Television: Little Red Rocket Hood

Little Red Rocket HoodThis episode of “Little Einsteins” made me laugh a lot, and not just because it completely baffled Michael. It tells about how Rocket is taking Rocket Soup to his sick Grandma Rocket through the woods when Big Jet steals it. The Little Einsteins give chase and eventually get the soup back, only to have a classic wolf-disguised-as-grandma conversation with Big Jet at Grandma Rocket’s house. The whole thing made very little logical sense, but was incredibly cute and very funny. It was actually a pretty straightforward telling of the “Little Red Riding Hood” story, although never acknowledged as such except for in the title. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Big Jet was disguised as Grandma Rocket and they went through the comments about physical features (“what a big nose you have!”, “what big wings you have!”, “what big jets you have!”).

Michael pointed out that almost none of this episode made sense. Rockets really shouldn’t have grandmas. And they really shouldn’t drink soup. And soup really shouldn’t play music. And rockets don’t really get sick. And conducting crescendos really shouldn’t make tunnels bigger (and why exactly the rocket couldn’t just fly over the tunnel in the first place was extremely unclear). I kind of enjoyed the complete nonsense of the world and the fun it brought to the story, but I can also see how it could be extremely distracting and even frustrating for many people. I kind of wonder how many parents watching this show with their kids get irritated with those aspects of it? Regardless, it is what it is and I think they’ve done a pretty good job of telling this story.

Book: Prince of Underwhere

Prince of UnderwherePrince of Underwhere
Bruce Hale
illustrated by Shane Hillman
2008 (HarperCollins)

Zeke, Stephanie and Hector chase Hector’s cat one day and fall through a hole in a construction site into a strange underground world known as Underwhere where everyone wears their underpants on the outside of their clothing and mooning someone is seen as a respectful greeting. Zeke is unexpectedly named the lost prince of Underwhere and honored by the people there. This brings him and his companions into the fight that the people are currently waging against a mysterious “underlord” who is trying to take over both Underwhere and the upper world. There are zombies, dinosaurs and more potty jokes than you could shake a stick at in Underwhere. Meanwhile, in the upper world, there is a famous rapper who is coming to town and he mysteriously invites Zeke and his companions to a big press event. Everyone seems wild about this rapper except for our heroes who pretty much think he’s an idiot. And then things get really complicated.

There is a lot of potential in this book and it really feels like Hale and Hillman had a great idea when they came up with it. The parts of the story taking place in the upper world are in plain text while the parts in Underwhere are in sequential art form, which works incredibly well for telling this story. It creates a great differentiation between the worlds and creates a very real otherworldlyness about Underwhere. Given that this book is a pretty easy reading level as well, those visual breaks between chapters of text could be really good for boosting the confidence of reluctant readers while not altering the challenge of the book itself at all. As much as I like the idea and the format, though, I have some major issues with this book.

The biggest problem here is that there’s simply too much going on. There’s the lost prince thing, a siege on a city, figuring out who the underlord is and what he’s doing, the government spies, a mystery that largely gets lost in the shuffle for most of the book, zombies, dinosaurs, a quest to collect a set of artifacts that is also pretty much ignored for most of the book, and bits of family drama on top of it all. Oh, and the hint of pirates. It’s just too much for one book that’s not even 175 pages long! This is going to be a series (they’ve already announced that the second book will be Pirates of Underwhere), so why couldn’t they have left some of this stuff for later books? Because of everything that was stuffed into this one there wasn’t any kind of story resolution at all! I’m not saying every plot thread should be tied up (what would the rest of the series be for if they were?), but at least one storyline should wrap up because as it was I got to the end of the book and just wondered where the payoff was. This is an early chapter book where potty humor goes a long way, but it can’t do everything. You still have to have a solid story or kids will wonder what the point was and just go back to reading Captain Underpants. This could have been great book, but wasn’t because it never got the serious reworking it needed. Where was the editor in all this?

I was extra disappointed that this book didn’t work because it does have so much potential. It’s just too much packed into one book. I really think that this could have been great, but Hale and Hillman didn’t give any of the plotlines the time or attention they deserved and the result was that they all felt throw-away and as a reader, I ended up wondering why I should care about anything that happened. I don’t recommend this one. I wish I could, but I just can’t.

