Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #7

No two holiday celebrations are ever alike.  Despite all our planning, sometimes life has a way of taking control. Weather, health and just plain goofy happenings can change everything within hours, minutes or seconds.  

This year two entirely different books, with older release dates, were used as expressions of gratitude when reading aloud with students.  The six previous posts, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #2, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #3, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #4, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #5, and Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #6, have served to ask us not only what this holiday means to us, but the value of each and every day.

It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish folk tale (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976) retold and with pictures by Margot Zemach (a Caldecott Medalist for Duffy and the Devil: a Cornish tale and a Caldecott Honor winner for The Judge:  An Untrue Tale and for this title) examines the life of a man believing he has reached his limits.  To clarify, he lived in one room with his mother, wife and their six children.  The crowded conditions were very hard on everyone.  Quarreling and crying were daily occurrences.  It was even worse in the winter.

One day he sought the advice of the Rabbi.  The man was desperate for a solution, agreeing to do whatever the Rabbi suggested to lessen the noise.  The first thing the Rabbi did was to ask the man if he had any animals, any fowl. The man's reply prompted the Rabbi to tell him to bring the chickens, rooster and goose into his home.

As you can imagine now on top of the quarreling and crying there was honking, crowing and clucking.  Unable to bear the commotion any longer, the man visited the Rabbi again.  The wise man's next question, the man's reply and the Rabbi's recommendation were puzzling to the man but he did it.

The ruckus was much worse.  On his third visit to the Rabbi, the man was dumbfounded with his guidance but he reluctantly did it.  Now the poor man had crying, quarreling, honking, clucking, crowing, wild butting and massive trampling. Nearly out of his mind, he went to the Rabbi for his fourth visit.  Thrilled with the Rabbi's wonderful words, he ran home and did exactly as the Rabbi encouraged him to do.  Did the man go back to the Rabbi again?  He did.  The gift of family is a rare gift indeed.

In her retelling of this tale Margot Zemach creates a storytelling cadence with the repetition of key phrases as each episode is recounted.  She heightens the tension by altering the words to describe the man's reaction to the Rabbi's advice.  Each time he is more perplexed by the conversations he has with the Rabbi.  He actually wonders if the Rabbi is crazy.  This also contributes to the comedy in this story.  Here is a passage.

"Holy Rabbi," he cried, "see what a misfortune has befallen me.  Now with the crying and quarreling, with the honking, clucking, and crowing, there are feathers in the soup.  Rabbi, it couldn't be worse.  Help me, please."

The Rabbi listened and thought.  At last he said, "Tell me, do you happen to have a goat?"

"Oh, yes, I do have an old goat, but he's not worth much."

"Excellent," said the Rabbi.  "Now go home and take the old goat into your hut to live with you."

"Ah, no!  Do you really mean it, Rabbi?" cried the man.

"Come, come now, my good man, and do as I say at once,"  said the Rabbi.

Unfolding the dust jacket reveals a background which continues from the left (back) edge to the right (front) edge. In the scene on the back the poor unfortunate man is stepping outside his hut into a snowy evening.  A crescent moon is hanging in the sky.  Smoke is coming from his chimney and the small home near his hut.  On the front we can easily see the chaos from having nine people living in a single room.  The one older child sleeping seems like a miracle.  The book case is blue cloth.  The opening and closing endpapers are a shade of deep rose.

In the single-page picture opposite the title page, the man and his wife are walking down the village's road across a bridge as his mother and six children create a rumpus ahead and behind them.  Margot Zemach alternates between single-page pictures, images crossing the gutter and two-page illustrations.  Most of the single-page pictures are interior views of the home.  The larger pictures give readers a glimpse of life in this small community as well as the visits to the Rabbi.  Sometimes Margot Zemach blends the visits to the Rabbi with views of the wildness inside the man's home.

With her illustrations Margot Zemach elevates the narrative beautifully.  One of my many favorite illustrations is when the man has returned home after a visit to the Rabbi.  It spans two pages.  On the right another man is riding in a cart drawn by a single horse and crossing a small bridge to the poor unfortunate man's yard on the left.  Behind the man in the cart is a large home with turrets.  In the yard the poor unfortunate man is untying his goat.  Three of the younger children are playing outside in the yard.  Another child is running behind the hut.  The man's wife is standing outside the hut's door.  By her posture, the man has just informed her the goat is coming inside to live.  The sun is shining in a winter sky.

