

Finally, what is interesting about a story like this is that it can also encourage kids to read the original Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale which inspired not only Frozen, but The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the more recent story Breadcrumbs, and countless others. We have a book of Hans Christian Anderson stories as they were originally written, but this particular story is the longest that he wrote and very hard to follow in the original version. We came home from the movie and immediately looked at it, but there was no way for my 6 year old to grasp it.

That doesn’t mean that reading the original is out of the question.  In looking around, there seems to be a beautiful version by Barefoot Books that comes with a CD or as a paperback confident reader.

It is wonderful when a modern take on a story can help encourage a child to go back to the original and the fairy tales that have served as inspiration for so many years are always worth revisiting.