A Traditional Tale Caldecott Honor Book


Isaacs, Anne, and Paul O. Zelinsky (illustrator). Swamp Angel. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 1994. ISBN 9780140559088


The plucky heroine of Swamp Angel, Angelica Longrider, is born extraordinary. As a newborn, she’s taller than her mother, and at age two she builds her first log cabin. But giant Angelica doesn’t stop there. The girl—dubbed “Swamp Angel” at the tender age of twelve after rescuing some muck-mired Tennesseans—becomes the beloved champion of the Tennessee frontier. So when a big bad bear called Thundering Tarnation starts stealing winter rations out of poor settler’s food cellars, Swamp Angel signs up to hunt the beast down. Although every other hunter fails to catch the varmint, Angel isn’t deterred. When she finally spots him, Angel and the bear grapple in a fight for the ages, grabbing tornados like lassos, throwing each other into the sky, and creating such a stir that the Great Smoky Mountains are formed. Finally, Tarnation falls down dead at Angel’s feet and Tennesseans celebrate, receiving bear meat enough to fill their food cellars to bursting point. Careful stargazers can still see the legacy of Angel and Tarnation’s fight: the vague outline of a bear thrown into the heavens twinkling up in the night sky.


Swamp Angel is a truly exceptional tale. A great deal of the story’s charm comes from Isaacs’s mastery of the spoken language of the frontier. Tarnation the bear is deemed a “varmint” and Swamp Angel is “much obliged” for the pelt of this “most wondrous heap of trouble.” Isaacs writes flawlessly with the casual exaggeration characteristic of the tall tale narrative. “There was nothing about the child,” she nonchalantly begins, “to suggest that she would become the greatest woodswoman in Tennessee” although the newborn is bigger than her mother and is given a shiny new ax for a cradle toy. In fact, the writing fits the tall tale mold so well, readers will find themselves wondering whether this story was actually penned by Isaacs or whether she first heard the tale from an old Tennessean relative.

Furthermore, the details of the illustrations make the story come to life. Readers will notice that some of the hunters standing in line with Angel (e.g. the angry man with the bee-infested bucket of molasses and the smug man holding his giant bear trap) are the same hunters that Tarnation defeats just a page later. Readers will take note of the details of the settlers’ dress—Angel in her apron and bonnet, trappers in coonskin caps, and gentlemen in top hats. They might even spot Swamp Angel’s small but mighty red hound dog who follows her around on almost every page. Even more importantly, Zelinsky’s illustrations turn the tall tale even taller—the huge bodies of Angel and Tarnation fight across vast mountain ranges, drink up entire lakes of water, and pull down every last tree in the forest with their snores. Zelinsky’s illustrations of epic proportions pair perfectly with Isaacs’s larger-than-life heroine, making this book the perfect addition to any picture book collection.


Caldecott Medal Nominee (1995)

Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award for Grades 3–6 (1997)

An ALA Notable Book (1995)

A New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year (1994)

Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award (1995)

Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee (1996–1997)

From The Horn Book:“Move over Paul Bunyan, you are about to meet Swamp Angel. . . . Visually exciting, wonderful to read aloud, this is a picture book to remember.”

From Publishers Weekly: “Zelinsky’s stunning American-primitive oil paintings, set against an unusual background of cherry, maple and birch veneers, frankly steal the show here. Their success, however, does not diminish the accomplishment of Isaacs, whose feisty tall tale marks an impressive picture-book debut.”


