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It isn't surprising that one of my favorite new books this season is called The Storytellers by Ted Lewin (Lothrop, 1998 ISBN 0688151787. Hardcover.). It's a wonderful book which is set in present day Fez, Morocco and is full of the sights and sounds of the marketplace in that ancient city. You'll want to linger at each stall but Abdul and his grandfather walk through the marketplace, greeting many other workers as they pass, on the way to their own special spot.
The boy carries a cage containing a white pigeon. When they reach their place at the old gate to the city, the pigeon takes its roost on Abdul's head. They spread their carpet and sit down. People begin to gather, placing coins on the carpet. When there are enough coins, Abdul tosses the bird high which soars and then swoops back to Abdul's head again, bringing a tale from the heavens, and Grandfather begins his work: storytelling. Again and again, the bird soars and a new tale begins until nightfall when the crowd leaves and Abdul and his grandfather walk back toward home.
The book, for kids in kindergarten up, offers a wonderful way of viewing a different culture. The clothing and hairstyles of the people are beautifully portrayed. One can't help comparing this lively market to our malls and maybe that's a place to start the dialogue with children. Many occupations are mentioned and there's another obvious comparison. Each of those occupations could also be an avenue to follow for further research. The honor that both the teller and the audience give the tales and the teller of those tales is evident and you can go from here into a storytelling or folktale unit. It's a wonderful book.
Mrs. Morgan's Lawn by Barney Saltzberg (Hyperion, 1998 ISBN 078681294X. Paperback.) features one of the meanest neighbors in years. She is obsessed with maintaining a perfect lawn and when balls land in it, they are gone forever. Our narrator has just lost his brand new purple and white soccer ball to the lawn and that sets him speculating first about ways to get rid of Mrs. Morgan and then to ways to get his soccer ball and all the other lost balls back. Author's website.
Perhaps he could call her pretending to be from a radio station conducting a contest for the person with the most balls in her possession. Perhaps he could construct some sort of 'Trojan Horse" kind of ball with himself inside. Eventually, he faces the tyrant and tells her of all his lost balls. Mrs. Morgan is coming down with a cold and all she does is to warn him not to step on the lawn on his way home.
Then Mrs. Morgan's lawn begins to look different. Leaves are falling and she doesn't come out to pick them up although we see her looking out her window. Our narrator begins to worry and eventually rakes the lawn for her. The next day all his lost balls are scattered on her lawn and she comes out. He thanks her but reminds her that his purple and white soccer ball is not among them. Then Mrs. Morgan surprises us all by kicking it to him. Kids in the second and third grades should like this one.
A very funny book that can be enjoyed by preschoolers on up is Rachel Vail's Over the Moon illustrated by Scott Nash (Orchard, 1998 ISBN 0531300684. Hardcover.). "Hi Diddle Diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon" or so the rhyme says. However, these folks aren't doing it right, Hi (Hiram) Diddle Diddle insists.
Hi, a perfectionist monkey, has happened on the performance being given by a cat, a cow and a dog with a dangling "Ha!" over his head. (Well, he has to laugh to see such sport, doesn't he?) The cow, who is very proud of her performance, has not jumped over the moon at all, Hi says, but has been jumping under it. Instant replay proves that Hi is right and so they try again and again. Before they have finished, many position words (prepositions) have been demonstrated and, at last, the cow jumps over the moon, squashing Hi as she lands, while the cat plays a Stradivarius and the dog is convulsed. On to dinner with the dish and spoon they go and everybody's happy, especially teachers who've been looking for something original to do with vocabulary and nursery rhymes.
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