It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.
Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts
Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.
Featured Guests for Oddballs and Misfits Theme: An Oscar/Academy Award Winner (Shaun Tan), a Linguist (Professor Tuting Hernandez) and an Artist (Danny Castillones Sillada)
Book Hunting Expedition (43): Anthony Browne, Berkeley Breathed, Raymond Briggs, Freya Blackwood and More
We are truly excited about our current bimonthly theme as we celebrate Oddballs and Misfits and highlight the Surreal and the Peculiar in the next two months. Here are two gorgeous picture books that seem to fit the bill just right: a bogeyman going through an existential crisis and a fiercely-gentle bull.
The Story of Ferdinand
Text By: Munro Leaf
Drawings by: Robert Lawson
Publisher: The Viking Press, first published in 1936. Bought my own copy. Book photos taken by me.
The first time I learned about this book was through the movie Blind Side. Sandra Bullock (who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in this film) described Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron) as Ferdinand the Bull with his exquisitely gentle nature. She found the story book in a store and even read it aloud to her children. I knew right then and there I had to find this classic book. I am so glad I found my own copy, which incidentally happens to be the 75th Anniversary Edition. I bought it while I was visiting the Philippines in January of this year.
Historical Notes: A Pacifist Book? The Story of Ferdinand was published in 1936 the same year as the Spanish Civil War breakout. This led many people to regard this book as a pacifist-propaganda-material promoting anti-war sentiments. The setting of the book is in Spain – which, in itself, is unusual for an English storybook. The story also reminded me a little bit of Allen Say’s El Chino with references to bull-fighting. It also makes delicious references to banderilleros, picadores, and the handsome Matador with the red red cape. Amidst all this backdrop is a fiercely-gentle bull defying all stereotypes and expectations.
A Different Kind of Bull – Shattering the Stereotype. Ferdinand has always been different since he was young. Unlike other young bulls who enjoyed roughhousing, jumping around and butting their heads together, Ferdinand preferred to sit among the flowers in quiet contemplation: “He had a favorite spot out in the pasture under a cork tree.”
Initially, Ferdinand’s mother worried about his seeming-isolation from the other bulls. Ferdinand, however, indicated with a measure of quiet certainty that he likes to just sit quietly to smell the flowers. When his mother saw how much he enjoyed and valued his solitude, she let him be, as this is clearly what gives him joy.
Eventually, Ferdinand grew to be huge and strong while remaining gentle-natured. While the other bulls are scrambling all over each other to be picked for the bull fights in Madrid, Ferdinand couldn’t really care less. He would amble steadily and slowly, absorbed in his own imaginings. It so happened, however, that he accidentally sat on a bumble bee at the same instant that there were men selecting bulls for a fight – and they chanced upon what they thought was a raging, fierce bull – an absolute champion, and sure to be the darling of the crowd. Little did they know that it was just a naughty little bumble bee that caused such an uproar. How the story ends, I shall leave for you to discover. There is just so much to love and enjoy about this book, the clear and deceptively-simple narrative and the gorgeous black and white illustrations are foremost among them.
Teacher Resource. There are so many layers that can be teased out from this book, depending on which grade level is being taught. I anticipate that children across different ages would find something new and always something to love from Ferdinand. It is also a celebration of distinctiveness and a quiet acceptance of one’s uniqueness and the quiet comfort that it brings. I was able to find quite a few resources that might be helpful for teachers who wish to make use of this in class. This link from teachervision includes several possible arts and craft activities that can be initiated in class. This downloadable pdf link created by education.miami.edu is also filled with pages and pages of possible discussion arcs, a list of learning experiences that can be culled from the narrative, and possible classroom activities that can be done with the students. Here is another downloadable pdf link created by tc2.ca (Kirsten Lintott) which happens to be a complete teachers’ guide to this lovely story along with a set of printable worksheets that can be used in class.
Here’s the Disney version entitled Ferdinand the Bull. While it does not have the beautiful line art of Robert Lawson, it gives you an idea of how charming and timeless this story is.
