Tall Tales: A Wisconsin Legend, Giants Calling, and
Sartorial Bargaining in the New England Woods

h1 November 20th, 2006 by jules

pancakes-for-supper.jpgHave you seen Anne Isaac’s Pancakes for Supper!, illustrated beautifully by Mark Teague? Aw, you need to. Isaacs, writing with great poise, is re-envisioning Helen Bannerman’s Story of Little Black Sambo but sets the story in New England. In an author’s note of sorts, we are told, “Isaacs blends elements from American storytelling traditions and Bannerman’s tale, while introducing animals indigenous to North America . . .” And, as the School Library Journal review put it well, it’s a “clever, respectful take on an iconic tale.” If you don’t know the story behind the oft-controversial Sambo (though, as Fred Marcellino pointed out with his re-illustrated The Story of Little Babaji, Bannerman’s story itself possessed no racist overtones), a little boy outwits his tiger predators by sacrificing various items of clothing; the tigers race around a tree in the story’s finale, only to turn into ghee, or butter; and the boy returns home to eat 169 pancakes for supper. In Isaac’s rollicking story, rendered as if an American tall tale, “{o}nce upon a morning in a March wood,” a young girl, Toby — heading to Whisker Creek in a beautiful, blooming, ready-for-Spring New England on the back of her parents’ bouncing wagon — is sent flying when said wagon hits a bump. Landing safely in a soft pile of snow, she finds herself in front of a hungry wolf. Outwitting the vain wolf by offering up her “beautiful blue coat with purple lining,” she’s off again to find her parents, only to meet a host of other ravenous animals along the way. Bargaining off items of clothing and ending up with only her red long johns and orange hat, she watches the animals yip and yowl and argue over which is the grandest and, eventually, chase each other around a huge maple tree, only to leave a “great golden-brown puddle at the base of the trunk.” After finding her parents and after the tree stirs to life and soaks up the puddle, releasing some sweet maple syrup, she and her parents have a pancake feast. And, yes, Toby eats 169 pancakes . . . Teague goes to town with vivid, sprawling double page spreads. Citing the bold colors of 1930s pop art as inspiration, he perfectly commands the charisma of Isaac’s story with his striking, brightly-hued oils. One of the best picture books I’ve seen this year — and with a recipe for Toby’s Animals Pancakes on the back of the book. Some Thanksgiving dinner chow for you? Who needs turkey when you can have 169 pancakes? I’m off to buy some syrup (since I have no wood animals nearby to work into a frenzy and melt). Let Isaacs and Teague treat you, so to speak, with this exuberant tall tale . . .

hodag.jpgThe Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by John Sandford — Welcome to the world of the Far North Wisconsin Woods and the lumberjacks who work there, who have befriended a huge creature with the “head of an ox, feet of a bear, back of a dinosaur, and tail of an alligator. It was forty feet tall, and its eyes glowed like fire. It was the Hodag!” Unfortunately, one day these lumberjacks — guided by their chief of sorts, Olee Swenson — stumble upon some men who want to catch this creature and take him to the zoo. Thus begins the tale of Swenson and his fellow lumberjacks’ attempts to foil the plot of these animal catchers — with the help, in the end, of some blueberries, the Hodag’s favorite treat. Caroline Arnold, known for her award-winning non-fiction titles, tells us in an Author’s Note that the first Hodag stories were told in logging camps more than one hundred years ago with her first having heard them as a child in a Wisconsin summer camp. This is her original tall tale but based on traditional characters (she also brought us The Terrible Hodag, illustrated by Lambert Davis, in 1989). Arnold imbues the story with adventure, though the writing is a bit stilted in spots. Sandford’s black and white pen-and-ink drawings, made to look like woodcuts, are both dramatic and amusing in spots (the latter as seen through the comically-rendered city-born animal catchers, especially compared to the typical manly-man lumberjacks); the farcical illustration of the animal catchers fleeing from the Hodag trap is the stand-out illustration, spilling over its borders in this, the story’s climax. Oh, and you don’t want to miss that complicated Hodag trap, seen in profile. So, add the Hodag, who is actually quite sweet and affable, to your list of tall-tale, original American heroes. Who knew?

giants1.gifWhen Giants Come to Play by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes — Hawkes wows again (having just impressed this year with Library Lion — see here for my review) with his charcoal pencil and acrylic illustrations of two very lovable and soft-hearted giants, who spring to life from the imagination of a young girl named Anna. They jump rope, they snack on mint tea and “cakes that drip chocolate frosting,” they play catch, they gather flowers, and much more. Beaty’s text is a straight-up account of a day of play amongst three friends (though, as already pointed out by one of our readers, it’s lyrically-written as well with lines such as “sometimes, on a summer morning, when the sun shines just so and the wind blows like this and like that on its way to somewhere else” and “as the midday sun spreads itself like a blanket over the grass . . .”); the laughs come via Hawke’s carefully rendered illustrations and his two giants who spill off the pages with personality and warmth. They’re actually quite touching as well, as they have an evident fondness for Anna, their friend, and treat her with great care (click on the book’s title above and scroll down a bit to see some sample spreads from the book). In the end, Anna hopes they not only come to play again, but come to stay. This title is not only here to stay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it won an award or two next year. It’s a captivating read — for lap-time with a child or read-aloud time with a group of them.

Cheers and good day for now . . . until we meet again to discuss more picture books. Don’t forget your pancakes for supper. Ciao.

6 comments to “Tall Tales: A Wisconsin Legend, Giants Calling, and
Sartorial Bargaining in the New England Woods”

  1. I think “Hodag” has just become my new favorite insult word. As in, “OHMYGOD, can you believe Julie? She is such a total HODAG!”

  2. i knew that was coming. actually, i’m a total Hodag for comin’ up with that hideous, cumbersome title for that post, but hey at least it’s original.

    can “hodag” be an intransitive verb, too? as in, she hodagged all night . . .

    are we channeling fifth-graders now, or what?

  3. chill, hodag, the title’s fine.

    sure, intransitive verb works. i think the true test of a new profanity or insult is how well it can be combined with “ass.” as in, “get your skanky hodag ass out of my car.”

  4. I LOOOOOVVVEEEEEE the Giants book! Kevin Hawkes rocks! This book is simply magical.

    I’ll have to check out the Terrible Hodag. Hope there isn’t one with his skanky hodag ass in my car. 🙂

  5. see? see how well it works? thanks for backing me up, callie!

  6. […] in particular, many of which I’ve covered here previously at 7-Imp, including 2006’s When Giants Come to Play, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes; 2007’s Iggy Peck: Architect, illustrated by David Roberts; […]

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