Today I get to participate in my very first picture book blog tour! I'm super excited, so without further ado, the books!
Book Title: The Wooden Sword
Author: Ann Redisch Stampler
Illustrator: Carol Liddiment
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Summary: A shah wants to learn more about his people and so disguises himself as a commoner and explores the town, where he meets a poor but happy shoemaker. Because of the shah’s interest, the shoemaker undergoes a test of faith and wit that will take him to unexpected places.
The story’s origins in Afghanistan provides a unique window into a society not often read about in American picture books, as well as a meeting and meshing of different faith systems. This retelling blends well with folkloric picture books from other regions of the world. Although it would have been nice if the main characters had names instead of just titles, this is an interesting tale with a positive and upbeat outlook on life.
The illustrations throughout this book are richly colored and patterned, providing a nice visual immersion that parallels the story. The group scenes have background characters that are very stiff, but there are moments of quiet emotion and depth caught in the eyes of the main characters. The very first scene with the shoemaker and his wife is a prime example. Later, the use of vibrant red and turquoise heightens the drama of the unfolding story.
The repetition of certain elements throughout the course of the book feels slightly drawn out, but it is easy to picture children calling out the repetitive elements along with the person reading the story aloud. Anybody interested in a well-rounded multicultural picture book collection should happily add this title to their list.
Book Title: The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street
Author: Ann Redisch Stampler
Illustrator: Francesca Carabelli
Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing
From the jacket flap: There are lots of cats on Ben Yehuda Street, but it is the friendship between a little grey cat with a red collar and a fluffy white stray cat that brings two lonely neighbors together.
While I’m not necessarily a cat person, the quirky characters on the cover of this book immediately drew me to the book. The cats are all around and lots of fun from the very first page, and the two human characters are distinctive. The story sets a good pacing for the not-quite-by-chance encounters of the two humans until something goes awry. The pace picks up and, well...you’ll just have to read the book to find out what happens. Both of the human characters are quite emotive throughout the course of the story, but their different personalities allow them to reveal their quirks and flaws in vastly different ways.
The only minor hiccup I had in reading the story was right when the excitement starts to happen. The point-of-view jumps between cats and humans in the space of a few sentences and the flow of the story stutters a bit before continuing smoothly until the end.
The illustrations fit well with the story, matching quirky cats and quirky characters. The white tufts of hair and white moustache of Mr. Modiano fit his grumpy but lovable character very well. I possibly would have liked some of the other, wild cats to show up a bit more in the outdoor scenes in the story, but that could have just as easily distracted the reader from the main story.
This is a good book for both cat lovers and people who think they are not cat lovers.
Interview with Ann Stampler:
G: While I have done a bit of research and have a slightly better understanding, I have to ask: why Ben Yehuda Street? This story feels like it can take place anywhere.
A: In this book, I tried to reflect daily life in Tel Aviv. The "can take place anywhere" aspect of the story was intentional. So often, when we think of Israel, we think of huge political issues, of nuclear threat from Iran, and of the state of the peace process. I wanted to depict the Israel I saw the summer we lived there, a beautiful place where ordinary people lead ordinary lives full of small, meaningful, personal events, private struggles and triumphs, with pets they love, and grouchy neighbors, and daily walks -- lives to which the parents and children reading The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street could relate easily and fully. And with a picture book, I was able to rely on the illustrator to create Israel-specific art to enhance the story.
G: Have you had an opportunity to visit Ben Yehuda street?
A: Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have Ben Yehuda streets, and I have had the privilege to walk both. The one in Tel Aviv, where this book is set, lies between the main shopping street, Dizengoff, and the ocean. It is a tree-lined street with stores, restaurants, and apartments, busy from morning to night.
G: How many cats claim you as their own? Other animals?
A: My husband has a mild allergy to cats, so alas, our family does not include any kitties. We do have a wonderful, 15 year old rescue dog, who sits with me when I write.
G: The story visits some of the daily activities of Mrs. Spiegel. What are some of your daily activities as a writer? What is your workspace like?
A: I write in spiral notebooks that I cart around with me. At home, I write mostly on a loveseat in my bedroom looking out at Los Angeles through the foliage of a wooden canyon. I write virtually every day, revise virtually every day, and connect with readers, bloggers, and book people with whom I share interests and know through various aspects of social media almost daily. Sometimes I Skype with book groups, and sometimes I visit classrooms, libraries or community centers to do book presentations. I read every day, unless I'm in the highly pressured part of writing to a deadline (I write novels as well.) when I can be so preoccupied with the book I'm working on that I do little else.
G: Do you knit like Mrs. Spiegel does? If so, what are you currently knitting?
A: I don't knit, but my Hungarian Grandma Mary -- who, before I was born, owned a beautiful white, blue-eyed cat named Bootsie -- did. And I heard many stories about Bootsie playing with my grandma's many balls of beautiful, bright-colored yarn when I was a child.
G: Do you enjoy fish like Mr. Modiano and the cats do? If so, what is your favorite fish?
A: I associate fish with Israel, a tiny country that lies along the seacoast, because Israeli markets and restaurants have many varieties of delicious, fresh fish We ate several kinds of fish I hadn't tasted before in Israel; my favorite was a form of talapia called St. Peter's fish.