The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead (9780553523225)
An unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain has been completed by the remarkable Steads. Found in the Mark Twain archives in Berkeley, the story was written by Twain for his daughters one night. Only rough notes told the tale to Stead who then worked to complete the entire story, creating both the story itself and a side narrative of Stead hearing the story directly from Twain. The main story is about Johnny, a boy who finds himself poor and alone in a land ruled by a tyrannical king. Johnny receives seeds from a woman, seeds that allow him to speak to animals, something that transforms his life. Accompanied for some of the story by his faithful chicken friend, Johnny discovers the meaning of courage and friendship as he attempts to rescue the prince.
This book tumbles the reader directly into a story that is remarkably familiar and yet distinctly unique too. Stead’s writing is exceptional, building a full story that is robust and captivating using only a scaffolding created by Twain. There is a lovely seamlessness to the writing, incorporating Twain’s and Stead’s writing into one grand book. The nods to folktales are lovely and so are the departures as well.
Erin Stead’s illustrations are fine and detailed. She invites readers into the world that is being built, allows them to meet the animals, shows them the pain and hope tangibly on the page. The illustrations move from portraits to landscapes, from small to large, close to far.
An incredible achievement in children’s books, this one is worthy of awards and I hope receives some! Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Busy-Busy Little Chick by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Mama Nsoso and her chicks needed a new home. They spent each night shivering and cold in their dark, damp nest. So Mama Nsoso said that tomorrow they would start work on their new home. But the first day, Mama Nsoso found worms to eat and decided to eat rather than build a house. The family shivered through another night. The next day there were crickets to eat and no work was done. Except by Little Chick who set out to gather grasses and mud to create their new home. His hard work resulted in a fine new home for them, and then he was off finding himself some delicious bugs to eat.
Harrington writes like a storyteller. Her words flow beautifully when shared aloud. She has reworked a classic fable from the Nkundo people of Central Africa and throughout has woven in Lunkundo words from their language. She has also added lots of sounds to the book, so there are wonderful patterns that emerge as the hen and her chicks move through their day. She clearly enjoys wordplay and creating rhymes and rhythms, all of which make for a great book to share aloud.
Pinkney’s art is large and bold, filled with warm yellows and oranges. He has created images of the hen and her little family isolated and floating in cold blues. They are brilliant orange, evoking the warmth of family and shelter. His art is simple but filled with moving lines and playfulness with white space.
A great pick for spring story times, don’t be chicken to share this one. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Market Bowl by Jim Averbeck
Mama Cecile taught Yoyo to make bitterleaf stew, the same stew they sold at the market. But Yoyo thought that the entire process took too long, so she took some shortcuts herself. Then she snuck her batch of stew along with them to the market. Mama Cecile warned Yoyo that they must always accept a fair price for their stew, otherwise Brother Coin, the Great Spirit of the Market, would remove his blessing from their bowl. After selling all of Mama Cecile’s stew, there was still one customer left, so Yoyo pulled out her own stew and tried to sell that. But she rejected his small offer for her stew. Thunder rolled and through the next days, no one came to their staff at the market. Now it was up to Yoyo to fix what she had done. That would take traveling to see Brother Coin in person.
Set in modern-day Cameroon, this story skillfully blends folk elements as it talks about the culture as well. The book will make a great read aloud thanks to the ease of the language used and the natural rhythm of the storytelling. It would also be a great candidate for storytelling for those reasons too.
Averbeck’s art has a strong modern edge to it. He shows the gorgeous textiles that people wear. Additionally, he uses textures and patterns to create other objects as well, such as the shanty houses and details of interior scenes.
A modern-day folk tale, this is a rich glimpse into Cameroon. The book ends with a recipe for bitterleaf stew too! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Gerda Muller
I’m always on the look out for accessible versions of traditional tales. Muller’s version of the three bears adds a delightful mix of tradition and the modern day. The structure of the story remains the same, but Goldilocks is a girl who lives in a caravan and her family travels with the circus. She’s a not a child who understands about knocking on doors! And so she walks into the woods and discovers the home of the three bears. From there, the traditional story picks up. Yet this Goldilocks is innocent of any real wrong-doing and certainly doesn’t understand that she shouldn’t be there. This innocence and naiveté works well in the book, taking her character from a naughty urchin to a young explorer.
Muller’s illustrations are done in an understated color palette with dashes of vivacious reds. The bears’ home is wonderfully traditional with a Dutch door, carved wooden chairs, and matching comforters on the beds in different colors but all with a bee motif. No one will wonder why Goldilocks enters and stays. It is all so very inviting and cozy.
This is a cheery and slightly modernized version of the traditional story that will be welcome in library collections or as a great bedtime pick. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Floris Books.