Tag Archives: wonder

PPBF – Friend or Foe?

The best children’s books appeal to, and resonate with, not only the children listening to the story but also to, and with, the adults reading them. Since I’ve acquired today’s Perfect Picture Book, I can’t help thinking that themes of the book – wondering about people who are different than us; using clues to discover their natures; finding the courage to cross barriers that divide us – ring true on the playground, in the classroom, in the workplace, and even in the larger world, whether we are 5, 25, 55 or older. I think you’ll agree.

51ailoxr49l-_sx485_bo1204203200_Title: Friend or Foe?

Written By: John Sobel

Illustrated By: Dasha Tolstikova

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press/11 October 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 & older

Themes/Topics: Wonder, friendship, courage, mice, cats, social situations

Opening: “This is how it was…A lonely mouse lived in a small house beside a great palace. In the great palace lived a cat.”

Brief Synopsis: Night after night, a lonely mouse on the roof of a small house and a cat in a castle tower stare at each other. The mouse wonders whether the cat is a friend or foe, and, conquering his fear, sets off to discover the answer.

Links to Resources:

  • Discuss or draw pictures of animal species that generally are friends. Why do they get along? Do the same for species that generally are foes. Why do they fight or avoid each other?
  • Discuss visual and verbal clues that help you decide whether someone or something is a friend or foe (and why sometimes the clues can be misleading);
  • Describe a time you overcame fear to discover or find something.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a simple story, told with straightforward prose, but with a fairy tale aspect – “This is how it was…” It’s also an ambiguous tale, as judgments about the nature of others often are. 

The muted palate of grays and creams with a few pops of reds and yellows furthers the air of mystery in this quiet book. Readers/listeners aren’t quite sure where the palace and small house are or when the story takes place. We don’t know whether the cat is lonely, too. And we know little about their lives apart from the nightly encounter: is the cat a Rapunzel character or a princess happy in the tower; does the smallness of the house represent poverty or just difference from the imposing palace. Neither author nor illustrator answer these questions, but I think that’s ok. Friend or Foe? presents characters that wonder and enables readers and listeners to ponder these questions, too. Many interesting family and classroom discussions inevitably will take place after reading this tale of would-be friends, or foes.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Friend or Foe? is a tale filled with ambiguity. At its heart, it is an examination of friendship: how do we discover and assess whether someone is a friend or foe. But rather than placing the two potential friends together, as is the case with most picture books examining friendship, Sobel separates the two, leaving the pair, and the readers/listeners, with only visual clues to answer the question.

Setting is a key character in the story. The pair are separated not by a busy road or body of water that is difficult to cross. Rather, the “palace had only one entrance, and it was carefully guarded.” “Not even the cat” could enter or leave, but the mouse noticed a tiny hole. After squeezing through this hole, the mouse still had to climb to the top of a tower, because not just a wall but also vertical distance separate the pair. Could this vertical distance be a metaphor for class difference? I don’t know, but this detail lends an interesting layer to this tale.

I received an advance copy of Friend or Foe? from the publisher; the opinions and observations expressed in this review are my own and were not influenced by anyone.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF: The Most Wonderful Thing in the World

What is the most wonderful thing in the world? You’ll have to read this Perfect Picture Book to find out! But I think anyone with a child will understand (and run out to purchase this book).

0763675016.medTitle: The Most Wonderful Thing in the World

Written By: Vivian French

 

Illustrated By: Angela Barrett

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tale, love, love of family, wonder

Opening: “Once, in the time of your grandmother’s grandmother, there was a kingdom.”

Brief Synopsis: The king and queen search for a husband for their only daughter by running a contest: whoever can show them the most wonderful thing in the world will become her husband.

Links to Resources:

  • What do you think makes something wonderful? Think about/list/draw pictures of what you think is wonderful (note, the word is not beautiful; unique; biggest; or strongest – but are any of these features part of your wonderful something?)
  • This story begins in the time of your grandmother’s grandmother: how long ago was that? Explore time by building a paper-plate clock or a paper-chain calendar.

Why I Like this Book:
Both the words and the images in this book transported me to another place and time. Set in the Edwardian era in a place with Venetian overtones, the lyrical prose and lovely watercolour vignettes work together to tell a story of “love of family as the center of life” while including “a playful undercurrent of both whimsy and irony.” (Kirkus Reviews, 4 Aug 2015). And while written in the “then and there” classic fairy tale tradition, The Most Wonderful Thing in the World also incorporates some of the here and now in both words and subtle (and some not-so-subtle) images.

A Note about Craft:

Although The Most Wonderful Thing in the World reads like a newly-written fairy tale, in the endnotes Angela Barrett mentions that she had remembered a story of that name from her childhood and convinced Vivian French to retell it. Reading this makes me want to pore through old books to find a “new” old fairy tale to rewrite!

I also love how both author and illustrator weave allusions to today into the story. You’ll have to read the book to see what the illustrator hides in plain sight, but I can’t resist sharing my favourite lines of the book:

            The last of the suitors had sailed away to his kingdom, his weapons of mass destruction rejected.

            “How can anyone believe weapons are the most wonderful thing in the world?” asked the queen.

            The king shrugged. He was too tired to answer.

Finally, to bring this review full-circle, look again at the opening. I love thinking about “the time of your grandmother’s grandmother” as a way to show that this story happened long ago. I can’t wait to write about a past event and figure out a way to anchor it using an equally understandable measure of time that resonates like this.