by Jan Brett. (Putnam, 1989. ISBN 039921920X. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Grades PreK-2.
You may know the earlier version of the same basic story by Alvin Tresselt, The Mitten (HarperCollins, 1989 ISBN 9780688092382 Order Info). Jan Brett has put her own spin on the familiar folk theme of a shelter which stretches to accommodate each new occupant. This time it's a boy, Nicki, who begs his grandmother, Baba, to knit him a pair of white mittens. In spite of her warnings that he will lose them and that they will be hard to find in the snow, he insists and she finally does so.
Grandmothers, however, are usually right and it isn't long before we notice, although he does not, that he has dropped a mitten. A mole is the first to discover the mitten lying on the snow and crawls inside, followed by a snowshoe rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a badger, a fox, a bear and, finally, a mouse.
Each time the inhabitants protest that there's not enough room for the newcomer, but to no avail and grandmother's skillful knitting holds fast as the mitten stretches beyond belief. Just at the point where Nicki approaches, searching for his lost mitten, the mouse causes the bear to sneeze; the mitten and all its occupants go flying; the boy catches sight of the airborne mitten and retrieves it. It's grandmother who, knowing nothing of what happens, notices the now-stretched out mitten. The yarn Brett uses for her mitten makes the tale almost believable.
Brett uses the page frames to allow her to show two scenes at once. Her mitten shaped frames within the border frames continue to remind us that the mitten is the important item here. At first we see Baba preparing the yarn while the main illustrations show Nicki, mittenless, playing in the snow. When the two figures join on the second page main picture and Baba begins knitting the white mittens, the scene in the frame switches to the outdoors. Now the frame shows how the boy's play disturbs the animals in their natural habitat, and each creature is forced to move that is when it invades the mitten.
Things to Talk About and Notice
- Notice the details: the plates over the fireplace, Nicki and Baba's clothing, Nicki's boots, the thatched roof with the crossed sticks on top, the birds' nest near the chimney. Why did Brett put the eye-catching embroidery in each frame? Is it merely decorative or does it pull your eye to something important. Look at the background of each frame. Isn't that birch bark? Why?
- Identify the point at which the tale and the mitten have stretched beyond credulity. Find out the sizes of each of these animals and get into some math activities by estimating how big the mitten would have to have grown. Notice the parts of the book which are very realistic. She has shown or told about the animals who live in that area, their specific natural habitat, their appearance and their defense mechanisms.
- Look at the language, especially the verbs, that Brett uses in her story. The animals swoop, lumber, trot, snuffle, bump and jostle. Use the thesaurus for other words that mean the same thing. Change the words. Do you like your choices better?
- Stay with the language a bit. Nicki calls his grandmother, Baba, the Urkrainian word for grandmother. What would he call her if the story was set in Spain, Zambia, Italy, Holland and Germany? What do you call yours?
- You must admit Baba's quite a knitter. Get someone of almost equal skill to show the kids how she/he does it. Maybe they can learn how to knit a square for a classroom afghan.
- The theme of the book is the straw that broke the camel's back. What's the origin of that expression?
- Use charts which show likenesses and differences between this and other tales with similar plots to help kids organize their thinking.
The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt. Illustrated by Yaroslava. (1989, HarperCollins. ISBN 9780688092382. Order Info.) Picture Book. 40 pages. Gr PreK-1.
Here's another version of this folktale. The boy's fur-lined mitten appears to be made of skins rather than yarn and his illustrations are very different in style and palette. The creatures who take up residence in the mitten are different as are less obvious details. The boy in Brett's version is playing while Tresselt's boy is engaged in more serious enterprise. Tresselt's mitten bursts apart while Brett's keeps stretching.
- You'll also want to compare it with this newest version:
The Mitten by Jim Aylesworth. Illustrated by Barbara McClintock. (2009, Scholastic. ISBN 9780439925440. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Gr PreK-3.
Here we have a third captivating retelling of the Ukrainian folktale where we find yet another style of illustration. As endearing as the Jan Brett version but written twenty years later, these three interpretations are begging to be brought together in the classroom where young children can get one of their first experiences in comparative literature.
The Napping House by Audrey Wood. Illustrated by Don Wood. (2009, Harcourt. ISBN 9780152014179. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Gr PreK-2.
It's a rainy afternoon and Granny is snoring on the bed in a cozy room. A child crawls on top of her and dreams. Gradually, the pile increases with a dozing dog, a snoozing cat, a slumbering mouse and finally a wakeful flea who, by biting the mouse, sets off a chain of events which results in a broken pile and even a broken bed. Each page repeats the action from bottom up. Read More in our free Teachers Guide which includes classroom discussion starters, activities, related books and links.
- The tale of a shelter which stretches is also the theme of
Mushroom in the Rain by Mirra Ginsburg. (1987, Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780027362411. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Gr PreK-2.
The mushroom starts out tiny but, as more and more critters take refuge from the rain under the mushroom, it grows big enough the accommodate them all. It starts with an ant who's not too sure about sharing but as the rain swells the mushroom they all discover that there's enough shelter for everyone.
The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen. Illustrated by Elaine Greenstein. (2009, Fulcrum. ISBN 9781555917333. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Gr PreK-4.
Sarah, an old lady, lives by herself. She misses her grown children and so, she watches the children who wait for the school bus near the big evergreen tree nearby. Although Sarah smiles at them as she walks by, they ignore her. When she notices a little boy, dressed in blue, who can't enjoy the snow play because he has no mittens, she finds some blue yarn and knits a pair of mittens which she hangs on the tree at the bus stop. Nobody sees her do it but the little boy in blue arrives first at the bus stop that morning, and seems to know the mittens are for him. Read More.
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