Books CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 GB Challenges It's Monday What Are You Reading Reading Themes War, Poetry, Refuge, Peace

[Monday Reading] War and Animals in Picturebooks (and Graphic Novel): Feathers and Fools, Gleam and Glow, Tug of War, and Pride of Baghdad

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Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Check Off your Reading List Challenge 2014.

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Sign up here to join us! Here is the July-September linky. We are also very excited to share that Pansing Books will be giving away copies of Slated by Teri Terry to two lucky CORL participants from July-September. So link up your posts now!

Carrie Gelson of There is a Book for That is also hosting #mustreadin2014

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War does not only impact human beings, it affects the entire environment, including the animals under our care. These three picturebooks (plus one graphic novel) demonstrate the capacity of war to destroy and the ability of creatures to find light and salvation, notwithstanding the darkness.

IMG_5524Gleam and Glow

Story by: Eve Bunting Illustrated by: Peter Sylvada
Published byVoyager Books, Harcourt Inc., 2001
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

The father of eight year old Victor and five year old Marina has joined the underground forces or the Liberation Army to fight in the war. Before his father left, he told his son:

“Viktor, you are the man of the house now. Be a strong help to your mother.”

Each day, the sound of gunshots, smell of burning houses, and the sight of soldiers seem to come a little closer to their little home. There would also be a few strangers passing through their home, grateful for whatever little hospitality they can afford to share under very tight circumstances, bearing horrifying stories of the homes they have fled and left behind.

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This image of the father leaving, with his back turned is very powerful for me. The muted shades, the blended watercolours, the lack of defined outlines all contribute to that feeling of transience and ill-defined future that is in store for the characters in the story.

Then one day, a man came, carrying a bowl with water and two fish in it. He wanted to leave his fish behind because he is unable to carry them further to where he is going. Viktor’s mother was reluctant as she knows that they would also be leaving in a few days. However, the man was insistent, stating that it matters even if the fish would get just two more days of life. Marina named them Gleam and Glow.

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Before the family left, Viktor released the fishes into their pond, praying that they will have at least “one or two extra days of life” and wished them luck. As Viktor and his family walked a great distance to find safety far away, he wonders if they would ever return home and if he would get to see his father again. How the story ends I shall leave for you to discover.

I learned about this picture through Carrie Gelson of There’s a Book for That in her post Peace and War. This is a book that spoke to me on so many levels, and it features the gleaming human spirit against seemingly-insurmountable odds and the glow of human kindness in the face of adversity. In the Author’s Note found at the end of the book, Bunting explains that this story is inspired by a true story in a village called Jezero in Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, she deliberately did not include any particularities in her own version of the story. Rather:

… it’s for people everywhere who have been forced from the lives they have known, and who find hope in the most unexpected places.

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Tug of WarIMG_5540

Story and Art byJohn Burningham
Published by: Jonathan Cape, 2012
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

There are three animals who once lived in a forest: Hare, Hippopotamus, and Elephant. Hare was often made the butt of jokes by the bigger animals who are depicted as bullies here. Hippo and Elephant would tease Hare to death and would even engage in name-calling. Admittedly, I was surprised by the language in this book, as it might offend some sensitive parents with tender sensibilities.

After awhile, Hare grew tired of all the teasing and the derogatory insults that these two bigger animals would hurl at him, that he conceived of a brilliant ploy to get back at them. Reminiscent of trickster tales as found in most folktales, Hare first asked Elephant to play tug of war with him, boasting that he is sure to win this game. Hare did the same with Hippopotamus and tied one end of the rope to each of the animals who failed to realize that they were being played by Hare.

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How the story ends and who wins the tug of war, I shall leave for you to discover. While most adults would prefer to shield children from the cruelties of others, I am certain most people are also aware that children themselves can be the meanest and mightiest of them all, if they choose to. And the story could provide a good platform to discuss these kinds of incidents that children themselves may experience, and empower those who are bullied to stand up for themselves; and that even in a simple story such as this, there can be justice in the world. Despite my initial surprise with the name-calling aspect of the book, I enjoyed the story as it showed the usual comeuppance that big bullies usually get from much smaller creatures who are smarter and more wily than them.

IMG_5531Feathers and Fools

Written by: Mem Fox Illustrated by: Nicholas Wilton
Published by: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

In this story, the creatures who are in conflict are “a pride of magnificent peacocks” and “a flock of elegant swans.”

And then one day, as a peacock was musing on the wonders of the universe and the meaning of life, he observed how their neighbor swans are able to swim and fly, and how fortunate the peacocks are that they are unable to do either of these things as they would look odd flying and would most likely drown in the lake.

The gorgeous peacocks.
The gorgeous peacocks.
The graceful swans.
The graceful swans.

Taking off from those profound observations that Peacock has, he suddenly announced:

“I fear the swans,” he said. “They have great strength. If they wished, they could turn us out of our gardens, or make us fly, or force us to swim.”

Here and there, peacock feathers rustled uneasily. “Alas!” cried one. “No home! No happiness! No life!” There followed anxious mutterings and a making of plans.

