Thursday, November 08, 2007

Reader's Diary #308- Jan Brett: The Three Snow Bears

There's been a lot of fractured fairy tales in recent years. For the uninitiated, these are altered versions of the classics and have been all the rage in primary classrooms (though I wish teachers would familiarize kids with the originals first). With such a huge trend, there are bound to be lots of hits (The Three Little Wolves and The Big Bad Pig) and misses (Cinderella Penguin). I think Jan Brett's Arctic take on Goldilocks and The Three Bears should be considered a hit.

As usual, Brett's artwork in The Three Snow Bears is stunning. Vibrant and highly detailed, they have so much going on that upon multiple readings, my kids and I still discover more. Yet amazingly, she avoids making the pictures overly busy. In typical Brett fashion she frames the main picture on each page and leaves additional pictures (often with a second related story) in the margins.

To research for this book, Brett traveled first to Iqaluit and then to Pangnirtung, a smaller town of about 1300 people even further North. She should be commended not only for her dedication but also for her attention to detail.

This is the story of an Inuk girl named Aloo-ki who looks for her lost dog team and stumbles upon an igloo belonging to three absent polar bears. Similar to the original version, she tastes their three bowls of soup, tries on their boots (kamiik) and falls asleep in their furs. But the real abundance of culture comes from the illustrations.

Apparently one of the things that struck Brett about a lot of the Inuit art was seeing all the Northern animals dressed in traditional clothing. Deciding to use that idea herself, she (perhaps wisely) chose not to try to mimic their style but kept to her own. We are treated to rich illustrations of ravens in amautis (parkas with a pouch for carrying a baby in the back), walruses in parkas, hares in kamiik and so on. The detail she puts into these garments is so very authentic, it's hard to believe Brett was only a brief visitor. She either took lots of pictures or has a photographic memory.

Two minor editing points that I suspect will be fixed in subsequent printings: It opens with Come back!" missing the opening quotation marks, and on the inside cover there's a picture of a hat that reads "Pangirtung" which, if you'll notice above, is spelled wrong.

Still, it's an excellent book. The idea of transporting fairy tales to different cultures is a great addition to the fractured fairy tale genre, and needless to say I'm thrilled that it's written about my home.

(In other news, I'm very excited and pleased to report that today I was appointed to the Nunavut Literacy Council!)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, John. And congrats on being appointed to the Council!

Allison said...

Cinderella Penguin and the Glass Flipper...that is quite the image!

Huzzah! That is excellent news on the Literacy Council, congrats!

1morechapter said...

I always enjoyed Jan Brett's books when my children were mall.

Congrats on the appointment!


John Mutford said...

Laura: Thanks. It's something I feel strongly about.

Allison: It was a let down- she good have done so much with the penguin theme, but it was almost irrelevant, except for the "glass flipper" in the title.

3M: We've been fans as well (The Mitten is a classic). The Three Snow Bears is a new book.

Melwyk said...

Jan Brett is marvellous. I always use "The Mitten" myself.

Congrats on the appointment to the Literacy Council! That's wonderful.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Wow! Congratulations on your appointment! That is grand news indeed, and they are lucky to have you! And I would love to hear more about it.

The Three Snow Bears looks like an absolutely charming book, and I would certainly read it again and again.

John Mutford said...

Melanie: I've used it a lot as well. We also have the board book version which I'm not as fussy on- they cut out a lot, but no where does it tell you that it's been condensed.

Barbara: I'm the V.P./Secretary, which means I've got a lot of work ahead of me. We have our first meeting in Yellowknife later this month so hopefully I'll know more about what it entails then.

Dale said...

Congratulations John, excellent for you and them.

I completely agree that the originals should be read and discussed with the kids first before moving on to the homages. The Three Snow Bears sounds quite wonderful from your description.

Anonymous said...

I too am a fan of Jan Brett. Although I don't kids but I have lots of nephews and nieces. I buy for them. That way I get to read children's fiction very often. A great review.

Congratulations for being appointed.

John Mutford said...

After reading this to my kids many, many times now, I have a couple more issues, both dealing with the boots. 1. Why do the bears own boots if they're going to leave them at home and go out and walk around barefoot (pardon the pun) anyway? 2. When Aloo-ki runs off at the end, she's still wearing baby bear's boots! Not only does she invade someone else's home, but she steals from them as well.

Alessandra said...

Thanks for sharing this with us, John. The book cover looks amazing!

Becky said...

I'll have to look for this one.

Cheryl Vanatti said...

I love a well researched post. Excellent review skills. Kinda' makes me want to crawl in a hole .... :-)

(Jumped here from the Bookworms Carnival)

Lightheaded said...

I'm here from the Bookworms Carnival post.

I like that one: fractured fairy tales. I never thought of it that way. But really, all the Disneyfied versions of fairy tales are fractured as well, the original one by Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen are more uh, grim.

I like the way you describe the artwork though. I am not familiar with Brett's work so this actually made me want to go out and search for the books, if they are available here.

And congratulations for your appointment to the council!

Anonymous said...

Wow the research is impressive. I will have to find this book at the library

Clare - The Super Mommy Club said...

I've never read one of Brett's books before - thanks for the review - I'll have to check him out

Amanda said...

Ooo! My little almost four-year-old nephew lives in Alaska and I am going to have to buy him this book. Great review!

Rebecca Reid said...

I love the idea of retelling the story in a regional/cultural setting for children. The art work sounds lovely.