'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving (Orchard Books, September 1, 1990) with story and pictures by Dav Pilkey is a rewording of the famous Clement C. Moore Christmas poem.  It begins with a field trip on the day before Thanksgiving.  A fall breeze blows leaves around eight students boarding a school bus. 

The children sing as the bus bumps along down the road.  They do have visions in their minds...of drumsticks.  As their teacher drives the bus down the winding route, a chorus of noise has them lowering their windows.

They have arrived at Farmer Mack Nuggett's turkey farm.  Eight tiny turkeys can hardly wait for the man dressed in denim to open the gate.  He calls them by name.  It's love at first sight between the fowl and the children.  They play together with total bliss until one of the little girl's notices an ax by the door.

When the children hear what is going to happen to the turkeys that night, there is no consoling them.  As the sun disappears beneath the horizon and stars fill the sky, the teacher and Farmer Mack Nuggett run to the well to get the children a sip of water to soothe them.  The two adults return to find the children much calmer and fatter.  They struggle to board the bus but it soon takes off into the night.  The next day, Thanksgiving feasts in eight homes have an additional member in their family sitting at the table.  The meal in each is a delectable vegetarian delight.

Dav Pilkey has a gift for selecting the right words to convey the exact mood in the exact moment.  His verses are brimming with humor.  None of the rhymes are forced but flow easily.  The name of the farmer makes reference to a fast food chain.  The names of the turkeys, Ollie, Stanley, Larry, Moe, Wally, Beaver, Shemp and Groucho give a nod to famous comedians and the television show Leave It To Beaver featuring "Beaver" and Wally Cleaver which ran from 1957 to 1963.  Here are two verses.

The turkeys were chunky
With smiley, beaked faces,
And they greeted the children
With downy embraces.

So out through the barnyard
They ran and they flew,
And they gobbled and giggled
As friends sometimes do.

The swirling blue on blue background shown on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is used to the left on the back.  The scene of the children running and laughing with the turkeys continues past the spine to the far left of the back.  This image is one of sheer happiness.  Bright yellow colors the opening and closing endpapers.  It's the same hue found on the turkeys' beaks.  On the title page beneath the text a turkey runs across the page with whorls of pale blue marking his path.

Autumn leaves tumble across the verso and dedication pages.  Under the dedication 

For Cyndi and Nate

Dav Pilkey has this quote:

". . .And what is done with love is well done."
---Vincent Van Gogh

Full color two-page pictures supply liveliness to the narrative lifting the level of emotional impact.  When the little girl inquires about the ax, Dav has the teacher and Farmer Mack Nuggett standing to the left in a pose reminiscent of the American Gothic by Grant Wood.  As night begins to descend and the children put their plan into place, readers come to understand why Dav includes the Vincent Van Gogh quote.  

His sky starts to have more texture as the stars appear.  As the children are climbing the steps on the bus, the sky looks like Van Gogh's Starry Night with a huge crescent moon rising and lighting the ride home.  In the subsequent pictures the sky is filled with large, dotted pale blue swirls on darker blue.  On Thanksgiving evening the crescent moon is accompanied by large yellow stars.  Love is in the air.

One of my many favorite pictures is similar to the one on the dust jacket and book case.  The children from all different ethnic backgrounds and wearing all types of bright-colored clothing are leaping and running across the barnyard from left to right.  Their arms are lifted in joy and their faces are filled with laughter.  Two of the turkeys are flying above them and the others are keeping pace with the girls and boys on the ground.  Fall leaves are blowing among them.

It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish folk tale written and illustrated by Margot Zemach and 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving story and pictures by Dav Pilkey are two classic tales enjoyed by students.  Both exhibit gratitude for what we have and for kindness extended by others.  (Eight turkeys are completely relieved as are their young friends.)  I can't imagine a celebration of giving thanks without these books.

At the publisher's website for It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish folk tale you can view several interior images. To learn more about Dav Pilkey and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  I think you'll enjoy this interview of Dav at Scholastic BookClubs Kids.    

No comments:

Post a Comment