- Publisher’s Description
- Bruce Hale’s Website
- Shane Hillman’s Website
- Buy it from Amazon

This book is scheduled to be released on December 26, 2007.

Gender-Flipped Tales: Rapunzo

rampionTale:

Once upon a time there lived a woman and her husband who were very unhappy because they had no children. These good people had a little window at the back of their house, which looked into the most lovely garden, full of all manner of beautiful flowers and vegetables; but the garden was surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to enter it, for it belonged to a warlock of great power, who was feared by the whole world.

One day the man stood at the window overlooking the garden, and saw there a bed full of the finest rampion: the leaves looked so fresh and green that he longed to eat them. The desire grew day by day, and just because he knew he couldn’t possibly get any, he pined away and became quite pale and wretched. Then his wife grew alarmed and said:

“What ails you, dear husband?”

“Oh,” he answered, “if I don’t get some rampion to eat out of the garden behind the house, I know I shall die.”

The woman, who loved him dearly, thought to herself, “Come! rather than let your husband die you shall fetch him some rampion, no matter the cost.” So at dusk she climbed over the wall into the warlock’s garden, and, hastily gathering a handful of rampion leaves, she returned with them to her husband. He made them into a salad, which tasted so good that his longing for the forbidden food was greater than ever. If he were to know any peace of mind, there was nothing for it but that his wife should climb over the garden wall again, and fetch him some more. So at dusk over she got, but when she reached the other side she drew back in terror, for there, standing before her, was the old warlock.

“How dare you,” he said, with a wrathful glance, “climb into my garden and steal my rampion like a common thief? You shall suffer for your foolhardiness.”

“Oh!” she implored, “pardon my presumption; necessity alone drove me to the deed. My husband saw your rampion from his window, and conceived such a desire for it that he would certainly have died if his wish had not been gratified.” Then the Warlock’s anger was a little appeased, and he said:

“If it’s as you say, you may take as much rampion away with you as you like, but on one condition only — that you give me the child you will shortly bring into the world. All shall go well with it, and I will look after it like a father.”

The woman in her terror agreed to everything he asked, and as soon as the child was born the Warlock appeared, and having given it the name of Rapunzo, which is the same as rampion, he carried it off with him.

Rapunzo was the most beautiful child under the sun. When he was twelve years old the Warlock shut him up in a tower, in the middle of a great wood, and the tower had neither stairs nor doors, only high up at the very top a small window. When the old Warlock wanted to get in he stood underneath and called out:

“Rapunzo, Rapunzo,
Let down your golden hair,”

for Rapunzo had wonderful long hair, and it was as fine as spun gold. Whenever he heard the Warlock’s voice he unloosed his plaits, and let his hair fall down out of the window about twenty yards below, and the old Warlock climbed up by it.

After they had lived like this for a few years, it happened one day that a Princess was riding through the wood and passed by the tower. As she drew near it she heard someone singing so sweetly that she stood still spell-bound, and listened. It was Rapunzo in his loneliness trying to while away the time by letting his sweet voice ring out into the wood. The Princess longed to see the owner of the voice, but she sought in vain for a door in the tower. She rode home, but she was so haunted by the song she had heard that she returned every day to the wood and listened. One day, when she was standing thus behind a tree, she saw the old Warlock approach and heard him call out:

“Rapunzo, Rapunzo,
Let down your golden hair.”

Then Rapunzo let down his plaits, and the Warlock climbed up by them.

Rapunzel Waits“So that’s the staircase, is it?” said the Princess. “Then I too will climb it and try my luck.”

So on the following day, at dusk, she went to the foot of the tower and cried:

“Rapunzo, Rapunzo,
Let down your golden hair,”

and as soon as he had let it down the Princess climbed up.

At first Rapunzo was terribly frightened when a woman came in, for he had never seen one before; but the Princess spoke to him so kindly, and told him at once that her heart had been so touched by his singing, that she felt she should know no peace of mind till she had seen him. Very soon Rapunzo forgot his fear, and when she asked him to marry her he consented at once. “For,” he thought, “she is young and handsome, and I’ll certainly be happier with her than with the old Warlock.” So he put his hand in hers and said:

“Yes, I will gladly go with you, only how am I to get down out of the tower? Every time you come to see me you must bring a skein of silk with you, and I will make a ladder of them, and when it is finished I will climb down by it, and you will take me away on your horse.”

