Friday, June 15, 2012

5 Great Picture Books Reread

I haven't reviewed any picture books before this, so I'm just trying it out. Since each of them are so short, I'm going to combine them in 1 post. These are some of my favorite picture books; the ones that I like to take out and reread once in a while.

1. Fortune, Diane Stanley
Long ago, in the poorest corner of Persia, there lived a farmer and his son, whose name was Omar. When Omar came of age, all his father could give him were his blessing and a small purseful of money. With that he would have to make his way in the world, but poor Omar had no idea what to do or where to go.

Yes, Omar has no idea what to do, so he goes to his clever friend and betrothed Sunny. She advises him to go to the marketplace, and there he spends all his money on a tiger Fortune. Fortune dances in a little hat, and soon Omar has quite a lot of money. He lets it all go to his head and now thinks that he deserves to marry a princess. So he leaves Sunny and goes in search of a "better" bride. Fortune leads him to a city, home to a weeping princess. She is weeping because her future husband disappeared, some say enchanted by a vengeful witch. Of course, Omar wants to marry her. But he learns something surprising about the power of love, and who he's really meant for. I liked the feel of this book; anything set in Persia (just that name) feels so exotic. The illustrations were quite nice too. The people weren't that realistic, but it did look like it could be something out of an old fable. I would say that this book is for ages 5-7. Maybe 8. Or something like that. 32 pages.

2. Rumpelstiltskin, retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Once there was a poor miller who had a beautiful daughter. On his way to town one day, the miller encountered the king. Wanting to impress him, the miller said, "I have a daughter who knows the art of spinning straw into gold." Now, the king had a passion for gold, and such an art intrigued him. So he ordered the miller to send his daughter to the castle straightaway.

This is a nice retelling of the Grimm's Brothers fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. It's basically the same story as the old fable, no major twists or anything. But its illustrations are very pretty; I would say slightly more realistic than Fortune. It's a nice version of the story for younger kids; a good book for reading aloud, I think. 32 pages.

3. The Matzo Ball Boy, Lisa Shulman

Once upon a time there was an old grandmother, a bubbe, who lived all alone. She lived in a tiny cottage at the edge of a small village in a far-off country whose name sounded like a sneeze. Her children were grown with children of their own, but could they be bothered to visit their mother? Not that she was complaining, but she couldn't help feeling lonely. Soon Passover would be here, and there was no one  to come to her seder, the holiday dinner. No one to help retell the Passover story. No one to eat her sweet apple-and-walnut haroset and sip her delicious matzo ball soup.

So the bubbe decides to make a little matzo ball man, so at least she has a friendly face in her face. But her plans go awry when the matzo ball man runs out the door and away. Soon, not only the bubbe is chasing him, but also the schneider (the tailor), the yenta (village gossip) and her ten children, the rabbi, and a hungry fox. He manages to swim across a lake and escape them all (all the while singing his obnoxious song), but then the story takes a twist. Obviously, this is a Jewish version of the story of the gingerbread man. It was quite entertaining and funny, and the twist at the end made it unique from the original story. Quite entertaining. I think I received it as a Passover gift, actually. 29 pages.

4. The Tale of the Firebird, Gennady Spirin

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, lived the great ruler Tsar Vasilyi. He had three sons, and the youngest was named Ivan-Tsarevitch. The Tsar's greatest pride was his garden, filled with exotic trees, and in the center of this garden was the prize of his kingdom: a tree with golden apples. 

This story is an adaptation of three Russian fairy tales: "Ivan-Tsarevitch and the Gray Wolf", "Baba Yaga", and "Koshchei the Immortal." When the tsar's precious apples start getting stolen and it is discovered that a Firebird is stealing them, he sends his three sons off to catch the Firebird. Whoever succeeds will get half the kingdom. The tale focuses on the youngest son (of course the youngest is going to succeed),  who meets a very helpful wolf and goes through all sorts of trials and tribulations, such as meeting the witch Baba Yaga. The story is interesting, but the illustrations are just fantastic. So beautiful. I actually got this only a few years ago; the illustrations were irresistible. Really fantastic. Even the cover is gorgeous. 31 pages.

5. The Well at the End of the World, Robert D. San Souci

The King of Colchester was a kind and just man, but not a very good ruler. Oh, he did fine dubbing knights or deciding what to have for dinner. But it was his daughter, Princess Rosamond who really ran the kingdom. She advised her father on matters of state, kept the royal accounts, and fixed the drawbridge when it wouldn't rise or lower.

So everything is going along just fine in Colchester, when the king marries the beautiful Lady Zantippa, who has a pretty daughter Zenobia. However, as you might have guessed, they just want his money, and they start making for Rosamond, so she moves away to live with an aunt. Quickly, all the money is spent and the king falls ill, and goes into a deep slumber. Rosamond comes back but cannot rouse him. She learns that she might be able to cure him by giving him water from the well at the end of the world. So she sets off. This is one of the stories where being kind and helpful and practical pays off. This one is also based on a fable, and also has pretty illustrations, just the right style for this kind of story. The Well at the End of the World is an engaging story. And Rosamond is a really great and likable character. 38 pages.

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