Friday, 25 July 2014

The Story of Ferdinand

Author:  Munro Leaf

Illustrator:  Robert Lawson

Era:  1936

Published:  1936 (The Viking Press, N.Y.)

Award:  none found

Age Range:  0 - 11 years old

Review:  ★★★★

A most popular children's book about a young bull who does not wish to go to participate in the bullfights in Madrid, but only wishes to smell the flowers in his field.  One day, a sting from a bumblebee causes Ferdinand to bolt and, being mistaken for the fiercest bull of the herd, he is captured and taken to the fights against his will.  Yet Ferdinand remains true to his nature and eventually returns to his beloved home.

A matador in full dress in Madrid
source Wikipedia

Background:  Leaf claimed that he decided to write The Story of Ferdinand to give his friend, Robert Lawson, a vehicle to showcase his illustrations.  Yet the book was released nine months before the commencement of the civil war in Spain, and it was taken as treatise on the promotion of pacifism.  The Spanish leader, Francisco Franco, and his supporters condemned it as propaganda, as did Adolf Hilter, banning the book in Nazi Germany.  In contrast, the political left embraced the book; in Poland it was the only non-communist book allowed by Joseph Stalin and, in India,  Ghandhi claimed it as his favourite book.

Setting:  Spain, the land of the matadores and toreadores.  Ferdinand sits in a country field yet soon he is taken to the city.  Contrast the two:

Country = pastoral fields, bees, flowers, peace, silence, time to play & romp,  time to think ……
City (Madrid) = captivity, loud shouting, crowds, busyness, attacks, violence, etc.


Ferdinand:  a young bull who does not behave like the other bulls; he wants to sit in a field and smell the flowers

The other young bulls:  they romp and play and want to be chosen for the bullfights in Madrid

Ferdinand's mother:  is understanding and nurturing, and supports his unusual nature

The Five Men:  arrive from Madrid and wish to find the fiercest bull to participate in the bullfights in their city

The bumblebee:  an innocent insect who is following his nature when Ferdinand sits on him.  He is at fault for Ferdinand's future troubles

The Banderilleros:  They cannot understand Ferdinand's passivity

The Picadores:  They attempt to make Ferdinand angry, but fail

The Matador:  Ferdinand reduces him to tears when he is unable to make him fight

Ferdinand is the protagonist and the matador the main antagonist.  A comparison of the two results in:

Ferdinand:  wants peace, quiet and to remain undisturbed.  He does not care about what people think of him.  He is easygoing and is able to remain true to his nature.  The end result is that Ferdinand is victorious.

The Matador:  wants the bull to fight so he can gain victory over his opponent, and therefore win the adulation of the crowd.  He relies on the bull to assist him in becoming famous.  He is incensed when life does not meet his expectations.  The end result is that the matador is defeated.


    What does the central character want?

  •     Ferdinand wants to sit in his field and to smell the flowers.  He wants peace and quiet.

    What keeps him from getting what he wants?

  • First of all, the bumblebee that stings him, makes him appear like he is a great fighter.  Then the five men from Madrid mistake Ferdinand's frenzied attempt to escape the pain of the sting and decide that he is the fiercest bull, the one they have been searching for.  They take him to Madrid.

    How does Ferdinand finally get what he wants?

  • In Madrid, Ferdinand stays true to his nature, in spite of the many forces pushing him to fight.  He refuses to fight and eventually is returned to his meadow.

   Conflicts:  man vs. nature (Ferdinand vs. the bumblebee), man vs. man
                    (Ferdinand vs. the five men and the picadores and matador),
                    and man vs. society (Ferdinand vs. the society that wants
                    him to fight)


  •     Pacifism
  •     Self-Contentment
  •     Individuality
  •     Staying true to your nature
  •     Challenging the status quo
  •     Steadfastness & determination
  •     Peace over violence (War)

Bullwrestling (1865-66)
Edouard Manet
source Wikipedia

Despite being embroiled in controversy, this book has remained a beloved favourite and has been translated into 60 different languages.

Hemingway wrote a somewhat odd rebuttal to The Story of Ferdinand, called The Faithful Bull.

Resources & Ideas:
    The Story of Ferdinand Lapbook
    Teaching The Story of Ferdinand from Five-in-a-Row (blog)

    The Story of Ferdinand - Wikipedia
    The Well-Trained Mind Questions

© Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Sunday, 13 July 2014

All-of-a-Kind Family

Author:  Sydney Taylor

Illustrator:  Helen John

Era:  1910s-Lower East Side Manhattan, N.Y.