They arranged that till the ladder was ready, she was to come to him every evening, because the old man was with him during the day. The old Warlock, of course, knew nothing of what was going on, till one day Rapunzo, not thinking of what he was about, turned to the Warlock and said:

“How is it, good father, that you are so much harder to pull up than the young Princess? She is always with me in a moment.”

“Oh! you wicked child,” cried the Warlock. “What is this I hear? I thought I had hidden you safely from the whole world, and in spite of it you have managed to deceive me.”

In his wrath he seized Rapunzo’s beautiful hair, wound it round and round his left hand, and then grasping a pair of scissors in his right, snip snap, off it came, and the beautiful plaits lay on the ground. And, worse than this, he was so hard-hearted that he took Rapunzo to a lonely desert place, and there left him to live in loneliness and misery.

But on the evening of the day in which he had driven poor Rapunzo away, the Warlock fastened the plaits on to a hook in the window, and when the Princess came and called out:

“Rapunzo, Rapunzo,
Let down your golden hair,”

he let them down, and the Princess climbed up as usual, but instead of her beloved Rapunzo she found the old Warlock, who fixed his evil, glittering eyes on her, and cried mockingly:

“Ah, ah! you thought to find your lord love, but the pretty bird has flown and its song is dumb; the cat caught it, and will scratch out your eyes too. Rapunzo is lost to you for ever — you will never see him more.”

RapunzelThe Princess was beside herself with grief, and in her despair she jumped right down from the tower, and, though she escaped with her life, the thorns among which she fell pierced her eyes out. Then she wandered, blind and miserable, through the wood, eating nothing but roots and berries, and weeping and lamenting the loss of her handsome husband. So she wandered about for some years, as wretched and unhappy as she could well be, and at last she came to the desert place where Rapunzo was living. Of a sudden she heard a voice which seemed strangely familiar to her. She walked eagerly in the direction of the sound, and when she was quite close, Rapunzo recognised her and fell on her neck and wept. But two of his tears touched her eyes, and in a moment they became quite clear again, and she saw as well as she had ever done. Then she led him to her kingdom, where they were received and welcomed with great joy, and they lived happily ever after.

by The Brothers Grimm (available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)

Thoughts:

I knew this story wouldn’t flip incredibly smoothly, even though I used a version without the twins at the end. The long hair doesn’t really present too much of problem (men can have long hair as easily as women, it’s just far less common). What was odd was that the hair was in plaits. Men’s hair is rarely described as being plaited so it really just felt odd, despite the fact that if a man did have hair that long he’d have to plait it, just as a woman would, for practical reasons.

The only other real issue was with the parents at the beginning. It works fine to have the wife fetch the rampion for the husband, but the conversation about the child being born took a little more tweaking than I usually like. I couldn’t very well have the husband giving birth to Rapunzo, so the conversation had to change from “your wife” to “you”, which feels like it’s fundamentally changing something about the bargain being struck. It’s still both parents giving it up, but suddenly it changes who is deciding to do so, and that has broader implications (especially once you look out at cultural attitudes and such). Not only is it the woman making the decision for both of them, but we have just been reminded that it is her who will bring the child into the world. What are all the implications of that interchange and how do they affect the beginning of the story? I really couldn’t tell you, but I think it’s pretty interesting (it certainly made me think more about the implications of the original, which is part of the point of this exercise in the first place).

“I Want to Play Her”: Chosen Knight

The Woman Who Rides Like a ManMany of Tamora Pierce’s books have strong female characters on the covers because that’s what she writes about, but The Woman Who Rides Like a Man from the “Song of the Lioness” series stood out for me. This cover image is by David Wyatt who has done at least one of the other pieces of art that will appear in this series. I love this piece for a lot of reasons. What makes this image special isn’t just that the girl is dressed in the armor of a knight or that she’s astride a barded horse, although those are remarkable enough in their way. What I noticed first was that she was looking right at the viewer, not off to one side or down. That’s actually remarkably rare (although extremely common for men in fantasy art). I also love her pose! The horse is clearly in motion, but the rider is still in full command, she’s not even thinking about it. Riding comes second nature to her at this point. That’s important, especially if she plans to ride into battle. The other thing I love is the upraised sword being struck by lightning. It’s very much a sign of power and control, since she is completely unconcerned by the lightning and clearly in control of her weapon. Her expression is serious because she’s dealing with a serious situation (most situations involving barded horses, armor, swords and lightning are). A smile would have seemed quite out of place. She’s even able to handle a cat being on her saddle, although that can’t be entirely convenient. This is clearly a competent warrior woman who is well practiced and knows exactly what she’s doing. She will protect those behind her and is prepared for what’s ahead, whatever that may be. I definitely want to play her!

