Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood

Artell, M., & Harris, J. (2001). Petite Rouge: a Cajun Red Riding Hood. New York: Puffin Books.

Age: 5 and Up

Genre: Traditional Literature/Retold Tale


This story is a version of the classic folktale, Little Red Riding Hood, that features elements of the Cajun culture. The setting is in a Louisiana swamp instead of the woods, the diction used is Cajun, the protagonist is a little white duck (not a little girl) who is taking gumbo and etouffee to her sick granny instead of bread and the antagonist is an alligator instead of a wolf.  In addition, there is a pleasant surprise ending that is very appropriate even for young children.


The original folktale Little Red Riding Hood has many origins.  In checking, some resources said that it came from Europe during the middle ages and others say it originated in Asia. This version of the folktale is a retold tale, that was written with the Cajun culture in mind, in which the book could also be categorized in the multicultural genre. The Cajuns are a group of people (called French Acadians) that lived in the French Canada and then resettled in Louisiana after being required to pledge allegiance to the king of England while living in Canada.  The retold version is written in a style, using Cajun terms and dialect, that provides humor for the reader. The humor mostly comes from the diction used, an example would be “I gonna count tree… and if you still dere, dis pole gonna hit you where you part you hair”.  As well, the author stated that he dedicated this book in honor of the Cajun culture. Besides being a retold tale it is also a beast tale, which is a type of folktale, the animals talk such as the duck playing Petite Rouge and the alligator called Ol' Claude. Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood is an effective selection for story telling activities since it has few characters.  Specifically, besides the duck and the alligator, there is also a cat, grandmother and mother encompassed in the story.  In addition, the story is a quick read providing a clear conflict, constant action and quick conclusion that brings all parts of the story together, such as using the food that Petite Rouge’s mother sent with her to defeat the alligator at the end of the story.

The characters are flat or two-dimensional characters, especially if the reader is familiar with the original story, the reader would know that Petite Rouge is good and the alligator is evil. If the reader does not have prior knowledge of this story then these classifications could be made in the beginning of the story when Petite Rouge’s mother sends her to comfort her sick grandmother and tells her not to stop.  The alligator would then easily be seen as the evil character when he stops Petite Rouge and asks her to give him the food intended for her sick grandmother.  Even though these characters are flat and underdeveloped, they move the plot forward through their dialogue, for example when Petite Rouge refuses to give the alligator the food so that she can give it to her grandmother. The literary style provides a standard beginning in different words. Instead of saying “once upon a time” the author used the Cajun diction, “Back in de swamp where dat Spanish moss grow, I heard me a story happened long time ago”.  Moreover, the ending is standard by giving and telling what was learned by the characters from the tale. Additionally, the ending was happy as with most traditional literature. Yet, it did differ from the original folktale, which I thought was interesting since it made this tale appropriate to read to young children as opposed to the violent ending included in the original tale.  I feel that the author did this intentionally since in present times many people are concerned that some fairy tales have gruesome endings that could be harmful to young children or he may have wanted to continue the humor and light undertones that the story already possessed. The alligator is not cut into pieces, nor does he die in any way.  Instead, the author used a Cajun inspired weapon for Petite Rouge to defeat the evil alligator. Hence, my BIG question is how did Petite Rouge and her grandmother know that the alligator would not come back since he was not killed?

This book also fits the requirements of a picture book.  I believe that it bridges the categories of traditional literature and picture book because unlike traditional literature where the setting is not important, it is integral to this story. It is integral since the Cajun culture dominated the book through characters, food and language.  The reader needed to be clear that the setting was a swamp in Louisiana. In fact, in researching this story further I located Jim Harris, the illustrator’s web page where he discussed how he travelled to Louisiana to accurately depict traits of a Louisiana swamp, alligators and even the houses. This information can be found at http://www.jimharrisillustrator.com/ChildrensBooks/Books/PetiteRouge.html . Furthermore, the illustrator chose to utilize a cartoon artistic style to portray the setting and characters.  I feel that he made this artistic style choice to complement the hilarity of the text.  This effect is carried through the illustrations using the element of composition. As an example, on the book cover the alligator is seen as very large in comparison with the duck and he has a deceitful expression (half smile, chewing in a piece of grass). The alligator is tipping the boat which is seen as intimidating to the duck and cat who are perched at the top of the boat, far away from the alligator. This illustration describes alligator as devious, yet funny and a threat to Petite Rouge. I also feel that the illustrator carefully chose the colors he used. He selected pastel colors in the background and bright colors when drawing the characters to draw attention to the characters and their actions.  I feel this way because the action in this story is non-stop, the illustrator needed to emphasize the characters to enhance the action that was happening in the story. For instance, when Petite Rouge promises to hit the alligator (Ol’Claude) the props in the picture such as the boat and stick are drawn in vivid colors while the background colors are neutral.  This design emphasizes the action.