Published:  1951 (Follett Publishing)

Awards:  Follett Publishing Co. Award
               Kansas William Allen White Award

Age Range:  8 - 14 yrs old.

Review:  ★★★★

Author Sydney Taylor uses her own Jewish family as a model for this delightful story of an immigrant Jewish family living in New York at the turn of the twentieth century.  Instead of following a natural plotline, the book offers vignettes, allowing the reader private glimpses into the relationships of Papa, Mama, Ella, Henny, Charlotte, Sarah and Gertie of All-of-a-Kind family.

While Taylor portrays a lively, close-knit and loving family, she does not gloss over the struggles in the everyday life of a child. When a precious and costly library book goes missing, Sarah must conquer her fear and confess.  When Henny gets lost in Playland, how will she ever find her family?  And will the family ever find out the mystery behind Charlie the peddler and learn the reason for the sadness behind his eyes?

Jewish holidays are also included and the traditions and habits behind them are truly fascinating for the non-Jewish reader.  The Sabbath, Purim, and Succos are explained, and Taylor's personal touch makes you feel as if you are part of the excitement of the celebrations.

My favourite chapter was the story of Mama's inventive "button-game" to help the girls learn to dust the front room carefully and thoroughly. Cleverly, she came up with the plan to hide buttons throughout the room, and the "duster" would have completed her job, when she had found all of the buttons.  Mama's ingenuity turned the work into a game, and by it she avoided having to nag her children.

The Jewish Market - Lower East Side
 c. 1890-1901

This book is a truly enjoyable classic that can be read over and over.  And please read the continuing books in the series to enjoy more adventures with All-of-A-Kind family.

  • More All-of-a-Kind Family
  • All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown
  • All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown
  • Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family

Supplement Questions:

  1. The Hebrew word "mitzvot" means commandments or good deeds.  Can you find examples of characters performing "mitzvot" in this book?  
  2. The Hebrew word "middot" refers to good character traits.  What "middot" do you think the characters in the story possess?
  3. The stories in this book take place a long time ago, in the 1910's, however, are you able to find a situation in the book that might be similar to a present-day situation?  Find the commonalities between "then" and "now".
  4. Choose a Jewish holiday and either describe it in your own words, or write a short narration describing it.

Source:  The All-of-a-Kind Family Companion

© Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Monday, 7 July 2014

Reading Questions for Children

As a guide for dialogue with your middle school child, the following questions may be useful:

For a Novel or Story:

Whom is this book about? (central character[s])
What do the central characters want?
What keeps them/him/her from getting what they want?
How do they/him/her get what they want?
Do they have an enemy or enemies?  Is there a villain?
What does the villain want?
What do you think is the most important event in the story?
What leads up to this event?
How are the characters different after this event?
What is the most important event in each chapter?
How many different stories does the writer tell?

For a Biography:

What kind of family did the subject come from?
What were his parents like?
Where did he go to school?
What did he want the most as a child?
As a grown-up?
How did he go about getting it?
Name three or four important people in his life.
Did he get married?  To whom?  When?
Did they have children?
What was the most important event in his life?
Name three other important events in his life.
Did he get what he wanted in life?  Why or why not?
Why do we still remember this person?

For Evaluation:

What was the most exciting part of the book?
What was the most boring part of the book?
Did you like the character(s)?  Why or why not?
Did you hope that he would get what he wanted?
Did any part of the book seem particularly real?
Did any part of the book seem unlike to you?
Did you hope it would end in another way?  How?
Would you read this book again?
Which one of your friends would enjoy this book?

Taken from The Well-Trained Mind, Susan Wise Bauer (2004).

All images from Wikiart
  1. Girl with a Book – Jose Ferraz de Almeida Jr.  
  2. The New Novel – Winslow Homer, 1877
  3. Merchant at a table near window -  Abraham van Strij

Friday, 4 July 2014

How To Teach Literary Analysis - If You Want To ..........

For anyone who is using this blog to find good books for children and who would like to help their children gain a deeper understanding of these books, I'm going to share an article that I wrote two years ago for a homeschooling group newsletter.