Poetry Friday: Nursery Games

Pat-a-CakeA big part of looking at children’s literature, no matter what your focus is, is the way kids themselves interact with it. That infuses the whole field and can’t be ignored because if kids weren’t interacting with it, it wouldn’t exist. There are a lot of ways kids interact with stories and books, so it would be impossible for me to look at all of them, but since I also spend a lot of time looking at and working with games I tend to look at how kids play with books, like they play games. How does this get back to poetry? Poems are often the earliest games kids play! We play “Pat-a-cake” with babies, teach “Ring a Round the Rosey” and “All Around the Mullberry Bush” to toddlers and are still playing “London Bridge is Falling Down” in preschool. These are all classic Mother Goose rhymes that have long since had games attached to them because their words and rhythms lend themselves well to it (it’s almost hard to forget the words to “Pat-a-Cake” once you’ve learned them).

One of the funniest things about Nursery Rhyme games is that not only do they stick with you, but you start to forget which ones were games and which ones really weren’t. As I was thinking about doing this post I remembered “Sing a Song of Sixpence” being my favorite, but then on reflection I realized that there was really no game along with it, it was just a poem. It’s the same with “Little Miss Muffet” and “Little Bo Peep” and numerous other Nursery Rhymes. But there were a lot that were games. The thing was, as little kids, you alternate them pretty much randomly because they all seem like games. For kids, they can all be games. They don’t need something to have actions and things that happen for it to be a game. Something can be a poem (or a story) and a game at the same time, with nothing more than the words we see on the page. How do we lose that as adults?

Other people have great poems to share today, so go check it out at the round-up over at Mentor Texts, Read Alouds & More so go check it out!

poetry friday button

Television: Minnie Red Riding Hood

Minnie Red Riding HoodThis is a loose retelling of the “Little Red Riding Hood” story. Goofy is sick, so Mickey and Minnie make Minniestrone soup to help him feel better. They must carry it to him in a picnic basket. Part way there they run into Pete who smells the soup and wants it. First he begs for it, then he tries to pretend he’s sick, but they don’t believe him. When neither of these tactics work, he tries to sneak up on them and steal it. This backfires and they get it back fairly easily while Pete ends up in a mud puddle. Pete continues to try and confuse the group (which grows as Daisy and Donald join with their offerings for Goofy), but problem solving gets them through every situation. Finally he simply chases them, but they escape to Goofy’s tent on roller skates. Once they arrive at the tent, Pete disguises himself as a sick old woman and tries to fool them again, but this again fails. He does eventually get some soup, but not until he gets sick himself.

The plot of this episode is really well done. It follows the structure of the original story excellently, but gives a whole new spin on it that fits well with the Disney characters and this show in particular. Some parts did come off as odd, however. Minnie randomly wears a red hooded cape throughout the episode, which we have never seen before (and, as far as I know, never see again). No comment is ever made about this unusual addition to her wardrobe, which otherwise never varies. I was also a little annoyed that Minnie needed Mickey along throughout the whole thing. This wasn’t exactly a difficult adventure that required two people and it has not previously been typical of this show for characters to need companions to do anything (Mickey does things on his own all the time, as does Donald). So why did Minnie need help? She could have made and delivered her soup just as easily without Mickey along. He’s in charge of every situation he’s in, so it really felt like her contribution to the whole thing was minimized, which is frustrating when she’s effectively doing the whole thing. But this show is rarely forward thinking in gender portrayals (example: the characters’ footwear), so I’m not particularly surprised either.

I liked this episode, but I’d really like to see the girls on this show get to DO something for once and this episode in particular really highlighted the fact that they don’t ever get to.

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