 I would recommend this book to teach the element of plot or since it is told in a diction not often heard in this area, to teach the comprehension strategy of questioning.  I recently used this book in a lesson and found the students to be totally engaged throughout the story because of the characters and their dialogue. Hence, the effectiveness of using this book during instruction comes from its ability to fully engage students. In addition, I believe that the real-life connection for my students and I would be fear, in having to overcome a vicious animal. Or the common occurrence of visiting a sick relative. As an extension of this connection, I would incorporate our weekly comprehension strategy of text-to-self by having the students create using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Publisher a Venn Diagram comparing them to Petite Rouge. Younger students could complete this activity as a whole group, while older students could complete it with a partner or independently. An interactive Venn Diagram can also be found at http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/venn/.  I also included additional resources to use with this story below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7uZDNxjRc0 – Part 1 of 5 clips of Mike Artell reading this story.

http://www.tips-for-teachers.com/questioning_mini_lessons.htm - Third Grade Lesson Plans utilizing this story.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Wind in the Willows

Grahame, K. (1969). The wind in the willows. New York: New American Library.

The Wind in the Willows is considered a classic and yet modern fantasy, because it can be attributed to one author in its original form. The novel focuses around the adventures of human-like animals.  The main characters, “Mole” and “Rat” begin by meeting after “Mole” decides to leave his underground life of constant cleaning and preparing to join “Rat” on day trips up the river.  Each chapter presents its own conflict, climax and most of the time a resolution. Yet, the overall structure of the story is in the form of an episodic plot, which I will discuss later in this blog. This work fits the genre of modern fantasy perfectly by containing all of its traits.  Among these traits are story events and settings that are not realistic, yet contain bits of realism.  The characters are developed through a stylistic device, of using a pattern of stories over a series of chapters to describe the characters, which allows the reader to connect with the characters by learning about them through descriptions and actions and stories told by other characters. As well, since this is an animal fantasy I found myself enthralled with how the author depicted the characters as very proper English gentlemen through their diction and appearance, yet allowed the animals to also maintain their natural qualities, such as “Mole” living underground.

This classic is written from the third person point-of-view and includes multiple types of conflict. “Mr. Toad” consistently exhibits a “person vs. self” conflict by being overly confident and creating mischief for himself (like stealing motor-cars) to feeling pity for himself when getting in trouble for what he has done wrong. As well, “Rat” and “Toad” faced a “person vs. nature” conflict when lost in the “Wild Wood” and not being able to find their way because of the heavy snow fall. In chapter 12, “Mole”, “Rat”, “Mr. Badger” and “Mr. Toad” took on the weasels and other devious animals to take back “Toad Hall” and creating a “person vs. person” conflict. However, I also feel that a “person vs. society” conflict prevails through the story by the animals having a society in which they have created class structures and work hard to live up to and fit in their respected class structure by exuding “animal-etiquette”.  An example of this would be, sending formal invitations to a celebratory banquet at the end of the story, because as “Mr. Badger” said to “Mr. Toad”, “It’s expected of you- in fact, it’s the rule.”