  • Read Swamp Angel to introduce a unit on American pioneers and life on the frontier with excerpts from other children’s books:
    • Tunis, Edward. Frontier Living: An Illustrated Guide to Pioneer Life in America. ISBN 9781585741373
    • Greenwood, Barbara, and Heather Collins. A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840. ISBN 9780395883938
  • Learn about the clothing worn by the settlers in Swamp Angel and bring settler clothing for children to try on.
  • Read Swamp Angel in tandem with other tall tales:
    • Keats, Ezra Jack. John Henry: An American Legend. ISBN 9780812459463
    • Kellogg, Steven. Pecos Bill: A Tall Tale. ISBN 9780688140205
    • Houran, Lori H., and Luke Flowers (illustrator). The Tale of Paul Bunyan. ISBN 978-1984851796
  • Read Swamp Angel with other Caldecott nominees of 1995. Have a class vote to decide which one “wins” the class nomination.
    • Bunting, Eve, and David Díaz (illustrator). Smoky Night. ISBN 9780152018849
    • Rohmann, Eric. Time Flies. ISBN 9780517885550
    • Lester, Julius, and Jerry Pinkney (illustrator). John Henry. ISBN 9780140566222

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

A Picture Book Version of The Three Little Pigs


Salinas, Bobbi. The Three Pigs/Los Tres Cerdos: Nacho, Tito and Miguel. Spanish version written by Amapola Franzen and Marcos Guerrero. Oakland, CA: Piñata Publications, 1998. ISBN 0934925054


In the beginning of this southwestern retelling, piglets and sow bid each other a tearful adios as the boys decide to strike out on their own. Mamá leaves her three pigs with a warning: watch out for José, the wily wolf. The first pig, Nacho, finds a good plot of land and makes himself a desert home out of straw, but—as in the original tale—José the wolf is quick to blow his house down. The unfortunate Nacho is then locked in a pigpen, awaiting suppertime when he’ll be made into delicious carnitas or chicharrons. Nacho’s brother, Tito, doesn’t fare much better after building his house out of wood. But Miguel, the third brother who builds his house out of adobe, keeps José at bay. The wicked wolf tries various tricks to fool Miguel into coming outside, but Miguel gets the better of José each time. The wolf is finally so angry at being outsmarted that he climbs down Miguel’s chimney to eat up the smug pig. Unfortunately for José, Miguel has his famous hot green chile stew boiling at the chimney’s bottom. After performing first aid and showing a sad-looking burnt wolf to the door, Miguel frees his brothers and they sit down to a delicious dinner.


Los Tres Cerdos is an excellent retelling of the original “Three Little Pigs.” Like its predecessor, the book includes the trademark elements of straw, wood, and brick; of one naughty wolf; of huffing and puffing and blowing houses down; and of not opening the door by the hairs of the pigs’ “chinny-chin-chins.” Yet the book also retells the tale with its own unique flair, adding clever new additions like “No way, José,” chicharron pig snacks, and Miguel’s hot green chile stew. Furthermore, the Spanish words and translations are spot on, and the book includes an index to help readers gain additional insights into the Spanish words and southwestern cultural images found in the illustrations and dialogue.

And speaking of the illustrations, Salinas’s detailed naïve style adds fantastic depth to her retelling. Observant readers will be able to use context clues from household items to note that Nacho is a piano player, that Tito is an aspiring artist, and that Miguel is a book-loving scholar. The illustrations also give the story its distinct Spanish-American flair with nods to cultural icons like the “Mona Frida,” hung from Tito’s wall; the Virgin of Guadalupe, framed in Mamá’s house; and a Gabriel García Márquez novel, sitting on Miguel’s shelf. Details make Los Tres Cerdos come alive.

Most importantly, readers will appreciate this non-violent retelling for its commitment to both mercy and justice. The wolf gets to go home alive, penitent but chastised. The pig brothers get to enjoy a delicious southwestern meal together and live in their safe and sturdy adobe houses happily ever after. With exceptional attention to detail in the language, culture, and illustration, this retelling would make a great addition to any library collection.


Winner of the 1999 Tomás Rivera Book Award

From Publishers Weekly: “This book offers a spicy retelling of the familiar tale of the three little pigs . . . The excellent illustrations are entertaining, intelligent, and witty, offering lots of visual jokes and cross-cultural references to the likes of Elvis Presley, César Chávez, and Cantinflas . . . Highly recommended for all bookstore and library collections.”


