a list of…five splendid stories spotlighting storytellers

Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek:  A Tall, Thin Tale, by Deborah Hopkinson, pictures by John Hendrix 

In 1816, when Abraham Lincoln was just a young cub of 7 years old, he fell into a raging creek, so they say, and was rescued by his childhood friend, Austin Gollaher. 

That is the nubbins of the tale told in this amazingly creative book. 

The format of the book — the masterful, folksy, storytelling tone, and the unique interaction between tale, tale-teller, and illustrator, make this book a one-of-a-kind, not-to-be-missed, treat. 

Hopkinson speaks directly to us, pulling us into the dialogue, capturing a wonderful narrative style.  In a clever twist, she also introduces the illustrator and addresses him in her yarn-spinning.  As the story unfolds, our objections are anticipated, the storyteller backtracks, we cheer, the illustrator sketches several possibilities for the rescue scene, then is allowed to choose the one he thinks is most likely…the whole tale moving along in a highly engaging, delightful manner. 

Hendrix’ watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations are ingenuous.  They not only capture these youthful, 19th-century scenes beautifully, they also sproing into eccentric, tall-tale humor at appropriate points.  

This is a natural for reading aloud.  I cannot imagine you won’t love it!  The conclusion of the story is a sweet testimony to the extraordinary role of ordinary people in this world.  Highly recommended.

Cherries and Cherry Pits, written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams 

Bidemmi is a little girl with a whopping imagination.  She love-love-loves to draw with her razzamatazz, tutti-fruity colored markers, and as she draws…as her lines flow out from the little dot she always begins with smack on her paper…she spins out the story behind her picture. 

She always starts with the dot.  And she always starts her stories with the word “THIS.”  “THIS is the door to the subway and THIS is a man leaning on the door…” and off goes Bidemmi, drawing that man with a fat wrinkle on his forehead, drawing a little white bag in his hand, drawing him snuggling his many children in his lap and pulling out cherries from the little white bag, cherries his family eats, “eating the cherries and spitting out the pits.” 

Remarkably, every story Bidemmi draws and tells involves cherries — red ones, sour ones, cherries so dark they are almost black. The cherries become almost a symbol of glorious happiness.  Love.  Joy.  Beauty.  Bidemmi’s stories are magnetic, pulling us in to the make-believe worlds she creates as she introduces us to the unique people who enjoy eating those cherries and spitting out the pits. 

Vera Williams has illustrated this happy, imaginative book with vibrant, boisterous color.  Canary yellows, shocking pinks, and all those cherry-reds burst from the pages.  Little wonder that THIS is a family favorite!

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, written by Judi Barrett, drawn by Ron Barrett 

Let me start by saying that I have not seen the movie version of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, but my understanding is that it has scant connection with the original, wonderful story.  In other words… 

…do not miss the book! 

The story-teller this time is Grandpa.  Grandpa comes every Saturday morning to make pancakes.  He is a flamboyant pancake-maker, flipping those pancakes high in the air.  In fact, one of them flies across the kitchen and lands on Henry’s head, an accident they all find hilarious. 

Grandpa is also the bedtime storyteller for these two lucky children, and like a good storyteller, he incorporates the pancake incident in his story that night.  It is a wild tale of a tiny town called Chewandswallow, much like any other tiny town except for its food and weather.  The food all comes from the sky — mashed potato snowstorms, orange juice showers, soda drizzles… 

Everything is jolly in Chewandswallow until the weather veers a bit off kilter.  One day there is only overcooked broccoli, and the next just brussel sprouts, peanut butter, and  mayo.  Yuk.  When giant meatballs begin damaging houses and gargantuan chocolate doughnuts barrel down the avenues, the people of Chewandswallow realize they must evacuate the town.  Which they do…very cleverly. 

Grandpa’s story is not a frightening, intense tale. It is delightful and crazy.  The illustrations are gloriously detailed, full of humor, highly-imaginative.  My children adored this book a long, long before the movie came along and…(editorial opinion)…unfortunately altered it!  Go get the book!


Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One, story and pictures by Kate Duke 

Aunt Isabel is a mouse.  A lime-green flapper dress, feathered-tiara, coral-beaded necklace, artistic mouse!  Penelope is her young niece.  A hopeless romantic.  The two of them live in a charming miniature world, with

kate duke has an awesome website: http://www.kateduke.com/

marshmallows for cushions and postage stamps for artwork.  

One evening, Penelope asks Aunt Isabel to tell her a story.  Aunt Isabel agrees, but asks Penelope to help stir in some of the story’s main ingredients.  When should this story take place?  Where?  Who should be in the story? 

A handsome prince is proposed, named Prince Augustus, who likes picnics and gardens and sharing sandwiches.  Of course, his companion in the story is…Lady Penelope! 

On and on goes Aunt Isabel, spinning out a marvelous tale of castles and falling-in-love, odious bullies and gloomy forests, sparkling fireflies and daring rescues.  Along the way she acquaints Penelope with all the ingredients of a really good story, including the Happy Ending every good story should have! 

The illustrations in this story are perfect for young children, especially little girls.  The mice are cute.  The costumes are delightful — raspberry-topped crowns, amethyst gowns, golden-spiked tiaras.  The sunny world of castles and flower gardens, blue skies and merry dances on the lawn, creates plenty of cheer to overcome the threat of the gangster mole and his nasty bat henchman. 

My girls have really enjoyed this one and shared it with lots of little girls on baby-sitting evenings.

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith 

Are you looking for utter, audacious nonsense?  Slapstick humor for the know-it-all crowd? Brash sassy goofy-ness?  Look no further!  The Stinky Cheese Man is here for your entertainment! 

This book is a collection of spoofs on some of the most well-known fairy tales, narrated by Jack, of Jack and the Beanstalk fame.  Jack is a cheeky, impudent fellow.  He flings cockamamie versions of these tales at us, bosses around The Little Red Hen, all the while

...definitely NOT the gingerbread man!

earnestly trying to regale us with his own heroic story.  Too bad for Jack, though, because the Giant is wholly uncooperative.  

Along the way, we run into, among others,  the Princess and the Pea, the Ugly Duckling, and Little Red Riding Hood, all as you have never heard them before!  Guaranteed! 

From the jacket flap, through the title pages, the Table of Contents, and the author blurbs, this book relentlessly maintains a casually sarcastic, humorous tone.  It never, never takes itself seriously.  Smith’s trademark illustrations are exaggerated, outrageous collages.  Everything is over the top silliness. 

For kids that know their fairy tales, and are old enough to enjoy wry humor, this book is sure to be a winner!