The plot is an episodic plot containing foreshadowing, flashbacks and suspense.  An example of foreshadowing that was used is when “Mr. Toad was trying to persuade “Rat” and “Mole” to travel the “open road” with him in a caravan.  “Mr. Toad” described how wonderful their lives would be by saying phrases such as “Here Today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow”. Moreover, an example of a “flashback” used in the novel would be when “Mr. Badger” explained the background of his house by reflecting on how all of the passages were made in chapter four. “Mr. Badger” explained that there was a city full of people on top of his home; however the floods and weather made the passages in his home and drove the people out of the city.  Soon after a forest grew there and the passages were clogged to create the expansive home that he had and that “mole” was so impressed with.  When thinking of the fictional element of suspense, I noticed that in every chapter the author included a sequence of suspense to perpetuate a conflict that usually led to a resolution, and sometimes the solution came in later chapters.  Yet, this seemed to be the pattern created by the author to engage the reader. My favorite suspense sequence was when “Mr. Toad” escaped from jail dressed as a “washerwoman” and after pretending that he could wash to pay for his ride on a barge, the barge owner, a “fat” woman”, threw him into the water and then he stole her horse and ran away into the woods.  In fact, I felt that the way the author described each suspenseful event in such detail was what truly made the stories entertaining.

The author also used many literary elements; I will focus on the elements of imagery and diction.  I chose these two elements particularly because I believe that they made this book authentic to its author.  Mr. Kenneth Grahame, the author, was born in Scotland yet lived out his life in England. However, this novel was written based on his experiences with nature as a child and to entertain his son.  As a result, Mr. Grahame placed great detail into describing the various settings, experiences and the characters’ actions creating images in my mind as I read.  One specific account of imagery used would be when “Rat” and “Mole” boat down the river at night to find the baby otter in chapter seven.  The text read, “For a space they hung there, brushed by the purple loose-strife that fringed the bank: then the clear imperious summons that marched hand-in-hand with the intoxicating melody imposed its will on Mole, and mechanically he bent to his oars again.” Imagery is used throughout this book to draw in the reader’s imagination and to transport them into the story as Mr. Grahame was trying to do for his son, to amuse his son fully.  I also feel that diction played a large part in this novel; as well it leads to my BIG question. The animals speak using old English, which is speech that sounds very proper to readers’ who do not speak old English, like me.  This resulted in my belief that the characters could really be human and not just animals, staying true to the modern fantasy trait of making the unbelievable, very believable.  Yet, I wondered all the way through the book, do the animals live among the humans or hidden from the humans in their own society?  “Mr. Badger” spoke as if the city of humans was completely separate from his own.  Conversely, the reader was made to think that the warden’s daughter that helped “Mr. Toad” escape from jail was human and interacting with the toad.  

I would recommend that passages from this book be used with students in third to fifth grades, and using the novel as a whole with students above the fifth grade. I believe this because I think Mr. Grahame is wonderfully effective with his use of imagery and it could be used with younger children in parts. However, I think the whole novel would be overwhelming for students in fifth grade and below.  I also feel that this literary work fits nicely with our comprehension strategy of the week- Mark My Word. I, personally, used post-it notes throughout the book to record examples of elements and unknown words.  I could see passages from this book being used in vocabulary instruction.  Specifically, looking at the context of the word and then researching the word on the Internet to find synonyms and antonyms.  Last, posting the word in class for students to use in their dialogues with others.  I tried this with the word, “copse”. The context of the word spoke of stumps at the edge of the “copse”, next to the road.  I knew at that point in the story that “Rat” and “Mole” were in the woods, so I then thought that “copse” must be a synonym for “woods”. Upon further Internet research I found that a “copse” is a small growth of bushes.  If using this example in instruction, I would then create a concept map listing word relationships, then post it in the classroom and challenge students to use the word when writing and speaking. After considering the strategy I also began to think of instructional resources associated with The Wind and the Willows.  Please see these links below!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse

Henkes, K. Lilly’s purple plastic purse. New York: Greenwillow Books.

In this story, the main character exhibits the traits of a little girl through being excited about special accessories given to her by her “Grammy”.  Even though the main character which is a young mouse, had previously loved school and her teacher, she soon becomes upset because she gets in trouble for distracting her classmates with the special accessories. In all of Kevin Henkes’s books that feature these mice characters there is a theme, which provides a real-life connection with lessons that most young children learn as they grow. However, in this story the theme is well developed and apparent.  The main character learns about self-discipline and behavioral expectations. As an example, when she is upset she illustrates a picture with negative sayings about her teacher because she feels that he is being unfair. Yet, once she realizes that her teacher has good reasons (not disrupting other students) for taking away her special items, she reconsiders and decides that the teacher is only being fair to everyone in her class.  As a result, she writes a story and illustrates a second picture where she apologizes for her actions. This theme shows the reader why rules are necessary, especially in school.