  • Put on a classroom play of the story using the costume suggestions found in the back of the book.
  • Work together to recreate green chile stew using the recipe found in the back of the book or pre-prepare stew and eat it together.
  • Read with other Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award winners:
    • Lomas Garza, Carmen. In My Family/En Mi Familia. ISBN 9780892391639
    • Mora, Pat, and Raul Colón (illustrator). Tomás and the Library Lady. ISBN 9780613283625
    • Morales, Yuyi. Just a Minute!: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. ISBN 9780811837583
  • Read with other cultural retellings of “The Three Little Pigs.” Then, compare and contrast the retellings together:
    • Brett, Jan. The 3 Little Dassies. ISBN 9780399254994
    • Ketteman, Helen, and Will Terry (illustrator). The Three Little Gators. ISBN 9780807578247
    • Kimmel, Eric A., and Leo and Valeria Docampo (illustrator). The Three Little Tamales. ISBN 9780761455196

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

A Folktale Retold by Eric Kimmel


Kimmel, Eric A., and Erin Camarca (illustrator). Rattlestiltskin. Portland: WestWinds Press, 2016. ISBN 9781943328383


Rattlestiltskin is a southwestern spin on the original German fairy tale, substituting tortillas “so light, they float like clouds” for straw that spins into gold and Don Ignacio, the richest man in town, for the king. Rosalia is the southwestern substitute for the miller’s daughter, and try as she might, she can’t make tortillas float for Don Ignacio until a rattlesnake-wearing man appears. Rosalia offers to do anything he asks in exchange for his secret to making tortillas float, and the man promptly agrees to her terms. When Don Ignacio tastes Rosalia’s new floating tortillas, he is overjoyed and presents her with a life of luxury. Rosalia is carefree—until the rattlesnake man appears again and demands that she become a maid for him and his brothers. Rosalia can only escape her fate if she guesses his name, and after coming up short two days in a row, she runs away. But before Rosalia gets too far, she spots a shack and overhears the rattlesnake man inside say his name—Rattlestiltskin—allowing her to break free of her promise and continue to live her luxurious lifestyle.


There are several ways in which Rattlestiltskin shines. The oral readability of the story is fantastic, and readers will especially delight in reciting the square dance song that Rattlestiltskin sings. (“Promenade and don’t be slow. What’s my name? I’ll bet you know . . .”) Kimmel’s almost perfect maneuvering of Spanish words and phrases intermingled with English is also commendable and adds authenticity to the southwestern bent of the story. Plus, illustrations add additional insight into the southwest with brightly colored traditional clothing and the rugged desert landscape of the southwestern wilderness.

Unfortunately, there are also several ways in which Rattlestiltskin flops. Unlike the original miller’s daughter, Rosalia’s plight is never so dire or unfair that readers have much of a reason to root for her. On the other hand, readers don’t have much of a reason to root against Rattlestiltskin. After all, he’s only asking Rosalia to keep her end of their agreement and his request isn’t for anything very unreasonable. Asking her to be the maid at his house is mild when compared with the original Rumpelstiltskin’s evil wish to take away a mother’s baby; it’s one that even seems fair after he’s taught Rosalia his amazing secrets. Furthermore, the man mercifully allows Rosalia to try to guess his name again and again. Thus, when the ever-jolly Rattlestiltskin is rattled to pieces, it seems undeserved, and when the final spread of the story shows a frightening picture of an evil-looking Rattlestiltskin hiding in the rocks, it clashes awkwardly with his upbeat nature. In summary, the lack of high stakes and consistency, and a villain more likable than the heroine left the story feeling half-baked and mediocre.


From School Library Journal: “An enjoyable play on an old favorite that will be a sound addition to most picture book collections.”

From Kirkus Reviews: “This adaptation is uneven, fluctuating between clever—the story’s title—and pedestrian—the tale itself.”

