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Book Reviews

United Kingdom and Canada

 

Robert Munsch    Martin Waddell    Eva Ibbotson    Lauren Child

 

 


  Canadian Book

Bibliographic Citation:
Munsch, Robert.  2002.  The paper bag princess.  Illustrated by Michael Martchenko.  New York:  Annick Press Limited.  ISBN 0920236820.

Summary: 
When a dragon destroys Princess Elizabeth's castle and kidnaps her prince, she must try and outwit him to save Ronald.  Unfortunately, the dragon had burned up all her clothes and she is forced to wear the only that has escaped the fire, a paper bag.  After tricking the dragon into falling asleep, Elizabeth opens the door to rescue Ronald only to discover he is no real "prince" after all.
 

Analysis:

    In The Paper Bag Princess, Robert Munsch tells a different kind of princess story.  It starts off like a typical fairy tale with the beautiful Princess Elizabeth and her prince, Ronald.  "Unfortunately, a dragon smashed her castle, burned all her clothes with his fiery breath, and carried off Prince Ronald." (Munsch 3)  Munsch's abrupt writing style does not waste time getting to the bad parts.  However, his princess does not despair.  Instead of waiting for someone to rescue her prince, Elizabeth decides to do it herself wearing the only thing that escaped the fire, a paper bag.  Munsch utilizes gruesome details.  Elizabeth follows the dragon easily because "he left a trail of burnt forests and horses' bones" (Munsch 5).  Young readers may also be frightened when the dragon announces, "I love to eat princesses!" (Munsch 9)  Despite the dragon's fierce appearance and refusal to speak with Elizabeth, she continues to bang on his door to make him listen.

    Elizabeth's bravery and persistence pay off.  Once she has the dragon's door open, she utilizes flattery to outsmart him.  She asks, "Is it true that you can burn up ten forests with your fiery breath?" (Munsch 11)  The dragon burnt up fifty forests, and then one hundred more until he was out of breath.  When Elizabeth asks him to fly around the world in ten seconds, he did it twice until he was too tired to walk (Munsch 15).  By playing on the dragon's ego, the princess is able to rescue Ronald from the cave.  However, the prince shows he appreciation by saying, "Elizabeth, you are a mess!  You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag.  Come back when you are dressed like a real princess." (Munsch 21)  Of course, Munsch's brave and feisty princess does not stand for Ronald's ungratefulness.  She tells him, "You look like a real prince, but you are a bum." (Munsch 23)  Using her wits and intelligence, Elizabeth proves that a beautiful princess can outsmart a dragon and a bum prince, even if she is dressed in a paper bag.         

    Elizabeth's last retort to Ronald is a nod to Canadian slang.  When Scholastic International went to publish the book in England, they said "We can't use bum.  People in England don't call each other bums.  They just don't do it.  Princess Elizabeth should call Ronald a toad." (Munsch 2006)  The author, however, says that "For Canada, I like bum much better.  People don't call each other toads in Canada.  I never have.  Have you ever called somebody a toad?  People just don't do it." (Munsch 2006)        

    The illustrations in The Paper Bag Princess are done in simple ink and color drawings.  Michael Martchenko adds a lot of detail to the pictures using humor and facial expressions.  When the readers are first introduced to Elizabeth, she is gazing lovingly at Prince Ronald.  However, Ronald is looking away from her as if he could care less (Munsch 2).  This is the reader's first hint that Ronald is not quite the prince Elizabeth had hoped for.  The next illustration depicts the dragon carrying Ronald away with his bottom up in the air.   Elizabeth, on the other hand, looks horrified as she stands naked with only clouds of smoke covering her (Munsch 4).  Throughout the story, Martchenko manipulates Elizabeth's facial expressions from amused when she outsmarts the dragon to furious when Ronald criticizes her.  When Elizabeth knocks on the dragon's door, he answers it wearing a bib because he just finished eating a whole castle (Munsch 8).  Martchenko pays attention to these small details that add to the humor of the story.          

    Though I love the idea of a princess rescuing a prince, this story was a bit too gruesome and frightening for me.  I would be hesitant to tell it to very young readers.  Nearly every illustration has bones littered on the ground, left over from the people or animals the dragon has eaten.  When Elizabeth asks the dragon if he can burn up ten forests, the picture depicts a terrifying dragon and a huge tower of flames.  However, once I got past the bones and fires, I enjoyed Elizabeth's strong character and conviction.  She uses her intelligence as her strength, not her beauty.  She relies on herself and no one else.  Also, when the prince meets her rescue with criticism, she does not put up with it.  Munsch has created a strong role model in his princess.  He tells a fairy tale that is unforgettable and changes the way one views "happily ever after." 

