Horns & Wrinkles written by Joseph Helgerson & illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

There’s a little town along the Mississippi River called Blue Wing. Twelve-year-old Claire lives there, along with her cousin Duke and lots of family who don’t think twice about believing in magic or trolls or pixies. They’ve all lived in Blue Wing long enough to hear the tales passed down. The folklore is more than just lore. So when Claire reports that Duke is missing, having grown a rhino horn and a Pinocchio-like nose, nobody seems too surprised. Shoot, the police department has a special procedure planned. And Grandpa, even though he knows better, manages to get himself turned to stone along with the others, leaving Claire to rescue her cousin while helping a few trolls along the way.

Horns and Wrinkles is a tale that requires a fair amount of openness on the reader’s part. Just like the population of Blue Wing, we’ve got to believe that eccentric river incidents are a reality. Each chapter begins with charming illustrations that foreshadow the chapter to come. The story reads like a modern tall tale, something rarely attempted and executed reasonably well in Horns and Wrinkles.

The main difficulties I had with the story involve the jerky transitions. I felt the author lost focus quite a few times and went rambling on unnecessary diversions. This is not to say that the plot was not well executed, it was quite swift and engaging. I simply felt there was unevenness in the transitioning between some scenes. This might be from the over-the-top nature of the tale. At times the fantastical seemed too much, like Lemony Snicket without the wallop.

I do think this tale would appeal to many young readers. It has several applications for classroom use: identifying elements of fantasy vs. tall tale vs. folklore, prediction and foreshadowing, as well as cultural and historical implications of the Mississippi Valley.

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Genre: Legend/Folklore. Age: 9-12. Pages: 368.

Themes: Strength of Character, Courage, Family
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin. Date: September 2006.
ISBN-10: 0618616799 / ISBN-13: 978-0618616794

Buy Horns and Wrinkles Here
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti

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Have you missed the Eragon fun? - Mini Book Review

If you saw the movie, but didn't read the book, then listen up! Eragon is a fantastic tale, all the more special coming from the head of a teenager. The movie was r-o-t-t-e-n! You should give the book a chance.
Eragon is the story of yet another young lad who finds himself thrust into renown & greatness (sure to please the maturing Harry Potter crowd). The story opens with a bang when an egg hatches and marks its finder as the first of a lost line of men called Riders. This encounter changes the young man's fate from farm boy to hero. Throw in a wise teacher, a corrupt & powerful tyrant, a scary henchman, a few friends, elves, dwarves, and a dragon and we're off on the adventure! Though one can criticize the formulated fantasy leanings of the young writer, it's much nicer to note that it's a fun ride. The plot stays course and the characters are endearing.

The story is aimed for secondary students, but I'd also recommend the series as a read aloud for intermediate elementary students. Themes of fate, longing, metamorphosis, and courage abound and the author, Christopher Paolini, throws in a few teen angst themes for good measure.

Fantasy can easily lend itself to the reluctant readers for several reasons. One, the action filled plot lines tend to engage readers quickly. Two, the made-up words assist in the explanation of language and reading structure. And finally, the familiar themematic structure of fantasy lends itself well to the disadvantaged reader.

Book two, Eldest, is almost as good and book three, Brisingr, is dropping on September 20th.

Don't miss this trilogy. It's sure to become a classic!

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti

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Great Website: OLogy

I don't usually write about topics off book, but this site is so cool I just had to mention it:

The site is called OLogy and it is a great resource for teachers and parents, plus such fun for kids! It's developed by the American Museum of Natural History. Topics cover archeology, astronomy, the earth, biodiversity, ... and many wonderful science things. And since kids READ while on websites it's not so far off my topic after all :-)
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti

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The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar - Book Review

I’ve wanted to read The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar for some time. I thumbed through the entire Norton series of annotated tales (Grimm’s, Anderson’s, etc…) in Barnes & Noble, but I’d not taken the time to really see if it was a good anthology. It’s not a good anthology; it’s a great one.
Illustration by Kay Nielsen (1914) from Hansel & Gretel

Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1918) from Jack and the Beanstalk

Ms. Tatar’s introduction, annotations, and illustration inclusions are marvelous. It may well be argued that The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales is the definitive source covering the most common traditional European tales. Tatar has included a good mix of Grimm, Perrault and Anderson as well as a few lesser-known fairy tale authors. She provides a brief overview on the oral history of story telling and a well-considered introduction. Each of the twenty-six fairy tales has strong annotations and a large variety of artwork. Her annotations discuss themes, motivations and various changes to the tales as well as the tale's origins and cultural context. The appendices include brief biographies for both the authors and illustrators.
Illustration by Ivan Bilibin (1900) from Vasilissa (Baba Yaga)

Mabel Lucie Attwell (1914)
from The Ugly Duckling

The introduction is especially thought provoking, illustrating the impact fairy tales have in shaping our lives and culture. The importance of fairy tales to the child’s development can perhaps be no easier understood than by the work of the controversial Bruno Bettelheim in his book, The Uses of Enchantment. Tatar, of course, quotes from Bettelheim saying that fairy tales serve to teach children that, “a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable …one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.” It’s a good quote to illustrate her point that fairy tales are of enumerable psychological value to the developing person.
Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1932) from The Emperor's New Clothes

Illustration by Edmund Dulac (1911) from The Princess & the Pea

Tatar speaks of how returning to fairy tales returns, “a rush of childhood memories and experiences.” For me, this is not the case. I’ve no childhood memories of pixies and magic to pull forward, but I now read fairy tales voraciously in hope that some glimmer will shine. The first fairy tale I recall admiring is Rapunzel. In considering why I remember Rapunzel more fondly, I came across Ms. Tatar’s assessment of Rapunzel as being a, “prisoner in a tower that lacks both a stairs and an exit.” These sort of wide-view observations provide countless opportunities for reflection.
Illustration by Kay Nielsen (1925) from Rapunzel

Illustration by Jennie Harbour (1932) from The Little Mermaid

The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by by Maria Tater is highly recommended for lovers of all classic stories, fairy tale enthusiasts and those interested in possible insights into the mind of the developing child.
Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1932) from Cinderella

Illustration by Maxfield Parrish (1913) from Puss In Boots

Illustration by Kay Nielsen (1925) from Snow White

Illustration by Gustav Dore' (1867) from Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose

Illustration by Harry Clarke (1922) from Little Red Riding Hood

Illustration by Kay Nielsen (1930) from Bluebeard
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti

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