How To Teach Basic Literary Analysis – An Overview
by Cleo

            What is literary analysis?  This can be a controversial question; even the experts cannot completely agree as to its definition and application.  But the fact remains that your child will, at some point, be required to draw meaning from the texts he is reading, and be expected to apply this meaning to different mediums, whether it is an essay, a debate, or perhaps simply a problem encountered in everyday life. 
            In his bestselling book How To Read A Book (1972), Mortimer J. Adler explains that the author of a literary text is attempting to have a conversation with the reader, and it is the responsibility of the reader to search diligently to find out what that conversation is about.  This form of  “active reading” is essential for any type of analysis, as it assists the reader in reading for understanding, instead of simply for information.  In essence, literary analysis is not about WHAT is said as much as it is about HOW it is said.  So how do we go about teaching the basics of this skill, and what should our expectations be for our child at each of the developmental stages (grammar, logic and rhetoric)?
            During the grammar stage, literary analysis is rather simple.  A child is not yet able to think in the abstract, and an elementary approach will suffice for analytical exposure.  Basic questions can be asked such as: What was your favourite part of the story?  What did you like least about the story?  Who was your favourite character?  Who did you like least in the story?  If your child enjoys this process, you can begin to delve into why he made his choices.  At this age level, the analysis does not have to be limited to just words.  Encourage him to notice other aspects of the book, such as the illustrations and ask, for example, why he thinks the author decided to use a certain illustration to convey a particular message.  However, if you feel your child is consistently resistant to the process, leave it.  Your goals are simply to persuade your child to think about the book, and to begin a dialogue between yourselves, developing a pattern that will be invaluable at later stages.  
            When a child enters the logic stage, he should be working on reading, summarizing, and identifying terms of reference (i.e. fiction, non-fiction, novel, fable, biography, poem, etc.).   He is now ready to be asked questions such as:  Who is the main character of the story?  What did he want?  What prevents him from getting what he wants?  What is the most important event in this story?  You may want him to write a short response to one of these questions, but first ensure you discuss the question with him to fully develop his ideas; this dialogue will help him organize his thoughts before writing, and keep him from being overwhelmed.
            At the rhetoric stage, the student will be asked to switch from content-oriented reading (who, what, when, where, and the “obvious” why) to form-oriented reading (the form used to convey meaning, how specific ideas are expressed, etc.).  The student should work towards acquiring the ability to dissect a book.  This requires a level of abstraction, the ability to see beyond content into the organization of ideas, and to discover subtleties of thought within a book’s construction.  Start acquainting your student with basic literary terms.  Allow him to make notes in the margins of the book to acquire better understanding of the literature.  Assign brief one-page essays in the form of a formal essay, a biographical essay, an historical essay, or a response paper.  A response paper topic could be chosen from the following examples:  1) choose a scene, plot, or character, and tell why it helped or hindered the story; 2) compare the reading with another work and draw a parallel; or 3) argue that a character behaved in a manner that was ethically right or wrong.  Again, ensure the topic has been thoroughly discussed before any writing begins.  Eventually, your child will be well on his way to understanding and identifying the techniques that make a literary work effective.
            A basic proficiency in literary analysis will allow your child to move beyond elementary reading.  By developing these critical thinking skills, your student will benefit during his post-secondary education, as well as in his personal reading.  He will be able to distinguish between literary and non-literary works, being better equipped to judge a book according to its merits.  As Francis Bacon so aptly put it: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”  Literary analysis can give your child a discerning “appetite.”  But whether your child is just setting off on this literary journey or has advanced to the composition of essays, your goals in teaching literary analysis are to ultimately foster a life-long love of reading in your child, and to help him acquire the skills to dig deeper within a book to find the treasures hidden inside.

Selected Bibliography:

Adler, Mortimer J.  How to Read a Book. New York, N.Y.; Simon & Schuster, 1972
Bauer, Susan Wise The Well-Trained Mind. New York, N.Y.; W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2004
Thanks to Ester Maria & Karen Anne

Recommended Resources:

Grammar/Logic:                  Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence & Nancy

Logic/Rhetoric:                    Teaching the Classics
                                        TheWell-Trained Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer

Rhetoric:                                  The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer
                                        Essential Literary Terms by Sharon Hamilton
                                        How To Read A Book by Mortimer J. Adler (This is a
                                                       dense book.  Keep in mind if you/your child only absorbs a
                                                      portion of it, you/he will still have learned a great deal.)

© Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Children's Classic Book Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content