Story Extension:
Read this story aloud as an apron story or flannel board.  The older preschoolers loved this one when we did it in our library!

Reference List:
Munsch, Robert.  2006.  The paper bag princess. 
http://www.robertmunsch.com/books.cfm?bookid=27 (Accessed January 29, 2006).

 


  United Kingdom Picture Book

Bibliographic Citation:
Waddell, Martin.  2003.  Snow bears.  Illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies.  Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.  ISBN 076361906X.

Summary: 
Three baby bears cover themselves in snow to pretend to be "snow bears."  Their mother plays along and continues to ask them if they have seen her baby bears.  When the snow bears get too cold to play outside anymore, Mommy Bear brings them inside to warm by the fire.  She returns to find that the snow has melted revealing her baby bears.

Analysis:

    When Mommy Bear comes out to play with her baby bears, she finds them covered in snow.  She tells them they look like snow bears.  Her baby bears respond by saying, "That's what we are.  We are snow bears!" (Waddell 1)  This marks the beginning of their snow game.  When Mommy Bear asks where her baby bears are, they each respond in turn.  The biggest bear says, "I don't know where we are."  The middle bear says, "I haven't seen us."  Finally, the smallest bear says, "We aren't here, Mommy Bear." (Waddell 3)  Mommy Bear has to settle for playing with the snow bears instead of her own bears.

    Each of the bears takes his or her turn selecting a game for them all to play.  The biggest bear chooses to go sledding.  After sliding down a hill, Mommy Bear asks the snow bears again if they have seen her baby bears.  They again respond with the same answers as before (Waddell 6-7).  The middle-sized bear decides on a snowball fight for his game.  When the game ends, Mommy Bear again wonders where her baby bears could be (Waddell 12).  The three snow bears each respond in turn with the exact same lines.  This repetition throughout the book will appeal to younger readers by allowing them to anticipate what will come next in the story.  When it is the smallest bear's turn to pick, she decides she is too cold to play anymore games (Waddell 13).  They all go home and sit by the fire.  As the snow melts, Mommy Bear's missing bears reappear from underneath the snow.

    As one reviewer for School Library Journal observed, "The story is slight and not particularly original, but youngsters are likely to enjoy the repeated refrain about not having seen Mommy's bears, and the very predictability of the text is reassuring." (Lilien-Harper 2003)  Also, the soft watercolor and pencil drawings add to the charm and appeal of this story.  Sarah Fox-Davies uses soft colors against a white blanket of snow.  Though she utilizes a limited color palette, it reflects the wintry setting of the story.  The tone of the pictures changes as the bears leave the snow behind for their warm, glowing house.  The orange and yellow fire casts light on the bears, leaving the rest of the scene in shadows (Waddell 18). 

    The illustrations are full of texture and realism.  The snow drips off the bears into pools of water on the wood floor (Waddell 18).  Also, the bears' fur is drawn to appear soft and textured.  Because the bears are so realistically developed, one reviewer found it odd that the bears lived in a house.  Amy Lilien-Harper said, "The color illustrations are pleasant, with large, realistically drawn bears, making the fact that they live in a house rather than in a cave seem somewhat incongruous." (Lilien-Harper 2003)  

    Waddell tells a familiar tale with his own snowy twist.  Though the story is a simple one, I feel that the repeated refrain of the three bears will greatly appeal to the youngest readers, while the engaging illustrations will help capture young eyes.  The use of the name "Mommy Bear" for the main character makes me wonder if they might have changed it for the American version of this British tale.  The generic winter setting and cultural neutral bears do not tie this book to the culture in which it was written and developed.  In comparison to his other picture books, Snow Bears is not Waddell's best work but it is a charming and appealing read for preschoolers.   

Story Extension:
You can have the children make their own snow bear by coloring a brown bear, and then gluing white cotton onto its back.

Reference List:
Lilien-Harper, Amy.  2003.  School library journal review: Snow bears.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed January 27, 2006).

 


  United Kingdom Novel

Bibliographic Citation:
Ibbotson, Eva.  1998.  The secret of platform 13.  Illustrated by Sue Porter.  New York: Dutton Children's Books.  ISBN 0525459294.

Summary: 
Every nine years the old doorway under an abandoned railway platform in King's Cross opens for nine days.  The door is an entrance to the Island, a magical kingdom where humans live alongside enchanted creatures.  Unknowingly, a woman desperate for a child kidnaps the prince of the Island just before the door closes for nine more years.  The whole Island anxiously awaits the opening and selects four rescuers to bring back the prince.  However, the rescuers soon realize the prince is not someone they want to be their future king.  Can they still convince him to come back to the Island and do they even want to?

