Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sam and the Tigers

When I checked for titles by Julius Lester and found Sam and the Tigers I had a brief recollection of a story that was read to me as a child. I remembered the story of tigers chasing one another around a tree and a boy with brightly colored clothes having pancakes at the end of the story. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sam and the Tigers was a re-telling of Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo. As a child, and even as an adult (up until about ten years ago), I didn't realize the original was criticized for racial stereotyping. I remembered the book about the boy that lived in a faraway place who got to see tigers every day just like I saw cows and other animals on a farm every day. It seemed magical to me at the time. Just like the original, Sam encounters tigers and trades his beautiful new clothes for his safety. Children will enjoy this picture book, and as an adult I found the re-telling a fun read with beautiful illustrations. I also found the author's notes at the end of the story the best part of the book. I enjoyed the history of both books that included information about the re-telling of the story and re-inventing the illustrations. More stories by Julius Lester include: To Be a Slave, The Long Journey Home: Stories From Black History, This Strange New Feeling, The Tales of Uncle Remus, Say of Tears, A Novel in Dialogue, and John Henry (also illustrated by Jerry Pinkney). Pinkney also illustrated Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman, The Sunday Outing, Back Home, and The Talking Eggs.


Feathers, written by Jacqueline Woodson, tells the story of Frannie and her life in the early 1970's. This book touches so many themes that it would be a wonderful addition to every school library media center collection. Frannie's story has a multitude of characters from Trevor, the class bully, and Samantha her church-going friend, to Jesus Boy, the new white kid in an all black school, and her deaf brother Sean. Also, Frannie's mother is pregnant and the rest of her family worries about this pregnancy as they remember previous miscarriages. All the characters in the book share a common thread in that they have the thing with feathers - hope, and the desire to move forward. The book also addresses the end of segregation, but the characters note the continued separation and refer to the "white side of the highway." I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of growing up in the 60s and 70s with bell-bottoms, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and The Jackson 5. I would have been ten at the time and Frannie's life in the city was quite different compared to my life in the country. I also liked the fact that Woodson included a teacher, Ms. Johnson, that influenced Frannie and brought out the writer in this young character.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, is a lovely story and a visual treat. The illustrations really are stunning. Initially when I chose the book I thought it might be a Newbery winner because of its length. I had no idea that a Caldecott medal winner could be a chapter book, let alone a 500+ pages chapter book. Two hundred eighty-four of the pages of Hugo's story are illustrations. The black border reminds me of a graphic novel but the black and white illustrations remind me of a silent film. The reader sees the story transform from illustration to illustration as each "pane" moves the story along. I felt as if I were following someone with a camera that was chasing after, or peeking in on, the characters of the story. When the story begins we find Hugo, a 12 year old, taking care of himself and all the clocks in the train station. His parents are dead and his uncle, who is supposed to be taking care of the clocks and Hugo, left months ago and has not returned. He is staying within the walls of the train station. He has no food, no friends, and no family. He finds himself in trouble with a man that runs the toy booth next door. Hugo has been stealing from him. He meets the man's goddaughter, Isabelle, and eventually befriends her. Hugo is interested in magic, movies, and the interworkings of clocks and all types of machines. He is working on a "mechanical" man that his father left for him and he is trying to solve several mysteries. As the mysteries unfold we find out that the magic, movies, and machines play an integral part in the telling of the story. The bits and pieces of information we learn about early filmmaking and the director Georges Melies and his role in the start of the film industry is very interesting. Films, just like books, take you to places and times you've never been and may never be able to go. Melies understood that and appreciated the wonder of being taken to another time and place. Selznick takes the reader of this story on a visit to 1931 Paris. The illustrations more than move the story along, they give the reader a glimpse into life in Paris at that time. Years and years ago I visit France with other students from my high school French Club. I fell in love with the magic of it all and remember it fondly. Reading about Hugo's adventure with Isabelle and the mystery surrounding Isabelle's godfather reminded me of my own fun adventure years ago!