From Booklist: “Peppering the book with Spanish vocabulary and phrases, Kimmel adds a multicultural twist through words visually enhanced by first-time illustrator Camarca’s desert landscapes and traditional dress. In spite of noble intentions to add diversity to a well-known story, the result feels a bit awkward, and the art, occasionally almost disturbing.”


Work together to recreate tortillas using the tortilla recipe found in the back of the book or pre-prepare tortillas and eat them together.

Teach the children a simple square dance like the ones found below:

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xXePOakJGs
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFskdWvq0wk&feature=share
  • https://ourpastimes.com/square-dance-kids-6356669.html

Read with other books by Eric Kimmel and ask children to write about which book is their favorite:

  • Kimmel, Eric A., and Trina S. Hyman (illustrator). Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. ISBN 9780823411313
  • Kimmel, Eric A., and Janet Stevens (illustrator). Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock. ISBN 9780823407989
  • Kimmel, Eric A., and Omar Rayyan (illustrator). Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale. ISBN 9780761455998

Read with other retellings and versions of Rumpelstiltskin. Then, compare and contrast the retellings together:

  • Zelinsky, Paul O. Rumpelstiltskin. ISBN 9780140558647
  • Stanley, Diane. Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter. ISBN 9780064410953
  • Hamilton, Virginia, and Leo and Diane Dillon (illustrators). The Girl Who Spun Gold. ISBN 9780590473781

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Classic Picture Book Review


Thompson, Kay, and Hilary Knight (illustrator). Eloise. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1955. ISBN 9780671223502


In Eloise, a mischievous 6-year-old takes readers through her daily routine at her ritzy home, the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Readers are introduced to the lobby, where Eloise is dubbed a “nuisance”; the elevator, where she provokes the elevator man by “skibbling” up and down tirelessly; the hall, where she makes “a really loud and terrible racket” for the other residents; and various fancy rooms that are left a little less fancy in the wake of little Eloise. The 6-year-old also introduces readers to her pets, her nanny, her French teacher, and her wild imagination. Most of all, readers are introduced to Eloise’s big, often impish personality from the first page to the last.


Loud, opinionated, and very unique, Eloise is a picture book character like no other. Readers will never have to guess how Eloise feels about anything or anyone, whether it’s her boring boring boring French tutor Philip whom she mimics until he screams, or her nurse, Nanny whom ooooooo she just absolutely loves. Eloise’s voice is full of made up words and childlike observations (did you know that Kleenex makes a very good hat and so does cabbage leaf and an egg cup?), making her voice strong and certainly unforgettable, despite the simple, meandering plot of the story. Illustrations support and strengthen text with spreads as unforgettable as the one where readers watch Eloise saw Saylor the doll in half and ride in an ambulance to save the poor thing from this most terriblest accident.

However, while the voice and illustration of Eloise are to be lauded, the book often seems too mature for its 5- to 8-year-old audience. In fact, Kay Thompson herself never intended for this book to be a children’s book. It was intended, as its subtitle suggests, to be a book for precocious grown-ups. Children may not pick up on the illustration of the gin that 6-year-old Eloise has stashed away in her room, but they will hear the somewhat offensive mature phrases “for Lord’s sake” and “Oh my Lord” repeated about a dozen times. And while characters that are overly cute, sweet, and well behaved may not be memorable to children and didactic texts can turn them right off, Eloise seems to have no meaning nor subtle takeaway, unless it is that Eloise is actually a character to be pitied. She’s a 6-year-old whose parents are completely absent and whose mischievous acts seem to be the only way she knows how to get anyone’s attention. Or maybe the takeaway is that her naughtiness holds no undesirable consequences, an idea that caregivers may not be thrilled to have to correct.


New York Times Bestseller List

Times “100 Best Children’s Books of All Time” List

Bookroo “Best 100 Classics of All Time” List

From Time: “She is a magnificent moppet.”

