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.

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Gathering Readers meets Susanna Goho Quek: Interactive Storytelling with Artwork

Photo Journal/ A-Z Photo Challenge: L is for Lamp

Poetry Friday: The Misfits

Book Hunting Expedition (45): Edward Gorey and a few Book Bargains

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One of the things I observed about our current bimonthly theme – apart from the fact that it consumes us – is that we find ourselves devoting more time to writing and drafting the reviews as there are just so many layers that can be teased out in these complex books. We are learning a great deal though in the process, and truth be told, I am enjoying myself a great deal. It is beautiful knowing about these non-mainstream, out-of-the-ordinary reading materials.

IMG_6160Crictor

Story and Drawings: Tomi Ungerer
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers, 1958.
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I found this book during the Singapore Library Warehouse Sale September of last year. I knew about Tomi Ungerer then. Even though I have not really read any of his works as yet at the time, I was certain that he is different – in a way that would appeal to me. And I was not mistaken.

Crictor is the story of the enduring and beautiful friendship between Madame Bodot and a boa constrictor whom she named Crictor. This strange and extremely intelligent creature was given to her as a gift by her son who was in Africa studying reptiles.

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While she was initially (and understandably) scared of this boa constrictor, she soon came to appreciate its gentle nature and treated it as part of the family. Madame Bodot fed Crictor bottles of milk, gave it a lovely place to sleep, complete with palm trees and a warm especially knitted and handcrafted sweater to wear during cruel winter days.

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As a school teacher, Madame Bodot would also bring Crictor to school where he showed an aptitude for letters and numbers, even using his entire body to form numerical shapes and the alphabet. Little girls would use Crictor as their jumping rope (and he would willingly oblige) while Crictor would teach the boy scouts how to tie knots (using its agile body of course). Things got a little dicey when it was discovered though that there was a thief prowling the little French village where they live. What happened when the burglar broke into Madame Bodot’s place, I shall leave for you to discover.

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This is a gentle story with a seemingly-surreal storyline – yet one would be amazed at its normalcy and its matter-of-fact tone – the absurdity made common with little acts of kindnesses and unlikely heroism as one embraces the frightening, the unfamiliar, and the strange.

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Story and Drawings: Tomi Ungerer
Publisher: Phaidon Press Limited, first published in 1980
Borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

Adelaide is no ordinary kangaroo. Even her parents were surprised when they discovered that she has wings when she was born. Adelaide’s wings also grew larger as she became older and bigger. While it was evident that she was different from the rest, I like the fact that it was never made into such a huge deal, but was treated in a matter-of-fact kind of way.

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Soon enough, she knew that it was time to leave her family as she flies off into the world and discover adventures on her own. It was not surprising that she gravitated towards the first airplane that she found in the skies. When the pilot and Adelaide landed, they were cheered by a huge crowd who celebrated the sight of a flying kangaroo.

I enjoyed seeing Adelaide fly through various countries – across Europe and through India. She decided to stay in Paris though where she was met by custom officials, a rude and unrelenting taxi driver, and a kind and generous gentleman in the person of Monsieur Marius who took her under his wing.

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He brought Adelaide to fine restaurants, toured her along beautiful monuments and museums, and transformed her to an overnight sensation when she was invited to perform in Monseiur Marius’ music hall.

What struck me most about the book is that Adelaide’s distinctiveness and unique character was never perceived to be an untoward oddity. While Adelaide did struggle to find someone with whom she could share her life with, and she did meet with some unsavory characters, the story is always warm, uplifting, light hearted, and inspiring.

IMG_6167Otto: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear

Story and Illustrations By: Tomi Ungerer
Publisher: Phaidon Press Limited, first published in German in 1999.
Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

I was immediately caught by the book cover and the title. I mean come on, how many autobiographies of teddy bears do we get to read in our lifetime, right?

The book begins with Otto’s retelling of the first memory he has ever had – this is after all, his life narrative.

I was made in Germany.

My earliest memories are of being stitched together in a workshop. It was quite painful! When my eyes were sewn on to my face, I had my first glimpse of a human being. A smiling lady held me and said, “Now look at this one, isn’t he cute?”

Then I was wrapped up and snuggled in a box. It was very dark.

IMG_6168The rustling of the paper and the excited squeals afterwards indicate that our exceedingly-smart bear was given to young David for his birthday and was named Otto. David would always bring Otto next door to Oskar’s house, his best friend – and together they would get involved in all sorts of mischief and harmless pranks. Until the time that David came home with a yellow star on his jacket.