Fungus the Bogeyman
Story and Illustrations By: Raymond Briggs
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, London, 1977.
Book borrowed from the NIE library. Book photos taken by me.
I first discovered Raymond Briggs through a talk that Janet Evans gave at my institution (NIE – National Institute of Education) sometime in 2010. It left such an indelible impression that I had to borrow all of the available Raymond Briggs’ books from our library and I have been a huge fan ever since. Briggs is a league of his own – a different caliber altogether, inspiring even academics such as Janet Evans to study his works in such fine detail and great depth.
This entire book is a compendium of grisly facts about the entire Bogeydom – from their smelly, dank, and disgustingly-drippy bedsheets to their favorite meals during breakfast (flaked corns anyone? or quite possibly golden waxy bits?) – to details about the Bogey anatomy – certain sections however have been withheld for propriety’s sake and “out of concern for Bogey privacy.”
No Ordinary Bogeyman. As the reader gets increasingly nauseous about the devilishly-horrid details (milk has to be curdled until it’s nearly solid, ripe and fuscous egg smells, the ghastly lavatory and its abominable smells) – the reader meets Fungus who is no ordinary bogeyman. He is a closet-philosopher, an existentialist, a sensitive soul.
While he acknowledges that he used to enjoy scaring the ‘drycleaners’ (the Bogeymen’s reference to people such as ourselves who live clean and dry on the surface) out of their wits, tapping at windows, turning doorknobs, banging doors, knocking slates off roofs, making hapless individuals scream and shriek in fright as he engenders a boil in the most unlikely places in a poor unsuspecting sleeping human’s body – he feels that “It’s just a routine now” and he constantly wonders why he does what he does and what the point of his existence is. Here is a snapshot of a conversation between Fungus and his friend Fester as he tries to articulate the ‘winter of his discontent.’
The Public Liberality and the Love for Empty [inaccurate] Platitudes and Useless Quotations. More than anything though, I was particularly fascinated by the fact that most bogeymen are avid readers and they do enjoy going to their public liberality (which as you can deduce is their public library). They do love their books and would even lick and suck on them on occasion. I also enjoyed reading through “bogey graffiti” which according to archivist/documentor Briggs is “never scatological. It almost always consists of platitudes or grave philosophical statements.”
This picture book is way ahead of its time (published in 1977) in its vision, inventiveness, postmodern vibe with the book artist maintaining a blithe, farcical, borderline-facetious seeming-conversation with its reader – the attention to the tiniest detail is astounding and the theme resonates with young people who may be struggling with their own identities and finding their place in the world. Even before there was Neil Gaiman, Raymond Briggs had a cult following during this time with the incomparable Fungus the Bogeyman.
Teacher resources. For teachers who may wish to use this in the classroom, here is a valuable downloadable resource pack (pdf file) created by pilot-theatre which also describes the theatre act that has been inspired by this brilliant book. It includes literacy activities such as Bogey Poetry, drama activities, art and design activities, and even includes a Do Your Own Costume tips and suggestions.
Apparently, this classic graphic novel has been turned into a film, here is a snippet that I have a feeling you’d enjoy.
And here’s Fungus’ poetry for you all (a mish-mash of thoughts from various poets philosophers writers). Here’s to celebrating beautiful strangenesses wherever we find it.
Oh well, Here we go… Off to work again… Onwards Always onwards, In Silence And in Gloom… I wonder what It’s all FOR?…. The brimming dykes are not so full As my heart’s silent swell… A steam of rich distill’d perfumes. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips… Long is the way and hard, that out of here leads up to light this seat of desolation void of light There must be more to life than this.. Oh, the sweet contentment The pattyman doth find Just keep pegging way I suppose it’s all I’m fit for…
I still am going through these two books. I am making much progress with Miss Peregrine and I am enjoying myself immensely. Not much progress with Fire Spell though (also known as Splendors and Glooms) by Laura Amy Schlitz.
How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?
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