Since the theme focuses on rules, and particularly in school, the setting is integral to the story. As an example of how the author makes the setting integral is that he compliments the text with illustrations in the beginning of the story concerning the different reasons why Lilly loves school and her teacher which leads to the fact that Lilly realizes that she trusts and respects her teacher because he sets expectations, he does this so every student can enjoy school. As well, I noticed that the author and illustrator provided more detail in the backgrounds of the pictures in this story as opposed to the other two stories discussed in this blog. I feel that this was done to fully describe the school setting in order to further enforce that the setting is integral to convey the theme of the story.  Moreover, when comparing the illustrations in all three books I notice that the author and illustrator always uses bright watercolors to convey the whimsical nature of a child and to aesthetically appeal to the eye of a child.  As well, in all three books he used the visual elements of line and shape to show expressions on the characters’ faces.

I feel that this story could easily be used to instruct on the fictional element of setting. I feel this way because the author made the setting integral to the story, providing a detailed description of what the setting looked like and what types of activities happen at school.  He does this through his illustrations and through his ample use of adjectives in describing objects and actions that take place at school.  Students could be asked to write descriptive sentences about their own school and teachers. As well, I feel that this book lends itself to teaching about theme, while integrating practical living content about why rules exist. Students could be asked to write and illustrate the theme of the story using the real-life connection of having rules at their school or create a cause and effect graphic organizer about why the teacher had specific rules and why this made the classroom fair and enjoyable for all of the students. When considering our comprehension strategy of the week, “Most Important Word”, I believe it would be “teacher”. Focusing on the meaning of this word, being someone who guided another to the correct conclusion, would fit with the theme. This could be done by using the teacher’s actions as examples of how he taught Lilly the reasons for rules and using self-discipline to follow rules and meet behavior expectations. The question I have is if the setting of this story were changed to possibly a family’s home, would the theme be as clear? 

Wemberly Worried

Henkes, K. (2000). Wemberly worried. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Wemberly is a young mouse who is constantly worried.  She worries about everything from loosing her favorite doll, “Petal” to worrying about the possibility of shrinking in the bathtub.  The main story element used is characterization.  In fact, the characterization drives the plot through the author thoroughly detailing the Wemberly’s worries leading up to her biggest worry, which is starting school. The author carries out the characterization through the illustrations which describes the main character’s appearance and particularly the constant expression of worry on her face. The author explains the character’s thoughts through her actions and dialogue in the story. As an example, on two pages before Wemberly goes to school, there are no illustrations; just various sized fonts where Wemberly’s multiple worries about school are displayed. Even the story’s resolution is delivered through the author describing how Wemberly felt when she met another student in school.
In comparison with the book Owen, described in my previous blog, the artistic media and font are detailed on the title page.  The artistic media is watercolor paint with black pen and the illustrations are in the surreal artistic style as Kevin Henkes other books described in this blog.  The difference being that a different font was used.  The visual element that I noticed that was different from Owen, was that author and illustrator developed his use of lines and shapes from the previous book. Particularly, I noticed that Owen was published in 1993 and the illustrations were mostly framed with square boxes. However, this book was not published until 2000 and the picture frames used came in multiple shapes, such as circles, ovals and even a door frame in one picture. I also noticed that Kevin Henkes selectively used the visual element of composition in both books.  When focusing on a main character’s emotions to develop the characterization, the illustrations included little or no composition.  When the author and illustrator wanted to focus on the actions of the characters, he would use composition to show the relationship between the characters and other objects in the illustration. I wonder if the reader would have focused on the visual display of the character’s emotion if the author and illustrator had not chose to selectively use the visual element of composition.
I see the value in this story as a book to use at the beginning of the school year with young children in easing their fears about school, since the character finds a resolution to her conflict which is a common resolution when children begin school. However, I did not find this story as enjoyable to read as some of Mr. Henkes’ other books because of the lack of plot.  Furthermore, the author and illustrator takes a lot of time describing the character; however her actions and mood seem to change just once in the story making it less than desirable choice to teach characterization. Yet, this story does lend itself perfectly to our comprehension strategy of the week, “Most Important Word”.  The most important word from this story would definitely be “worried”.  Moreover, students would have multiple real-life examples in this story to use to understand the semantics of the word “worried” and the word appears throughout the book, which would provide multiple opportunities to practice and recognize the word while reading since it is included on the Dolch High-Frequency Word List.