Analysis:  

    In Eva Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13, the gate between London and the Island opens for nine days every nine years.  In the last few moments before it closes in 1983, the baby prince of the Island is kidnapped by Mrs. Trottle.  For nine years, the queen mourns the loss of her son and awaits the opening of the gate beneath King's Cross Station.  Four rescuers are selected to bring back the prince, including an ancient wizard, an agricultural-loving fey, a one-eyed giant, and a young hag.  As the rescuers make their way to London, they soon discover that Raymond Trottle is no prince.  He is spoiled, greedy, stupid, and selfish.  However, with the help of Ben, the group tries to convince Raymond to return to the island with them.  All their attempts are met with failure.

    Ibbotson creates an overload of fantastical creatures, using everything from mistmakers to mermaids to harpies to ogres to banshees to a nuckelavee.  These mythical creatures invade a park in London on Midsummer's Eve to convince Raymond to return to the Island.  These magical beings are meant to lure him into coming back.  It soon becomes apparent that nothing will convince him, and the rescuers are not even sure they want him to.     

    As the story progresses, Ibbotson gives repeated clues about the true identities of Raymond and Ben.  When the rescuers first tell Ben about the Island, he exclaims "I always knew there had to be a place like that.  I knew it!" (Ibbotson 84)  He does not need any convincing to believe them.  However, when the seekers try to explain to Raymond about the Island, he says "I don't believe it.  You're telling fibs." (Ibbotson 87)  Ibbotson's foreshadowing can often reveal too much and spoil the plot for some readers.  "It will take readers less time than the quartet of seekers to realize a mix-up in the prince's identity." (Publishers Weekly 1999)  At the very last moment, Odge realizes the Ben is true prince and returns with him to the Island.  "While predictability hampers the story's suspense, Ibbotson's dry wit, well-drawn characters and the unraveling-to-tying-up of loose threads provide plenty of amusement.  This is light weight entertainment for fantasy buffs." (Publishers Weekly 1999)

    The story develops a strong British setting within the city of London.  The gump is located underneath Platform 13 in King's Cross Station by the gentlemen's cloakroom (Ibbotson 4).  As the rescuers reach Trottle Towers, Gurkie remarks "Goodness, isn't it grand!" (Ibbotson 51)  Her expression marks one of the many British phrases sprinkled throughout the story.  Raymond refers to his mother as "Mummy" (Ibbotson 63).  His school is run by a headmaster, instead of a principal (Ibbotson 64).  Dress clothes are referred to as "fancy dress" (Ibbotson 86).  When Raymond demands that his mother take him shopping, the pair goes to Fortlands and Marlow.  In the book, this is London's grandest department store.  Unlike American department stores, this one contains an expensive restaurant.  At the restaurant, the menu boasts distinctly British foods from shrimp in mayonnaise, roast pork with crackling and Yorkshire pudding, chips, and a Knickerbocker Glory for dessert (Ibbotson 67-73).

    Throughout the novel, Sue Porter has drawn black ink pictures.  These illustrations are rough sketches with little detail.  They are often hard to make out.  While the drawings help give readers an outline of the characters, the book would be just as effective without the illustrations.  Ibbotson's vivid descriptions and endearing characters make the story powerful and engaging on its own.

    I enjoyed Ibbotson's book because of how effectively she brings together the mythical world of the Island and the realistic setting of London.  She incorporates a wide variety of British vernacular and culture, giving the book a distinct personality.  While I loved her wonderful descriptions, I felt she often dwells on them too much and neglects the action of the story.  This makes the book get off to a slow start.  Also, Ibbotson hints heavily about the true identity of the prince.  Readers will be able to figure out it out for themselves long before the book is over.  While this strategy encourages readers to solve the mystery, it cuts down on the novel's suspense and makes the ending have less of an impact.  Overall though, Ibbotson creates a dynamic set of characters split between two worlds.

Links:
Eva Ibbotson or J.K. Rowling?
  

Reference List:
Publishers Weekly.  1999.  Publishers weekly review: Secret of Platform 13.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed January 27, 2006).

 


  Kate Greenaway Award Winner

Bibliographic Citation:
Child, Lauren.  2000.  I will never not ever eat a tomato.  Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.  ISBN 0606292063.

Summary: 
In order to get his little sister, Lola to eat her dinner, Charlie decides to play a trick on her.  He convinces his fussy sister to try all the foods she hates by telling her they are from Jupiter and made from clouds.  Each food has its own story behind what it "really" is and where it "really" comes from.  In the end, Lola uses her own imagination to transform the food she swore she would never eat, a tomato.