From the New York Times: “Eloise is one of the most recognizable characters in children’s literature.”

From Variety: “Eloise is poised to become an overnight sensation.”


Read with other popular children’s books written in the 1950s:

  • Geisel, Theodor Suess. The Cat in the Hat. ISBN 9780394800011
  • Johnson, Crockett. Harold and the Purple Crayon. ISBN 9780747532033

Read with other picture books with strong character voice:

  • Willan, Alex. Unicorns Are the Worst!. ISBN 9781534453845
  • Pizzoli, Greg. The Watermelon Seed. ISBN 9781423171010
  • Lobel, Arnold. Frog and Toad Are Friends. ISBN 9780064440202

Read with other picture books that include elevators:

  • Minh, Lê, and Dan Santat (illustrator). Lift. ISBN 9781368036924
  • Kulling, Monica, and David Parkins (illustrator). Going Up!: Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top. ISBN 9781770495166
  • Frankel, Yael, and Kit Maude (translator). The Elevator. ISBN 781734783902

Read with other picture books about the day in the life of a child:

  • Viorst, Judith, and Ray Cruz (illustrator). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. ISBN 9780689711732
  • Falconer, Ian. Olivia. ISBN 9780689829536

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Review of a Book Illustrated by Kadir Nelson


Levine, Ellen, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad. New York: Scholastic, 2007. ISBN 9780439777339


In Henry’s Freedom Box, young Henry and his family work as slaves. Henry longs to be free, but his master sends Henry to work for his son instead. As a slave for the master’s son, Henry grows up working in a tobacco factory and meets a girl, Nancy, who is working under another master. Both masters allow Henry and Nancy to marry, and they have three children together. But when Nancy’s master loses his money, Nancy and the children are sold and taken away forever. Henry decides that he’ll do anything to leave slavery behind. With the help of a sympathetic white man, Henry is nailed in a box and mailed to Philadelphia where he becomes free at last.


The story of Henry is a story that children won’t soon forget. Its plot moves forward at a quick and steady pace, yet never glosses over the harsh realities of Henry’s life as a slave. Readers watch as Henry is taken from his family of origin and placed in a harsh environment where he can be beaten, as his wife and children are sold away, and as he mails himself to freedom nailed inside a box. However, while Henry’s Freedom Box makes the harsh realities of slavery clear to young readers, the text is written in a tactful and age-appropriate manner. The writing style is engaging and easy to understand, making it accessible for its intended audience. There’s no doubt that Ellen Levine makes good stories.

But the best part of the book is its illustrations. Illustrator Kadir Nelson’s crosshatched pencil lines covered with layers of watercolor and oil paint practically burst from the page, bringing the details of each scene into sharp focus. Facial expressions are drawn with especially astonishing clarity, driving home the emotions that Henry is feeling—his anger as he works in the tobacco factory, his delight as he talks with Nancy for the first time, his horror and heartbreak as he learns of the selling of Nancy and the children, and his determination to find his way to freedom. Pictures will invite readers to engage with Henry’s story, to triumph with Henry in his deliverance, and to develop a deeper understanding of a dark part of America’s history. This book would make an excellent addition to any picture book collection for older readers.


Caldecott Medal Nominee (2008)

Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award for Grades 3­–6 (2010)

California Young Readers Medal for Picture Books for Older Readers (2012)

Comstock Read Aloud Book Award Nominee (2008)

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Powerful illustrations will make readers feel as if they have gained insight into a resourceful man and his extraordinary story.”

From School Library Journal: “This book solidly conveys the generalities of Henry Brown’s story.”

From Kirkus: “Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved.”


Read with other picture books about Henry “Box” Brown. Compare and contrast the differences in each story.