Henkes, K. (1993). Owen. New York: Greenwillow Books.

In this fictional story, the main character is a mouse named “Owen”. The story includes a progressive plot where a background is given about Owen loving his fuzzy blanket that he has had since he was a baby. The plot develops through a neighbor offering strategies to Owen’s parents on how to wean Owen off needing his blanket. As the strategies offered are unsuccessful, Owen has a “person vs. person” conflict, where he constantly finds a way to overcome the strategies his parents’ attempt. The climax of the story comes when Owen’s mother has an idea of compromise which leads to the resolution of the conflict. I wonder though if Owen would have eventually found an intrinsic motivation to stop carrying his blanket if his mother had not intervened with a compromise?

The illustrations in this picture book are created in the surreal artistic style, and were recognized with a Caldecott Honor in 1994.  All of the illustrations are realistic scenes in a child’s life, except the characters are mice acting as humans. One feature of the book that I found interesting was the title page.  On this page not only are the author and publishing credits listed, yet a book summary and information about the artwork of the book are located.  Within this information it says, “Watercolor paints and a black pen were used for full color art. The text type is Goudy Modern”.  In other words the author and publisher chose to list the artistic media and font used in the book. Upon closer inspection of all three Kevin Henkes books that I acquired, I realized that this information is listed on the title page specific to each book, which I will discuss further in later blogs. The watercolor conveys a whimsical mood indicating a story from a child’s life. The lines and shapes used in the illustrations are utilized as outlines of objects in the pictures and to show different expressions on the characters’ faces during the story.

I would recommend this story for specific uses in the classroom.  Specifically, I would use this story as a way to introduce the basic elements of plot since there is a clear conflict, climax and resolution.  In addition, I would utilize this story to teach younger children behavioral expectations as a part of growing up.  Even though the conflict is a “person vs. person” conflict, the main character also experiences a “person vs. self” conflict in his attempts to realize that he does not need his blanket all the time to be happy, which is a conflict that many young children face as they mature.  When considering the comprehension strategy of the week, “Most Important Word”, in this story it would be the word, “fuzzy”.  “Fuzzy” is the name of Owen’s blanket and is displayed throughout the book.  I can envision using this word to demonstrate the phonics rule stating that “y” makes the long /e/ sound at the end of two syllable words. This could be extended by students finding other words in this story that follow that same phonic rule such as, “baby” and “carry”.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

CLICK, CLACK, MOO Cows That Type

Cronin, D. (2000). Click, clack, moo cows that type. New York: Simon and Schuster.

In this fictional story, the characters are farm animals and a farmer.  The cows know how to type and make a demand that the farmer must answer.  Once the farmer responds a chain of events is set into motion. This story is a great example of character development for young children because the cows are clearly portrayed as the protagonist and the farmer is the antagonist. In the protagonist role, the cows' appearances are described through the illustrations and their actions as characters propel the story. Specifically, the fact that they type provides the story with every element of the plot. Their direct opposition is the farmer since they feel that they deserve a certain item from the farmer. I feel that this is an effective example in teaching children about characterization because the protagonist and antagonist roles are clear along with having a clear and simple conflict and solution. An example of this clarity comes from the typed correspondence that is exchanged between the cows and the farmer. This story is also a 2001 Caldecott Honor Book, which are awards honoring books that were published the previous year for their illustrations.