And so with no provocation at all from the swans, except one peacock’s unfounded assumption and meandering observations that lead to dangerous branches of thoughts, the peacocks started sharpening their feathres into arrows so that they are able to defend themselves against the swans.

The swans, in fear, heard these fighting words and sharpened feathers of their own in even greater numbers and concealed them cleverly among the rushes and reeds.

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What follows next is something so unbelievably tragic that it can haunt a reader long after he has closed the book. Yet, it is also startlingly real as proven in recent world events, with all the needless violence and the pointless fighting, especially as one really examines each loss of life and its worth. This is an immensely powerful picturebook that would truly jar a reader to her senses, and would make one wonder about the nature of fear and wrath and the deafening silence afterwards.

IMG_5329Pride of Baghdad: Inspired by a True Story

Written by: Brian K. Vaughan Art by: Niko Henrichon Lettering by: Tod Klein
Published by: DC Comics, 2006
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

The setting of this book is April of 2003. The Americans have just bombed Iraq. Animals of various sizes and shapes, including a pride of lions (the protagonists in this story), have escaped the Baghdad Zoo. The story written by Vaughan is inspired by this real-life incident.

There are four main characters in this graphic novel: Zill, the lion, the alpha male; Safa the old tigress with only one good eye; the lion cub, Ali; and Noor, Ali’s mother, another tigress believed as the “brains” of the quartet.

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It shows how the animals rightfully thought that “the sky was falling” with the planes overhead and the unfathomable bombings. Prior to the animals running free, however, Noor was already attempting to set up a plan for a possible liberation of the zoo creatures that would require all the animals to trust each other and work together. The bombs beat her to it.

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In this story, animals are portrayed to be sentient beings, with the capacity to reason, reminisce, and perceive the glorious beauty of the sunset. While Noor is eager to be free, Safa the older tigress preferred the chains of captivity, and the barriers that separate the untamed wild from a sure meal given to her regularly by zookeepers. Human thoughts, motivations, greed, love triangles, and atrocities are reified into the zoo creatures – regardless of whether this may even be real at all in the animal kingdom. There is a pretty disturbing scene that involved Safa, which shows why she prefers dying of old age in the zoo rather than run wild in the jungle. And so it is preferable for teachers or parents to read it first to determine suitability. I was also struck by how war was defined here from the animals’ perspective:

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What I found particularly amazing here, beyond the story line, is the art done by Henrichon.

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As you can see above, it can be quite breathtaking. I also searched for a few more information about the Baghdad Zoo, and apparently, it was the home of 650 animals before the bombing. Only 35 animals survived the attack. This graphic novel portrayal of real tragic events provides an ever-widening perspective on the global impact of war, not just on human beings, but also on the creatures under our care.

Currently Reading…

It has been a productive week, I was able to finish reading two novels: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. I would be posting a review of this book in our upcoming reading theme.

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… and I also finished reading Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood yesterday afternoon. Would most likely feature as well in the next two months or so.

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I will need to re-read My Name is Mina by David Almond for our GatheringReaders book club.

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I will also need to re-read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz for my adult book club (Saturday Night out for Book Geeks) which will be meeting Saturday this week.

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Since I am also fairly ambitious, I have just started reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

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Reading Challenge Update: 175, 176, 177, 178 (25)

6 comments on “[Monday Reading] War and Animals in Picturebooks (and Graphic Novel): Feathers and Fools, Gleam and Glow, Tug of War, and Pride of Baghdad

  1. Fairly ambitious? I can’t imagine how you manage to find the time to read! It’s so silly how I’m feeling kind of bad for not reading longer books sometimes.

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  2. Those are a few heavy novels to read in the coming week, wow. 🙂 Enjoy… good luck! I adore Gleam and Glow… fantastic book, been sharing for a long, long time and had amazing discussions with children about refugees, war, impack on community, and more… plus a bit of hope discussions mixed in as well.

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  3. thelogonauts

    Gleam and Glow is a classic, and I look forward to checking out some of your other recommendations. Cloud Atlas is an interesting one. I crammed the whole thing down in about a day because friends wanted to see the movie, which made for a bit of a surreal 24 hours.

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  4. Wow, Myra, I don’t know any of these picture books. Thank you for the titles-will look for them. I think our school library will have some at least. I’d love to get to the Almond book-I loved Skellig very much, often recommend it. Thanks for the wonderful reviews.

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  5. Hello Myra! Thanks for these great titles. Gleam and Glow and Feathers and Fools are such powerful picture books and I have had some amazing discussions and writing come from lessons using these books. I have not read the Pride of Bagdad but know a high school teacher who uses this in her humanities class – also a powerful book! Nim and the War effort is one I don’t know but I am interested in reading. Just saw the Riverman on another post – looks like an intense but amazing read! Have you read Rose Blanche? It’s an amazing picture book about the Holocaust that you should check out! Have a wonderful week and happy reading!

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  6. Thanks for sharing so many excellent titles about war and conflict. I am especially intrigued by the graphic novel.

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