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I am struck by how such a simple picture book could share such a moving narrative of the ravages and cruelties of war – as perceived from the eyes of a teddy bear and his thoughtful and sensitive sensibilities. When David and his family were loaded into a truck and driven away by soldiers, Otto was already given away to Oskar for safe keeping. Oskar’s family, however, was not totally immune from the ongoing war – there are no real victories in bombings spread out across all sides – and sudden explosions would send harmless little bears “flying in a cloud of smoke.”

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Otto soon found himself “in the middle of a raging battle” and unwittingly saved the life of a soldier who lived because of Otto’s ‘bravery.’ He was then known as a “Teddy Bear Hero” who saved the life of G. I. Charlie. Otto was brought to the United States as a present to GI Charlie’s daughter who loved him and took care of him and renamed him Alamo. 

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These happy moments with Jasmin, the young girl, however, were short-lived as nasty boys snatched Otto away from her, dumped him into a trash bin where he was rediscovered by “an old lady wearing a baggy sweater fastened with string.” Otto was brought to an antique store where the owner cleaned him up and put him on display as by that time, he was already considered a collector’s item. One day, an old man with a thick German accent saw Otto on display and bought him – how the story went on from there I shall leave for you to discover.

I love how all these three stories show how strange, occasionally-broken, acutely-different creatures can become heroes and form enduring and lasting friendships that would span across ages.

Currently Reading…

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I am still wading through Laura Amy Schlitz’ Fire Spell (also known as Splendors and Glooms) while going through Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I have also added another book to the list for the simple reason that I could not put it down, as I am deeply fascinated by Edward Gorey – Ascending peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey, interviews collected and edited by Karen Wilkin.

How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?

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Crictor is an ALA Notable Children’s Book, Horn Book Fanfare, and Reading Rainbow Book.

AWB Reading Challenge Update: 18 of 35

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63, 64, 65 of 150

11 comments on “Monday Reading: A Tomi Ungerer Extravaganza – Crictor, Adelaide, and Otto

  1. Your books all look so good! I was going to mention the ones I liek the look of but there were too many – great pics!

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  2. I love picture books. I wish my nieces were still young enough to enjoy them. I used to have a field day picking them out.

    I read Miss Peregrine’s last year and enjoyed it. Hope you enjoy it too.

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  3. Edward Gorey’s illustrations always fascinated me but I haven’t read any of his books! I was first familiar with him when he did the opening credits for PBS’s Mystery!

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  4. WOW, you read a lot of books! I wish I could read more, but time is not on my side these days.

    Here’s my It’s Monday post for this week 🙂

    Have a wonderful week, filled with more great books 🙂

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  5. Myra,

    My library has Crictor so I look forward to checking it out this week! Also, I have to admit that I’ve never been inside of a Book Off, but I am now inspired to peek in. (I don’t always have good control inside of a book store, but most of the books where I am – in Japan – must be in Japanese, right?)

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  6. I’ve had Crictor for a long while, must have bought it for one of my own children. The other two sound wonderful, especially Otto-what a story! I know I can find it to read myself. Thanks for featuring Tomi Ungerer, Myra.

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  7. i adore Pete & Pickles! A blogger friend recommended it to me earlier this year, and I’m so glad. That’s the power of these posts! I am strangely drawn to Crictor…maybe it’s the pictures, maybe it’s the premise of the story…maybe it is the name Crictor. Are you loving Peregrine??!

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  8. Otto and Adelaide are two books that I need to discover. So many books, so little time. Sigh. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Otto is a fascinating book. Thanks for sharing it with us

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  10. So many books! Otto made me think of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. You are right, how often do we get to hear from a teddy bear? It also made me think of the entire Toy Story series…and I have seen those entirely too many times and I still cry, so they all go it right by bringing our cherished stuffies’ stories to life!

    I saw Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett referring to Edward Gorey on Twitter this week. I don’t really know his work other than Gashleycrumb Tinies and that book so freaked me out! It would be interesting to learn more bout Gorey though.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  11. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love that you review picture books.
    I’m interested to hear your take on the peculiar children book too, I’ve seen really mixed reviews. 🙂

    http://littlesqueed.blogspot.com/2013/03/its-monday-what-are-you-reading_25.html

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