The artistic style of the illustrations in this book takes on a cartoon form. This form is strictly adhered to through the illustrator's use of round figures for the characters and exaggerated facial features. An example, of this from the story would be the page where the cows type a note to the farmer and nail it to the side of the barn.  The background are shades of red, using only one color. The only other items on the page are the farmer and the note in large typeface print. Moreover, the backgrounds are all simple using few colors to emphasize the appearance of the characters. In fact, all of the backgrounds are neutral, muted colors and are drawn to give the impression of the use of water color painting.  The lines used in the cartoons are heavy brushstrokes that are uneven to portray a  cartoon scene, such as the outlines of the barn which make it look silly and unrealistic.

I would recommend this book to other readers and educators of young children because it is a straight forward example of plot and characterization.  In addition, it possesses a surprise ending that engages and entertains children when read aloud or silently. In addition, I could see this book being used to teach visual elements of art such as cool and warm colors as well as lines, since there are multiple and varied examples of each included in the publication. In fact, I believe that the illustrations add to the impact of the story and wonder if another artistic style, such as the abstract style, was utilized if the story would still be as funny and entertaining as it is with the use of cartoons?

The Black Book of Colors

Cottin, M. & Faria, R. (2006). The black book of colors. Canada: Groundwood Books.

I recently learned about this book in an early education course.  The publication is written in the third person, where the narrator states how his friend "Thomas" can smell, taste, touch and hear colors.  The book is written to describe colors using other senses besides sight and it is inferred that Thomas is a child with a visual impairment. This written work includes a Braille translation of the text on each page and the illustrations are black in color as shown above, yet are raised to appeal to the sense of touch.  The text describes each color using experiences such as "Thomas says that blue is the color of the sky when kites are flying and the sun is beating hot on his head." Yet, the book does not include any plot elements its purpose is to describe colors using all of our senses and experiences that do not include sight. However, the story does include characterization of the main character through him expressing his thoughts about each color, to show his personality.  The award seal on the book cover is from The New York Times for being a recipient of "Best Illustrated Children's Book Awards".

I felt that is publication was an excellent choice to reflect on within the genre of picture books because it included all of the visual elements (line, color, shape, texture, composition).  This is especially unique since texture is not an element normally found in picture books. In fact, our class text speaks of texture in books as impressionistic, or giving the impression to the reader of what the object must feel like.  Yet, the whole point of this book is to afford the reader with a tactile experience. The composition of the pictures focus on the objects and experiences being described in the text. As a result, there are not multiple items in the illustrations; rather the basis of the composition is placement of the items in alignment with the experience that is being described. As an example, the illustration included on the page with the quote above, the kite is in an upward motion as if it is floating up into the sky. 

I would recommend this book for many different audiences.  In addition to readers with visual impairments, this book could also be used to teach colors in a preschool classroom or to teach adjectives and descriptive writing to any age student. I feel this way because I am a proponent of incorporating as many senses as possible and building on prior experiences to teach new content.  This book selection allows an educator to do both. In addition, this story could be used to show students the challenges faced by people with sight disabilities and to cultivate a sense of consideration for others, in young children. I do wonder if the illustrations in this story were kept the same, yet the colors were just described instead of described from the perspective of a character, if the book would have as much meaning?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

About Robin

Hey There! My name is Robin Hancock. I am the Reading Intervention Teacher under the Read to Achieve grant at Summer Shade Elementary in Metcalfe County, KY. I am originally from Maryland. I grew up on a farm and ended up going to the University of Kentucky to get a degree in Ag Economics. Later, I married and moved to southern Kentucky. I went back to college because I wanted a career I could really put my heart into and I found that in the career of teaching. I love it! I attended Lindsey Wilson College where I attained my certification in Elementary Education. As well, I am currently working on my Masters Degree to be a Reading and Writing Specialist. In addition, I recently achieved a certification in Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education (IECE). I also have a wonderful husband, Kirby, of 11 years and two boys of my own, Hayden and Hudson which I dearly love.

I am headed into my sixth year of teaching and I am really excited to utilize the new reading and teaching strategies that I am learning in my Masters classes!!!
I look forward to everyday and consider my students "my special gifts"!

As well, I enjoy finding and reading children's books, because they provide children with a way to learn life lessons through applications that children can relate too. However, in my extra time I also read novels as a part of a book study. I do not prefer one genre of adult literature over another, yet I like to read books that are suggested to me by friends.