  • Weatherford, Carole Boston, and Michele Wood (illustrator). Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom. ISBN 9780763691561
  • Walker, Sally M., and Sean Qualls (illustrator). Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown. ISBN 9780060583101

Read with other Caldecott nominees of 2008:

  • Seeger, Laura V. First the Egg. ISBN 9781596432727
  • Willems, Mo. Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. ISBN 9781423102991

Read with other award-winning books illustrated by Kadir Nelson and discuss how the art is similar and different in each book:

  • Alexander, Kwame, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). The Undefeated. ISBN 9781328780966
  • Nelson, Kadir. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. ISBN 9780061730740
  • Nolen, Jerdine, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). Thunder Rose. ISBN 9780152060060

Read with other picture books as an introduction to the Underground Railroad:

  • Tate, Don. William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9781561459353
  • Cole, Henry. Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9780545399975
  • Stroud, Bettye, and Erin S. Bennett (illustrator). The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom. ISBN 9780439851176

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Caldecott Review


Blackall, Sophie. Hello Lighthouse. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018. ISBN 9780316362382


Hello Lighthouse is the story of one lighthouse and its last “keeper,” a man whose job is to make sure the lighthouse lamp is wound up tight, its oil is refilled, and the events of the day are written in the logbook. Time passes in the lighthouse and, with it, many events—the arrival of the keeper’s wife, the rescue of three wrecked sailors from a storm, the birth of a daughter, and—finally—the invention of a lighthouse machine that needs no keeper, causing husband, wife, and daughter to say goodbye to their beloved lighthouse and find a new home on the shore.


Hello Lighthouse is not your average picture book. Unlike such favorites as Corduroy or How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Sophie Blackall leaves her characters nameless and without a book-long problem to solve. However, while these omissions might make another picture book fall flat, in Sophie Blackall’s deft hands, Hello Lighthouse shines from its promontory station as a wonderful children’s book.

What makes Hello Lighthouse truly exceptional is its pictures. Beautiful Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations accompany and amplify textual descriptions—the colors of the sunrise reflect on the water as the text declares that “from dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams” and the lighthouse becomes a ghostly silhouette when “the fog makes everything disappear.” But the illustrations go far beyond simple textual amplifications. They invite curious young readers to uncover hidden gems in the intricate details of each spread, like the words of the letter written to “dearest Alice” or the weather remarks written in the logbook of the lighthouse. And images are drawn from unique, cinematic perspectives, such as the eye-level illustration that invites readers to greet the lighthouse from across the shore with husband, wife, and child. Young readers are sure to come away from this book full of a little more imagination and a little more wonder.


2019 Caldecott Medal

Publisher’s Weekly Best Picture Books of 2018 Pick

New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2018 Pick

From Publisher’s Weekly: “This graceful account celebrates a lost era and vocation—the sometimes lonely, sometimes dangerous job of keeping a lighthouse. . . . A jewel of a creation.”

From School Library Journal: “A lovely picture book, recommended for all libraries. A delightful bedtime read perfect for one on one sharing.”

From Booklist: “Blackall’s charmingly old-fashioned art style is beautifully matched to this nostalgia-rich story, which imbues an antiquated place with warmth and wonder.”


Read with other award-winning books illustrated by Sophie Blackall:

  • Mattick, Lindsay, and Sophie Blackall (illustrator). Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. ISBN 0316324906
  • Blackall, Sophie. If You Come to Earth. ISBN 145213779X

Read with other books about lighthouses such as:

  • Armitage, Rhonda, and David Armitage (illustrator). The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch. ISBN 0590551752
  • Hopkinson, Deborah, and Kimberly B. Root (illustrator). Birdie’s Lighthouse. ISBN 0689835299

Use as an introduction to a weather unit with other weather books such as:

  • Rabe, Tish, and Aristides Ruiz (illustrator). Oh Say Can You Say What’s the Weather Today? ISBN 0375822763
  • Gibbons, Gail. Weather Words and What They Mean. ISBN 0823441903

Use as an introduction to an inventions unit. Point out that a new light is installed in the lighthouse. Brainstorm with the children about things they want to invent. Then, ask them to draw a picture of their inventions.

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.