Analysis:

    In I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Lauren Child tells the familiar tale of a young, picky eater.  However, she provides a new twist on this particular theme through the imagination of her character, Charlie and through her unique mixed media illustrations.  Charlie decides one day to play a "good trick" on his younger sister, Lola, to get her to eat her dinner (Child 3).  When Lola gets suspicious about the foods Charlie tries to feed her, her brother sets her straight.  What appear to be carrots are really "orange twiglets from Jupiter" (Child 10).  Even though they look like carrots, Lola knows that carrots could not possibly grow on Jupiter, so she tries one.  What appears to be a mashed potato is really "cloud fluff from the pointiest peak of Mount Fuji" (Child 18).  Though Lola despises potatoes, she loves to eat cloud and helps herself to some.  Charlie continues to creatively transform Lola's dinner until he comes to the one thing she swore she would "never not ever eat" (Child 5).  Here Lola turns the tables and uses her own imagination to transform the yucky tomatoes into "moonsquirters" (Child 28).  These nonsensical and playful words demonstrate how powerful a name can be.  By simply renaming all the foods she will not eat, Charlie gets his sister to try them and find out that she likes them after all. 

    In 2001, the book won the Kate Greenaway Medal for outstanding illustrated book for children in the United Kingdom.  Child has created the illustrations using mixed media and collage artwork.  Her backgrounds are made of fabric, patterned paper, and bright, monochrome colors.  She contrasts these vibrant backdrops against the childlike drawings of Charlie and Lola.  They consist of strong black lines and swatches of color.  The brother and sister's expressions only vary by slight eye and mouth movements.  Child layers the backgrounds and characters together with photographs.  When Lola protests that carrots are for rabbits, Child uses a photo of a rabbit nestled on the table in front of Lola (2).  When Lola sits on top of Mount Fuji, she is surrounded by torn photos of clouds and perches on top of a real mountain peak (Child 18).  These images create a "sense of the 'real thing,' the world as youngsters might perceive it" (Marantz 2000).  Child cleverly layers in the real and the imaginary.

    Also, Child uses the text size and layout to mimic the actions and emotions of the story.  As Lola spouts off her "I do not eat" list, the words dance across the page with images of the despicable foods (Child 3-4).  When Charlie reaches up to take the food down from the pantry, all the text describing it fits neatly into the cabinets as the real food would (Child 5-6).  The story wiggles around the page as Charlie swims underwater to convince Lola that fish sticks are ocean nibbles from the supermarket under the sea (10).  The words flow as if they were made of liquid themselves.  The text changes fonts, sizes, and colors to accommodate the story.  This aspect helps draw young readers' eyes across the pages and maintain their interest.  Child also has made sure that she varies the pages between text, images, and open space to avoid overwhelming the reader.            

    Though a British author, Child's I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato shows no cultural evidence of her background.  The only slight indicators are her characters' blonde hair and pale skin, but even these traits are not specific solely to British culture.  Confusingly, the story uses American slang having Charlie call his parents "Mom and Dad" (Child 1).  All the foods on Lola's "I Will Not Eat" list are foods commonly found in most countries that eat fresh vegetables and fruits.  By keeping her story very culturally neutral, Child enables her book to have a greater universal appeal.  The book could easily be understood by young readers in a number of cultures. 

    Even though young readers are likely to catch onto Charlie's game, I can see them eager to try renaming their foods with new and original names.  The book may even encourage young readers to try new foods after hearing this story.  Though I found the illustrations unpleasant at first, once I started looking more closely at the images and how they were constructed I was amazed by the detail.  There is even a grouchy looking pea in the middle of a bowl (Child 13)!  Child has taken so much time to make sure the text and illustrations mimic the upbeat tone of the story.  The only downside I found while reading the book was that I did not realize Charlie was Lola's brother.  It was only while reading a review for the book did I realize he was meant to be a boy.  The siblings' faces and hair styles are exactly the same.  The only difference is in their clothing.  Child stereotypes her characters by dressing Lola in a dress and bows, while putting Charlie in pants (1).  Despite this minor flaw, the combined story and illustrations create a comic and delightful book for young readers, especially the picky-eaters!

Story Extension:
You can have the children come up with their own new names for "disgusting" foods, and then have them share their favorites with the group.  Also, you can have them make a "I Will Not Eat" list and tell why they will not eat the foods on it.

Links:
Kate Greenaway Medal

Reference List:
Marantz, Ken and Sylvia.  2000.  Children's literature review: I will never not ever eat a tomato.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed January 27, 2006).

 


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