Children's book reviews by Steve Barancik
Who doesn't love a good wolf story? Back in the fairy tale days, wolves were more common and children knew to be scared. These days wolves don't pose much of a risk and picture book authors are finding ways to have fun with them.
So let's have some fun and discuss a couple books (and even a movie)!
Fractured Fairy Tales
Are you familiar with the term? A fractured fairy tale (here are a few) puts a new spin on an old story.
As a writer, I can tell you that there are numerous ways to "fracture" a story, but perhaps the most basic is to change a story's viewpoint.
Take Little Red Riding Hood. The story is normally told from her point of view. Walking through the woods, encountering the wolf...we see things through her eyes.
Well, she's not the only character in the story. What's to prevent the story of Little Red Riding Hood from being not just a wolf story, but the wolf's story?
Well, absolutely nothing. Which brings us to...
Jon Scieszka's The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs
Meet Alexander T. Wolf, or A. Wolf. He feels misunderstood. Wolves aren't so bad, he explains, it's just that they eat food - like bunnies - that people think cute. He explains, "If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad too."
He has a point. He also has an alibi. You see, those pigs he ate? It was an accident. He only visited them because he wanted to borrow a cup of sugar. It was his allergies that caused him to blow - I mean sneeze - down their houses.
Then he only ate the little pigs because they were already dead, and not to have done so would have been a waste. Wolves are starving in Africa, don't you know?
If this wolf story sounds like a flimsy protestation of innocence from a hardened criminal, well, know that Alexander T. Wolf finds himself behind bars currently. Is it where he belongs? Well, you decide. But know that he wants to borrow a cup of sugar from you, too.
The Mystery of Eatum Hall by John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell This book also appears to be sold as "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"
Remember what I said about "fracturing" a story by changing the viewpoint character? In The Mystery of Eatum Hall, husband and wife co-authors John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell apply a device from theatre and film to the world of picture books, and they couldn't have done a nicer job.
Dramatic irony occurs when an audience knows something that the characters don't. In this, the story of Horace & Glenda Pork-Fowler, the audience knows everything and the characters nothing. Each page drips with dramatic irony.
You see, this is a wolf story, but the Pork-Fowlers (a pig-goose husband-wife team) have no idea that's the case.
Horace Pork-Fowler, our narrator, informs us that he and Glenda have been invited by the new owner of Eatum Hall (Mr. A. Hunter) for a weekend of free overeating.
They didn't see sly Mr. Hunter, a wolf, deliver the invitation. But we did!
Mr. Hunter clearly plans to fatten the Pork-Fowlers for a Sunday slaughter and then to serve them to his wolf friends. The wonderfully ominous pictures tell that story, but Horace and Glenda remain gluttonously oblivious.
In a surprise turn of events, the intended victims escape Mr. Hunter's planned end for them when their shocking obesity actually overwhelms the device meant to do them in.
No message to speak of, but great fun and a new kind of read for your child. Eatum Hall is indeed a mystery that your child (with your help) can piece together.
Scan the illustrations for clues to what is really going on, and laugh together as the Pork-Fowlers narrowly escape their fate. It's a wolf story where the wolf doesn't have to say a word!
As long as we're talking wolf stories, character and viewpoint, I thought I'd break from form and actually recommend a movie I'm a big fan of, one that I feel has literary merit. (More than you can say for most kid movies!)
Hoodwinked is the story of Little Red Riding Hood as viewed by a variety of characters. The movie picks one major player at a time and tells the story from his/her point of view. We hear Little Red Riding Hood's version, Grandma's, and of course we get the wolf's story as well.
I love this comedic little movie because it serves as a reminder that different people see things differently, and our own experience of an event is not necessarily the same as someone else's.
You can use these fun viewpoint spins on the traditional wolf story to stimulate creativity and thought regarding many of your child's favorite stories. Examine a book you're familiar with from another character's point of view. Ask your child what the mom is thinking in this story, or the older brother in that one.
One more way to make reading fun and thought-provoking!
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