Traditional Literature

Special Author: Eric A. Kimmel

Three Samurai Cats

Kimmel, Eric A. 2003. Three Samurai Cats. Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 978-0439692564

Plot Summary
Three Samurai Cats by Eric A. Kimmel is an adaptation of a Japanese folktale about a feudal lord or daimyo, with a mean, giant rat in his castle. The daimyo goes to a distant shrine to ask for a Samurai cat to rid his home of the giant rat. The first and second Samurai cats are fit, able, and have excellent fighting skills, but they are overmatched by the giant rat. The third Samurai cat is old and has a limp. He sleeps on his mat all day while ignoring the taunts from the big rat. Eventually the big rat leaves the castle because the rat could not overcome the strength of stillness.

Critical Analysis
This is an excellent tale. The Feudal lord is a dog, the Samurai are cats and the rat is a big rat! The idea of defeating anyone or anything with stillness is a great concept to introduce. Eric Kimmel is giving children a new way to handle bullies at school. The tale is written with simple words for easy understanding and the readers will enjoy the surprise ending. The illustrations by Mordicai Gerstein were done in a Japanese typeface called Hiroshige. These illustrations were created by using ink mixed with oil paint and applying the mixture to heavy vellum paper, making the colors very bright and vibrant.

Review Excerpts
School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 3-Here’s an adaptation of an adaptation of a story Zen masters used to illustrate how unconventional approaches to problems can be disarmingly effective. When a daimyo’s castle is besieged by an enormous, ferocious rat, the lord beseeches the abbot of a nearby monastery to send a samurai cat to drive the beast away. The first and second samurai to confront him are overwhelmed by the rodent’s martial-arts skills, but the third, a tattered, disreputable-looking old feline, allows the rat’s greed to work against him and emerges triumphant. Kimmel’s telling is reasonably successful and the message to “Draw strength from stillness. Learn to act without acting. And never underestimate a samurai cat-” is conveyed without any element of preachiness. Gerstein’s lively cartoon illustrations are at their best in depicting the loathsome rat. The daimyo and the abbot are depicted as dogs, but there’s no question as to who has the upper paw.


PreS-Gr. 2. In feudal Japan, a daimyo (powerful lord) is humiliated when a greedy, bullying rat takes over his castle, eats his food, and intimidates everyone. The daimyo seeks help from a shrine famous for training samurai cats. Two magnificent feline warriors arrive, but the rat effortlessly overpowers them. Desperate, the lord requests the toughest cat of all, and he is surprised when scrawny, aged Neko Roshi hobbles in. He is even more surprised when the cat refuses the rat’s invitations to fight. As time passes, the rat’s behavior grows more egregious, but Neko Roshi ignores the rodent–until it finally traps itself and leaves the castle defeated. Kimmel tempers the folktale’s heavy message about passive resistance with humorous, perfectly paced language that is ideal for read-alouds, and the characters in Gerstein’s colorful, detailed drawings are irresistible–the saggy-jowled hound in robes; the buffoonish, wildly costumed daimyo bulldog; the scruffy, shrunken Neko Roshi; and, best of all, the pot-bellied, gleefully wicked “barbarous rat,” who is more comic foil than villain. An author’s note offers some historical background and sources

Discuss having dogs, cats and rats or gerbils as pets.
Ask how pets, dogs and cats or cats and gerbils, get along at the reader’s home.
Discuss how to handle conflict at home or at school.
This tale introduces Japanese words and their meanings.
Start a discussion about Japan and its islands and culture.

Related Books
The Beckoning Cat ISBN-978-0823420513
The Boy Who Drew Cats ISBN-978-0486403489
Japanese Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Lanterns and Stars ISBN-978-0804836586

Variant of the Three Little Pigs

Three Little Daissies

Brett, Jan. 2010. Three Little Daissies. New York: Putnam Juvenile.
ISBN: 978-0399254994

Plot Summary
This is an African variant of the Three Little Pigs. In this tale the three Daissie sisters, Mimbi, Pimbi and Timbi cross a desert in Southern Africa to find new homes. The sisters wear the bright clothing and flat turbans of the Herero women of Namibia while searching for a place to live that is cooler, less crowded and safe from eagles. The Eagle in the tale manages to capture Mimbi and Pimbi leaving Timbi to save her sisters and her home. The repetitive phrase, “I’ll flap and I’ll clap and I’ll blow your house in!” is similar to the phrase used by the wolf in the Three Little Pigs. The eagle meets a different ending than the wolf in the Three Little Pigs.

Critical Analysis
This is a great variant of the Three Little Pigs. Jan Brett introduces elements of dress, culture and the colors of the Namib Desert landscape in Southern Africa. The author dresses all the animals in clothing with bright colors and vivid patterns which make the daissies or rock hydraxes (rodents) seem adorable. The last page turns the story into a pourquoi tale about the dassies’ habitat. The illustrations are presented in triptych form with panels done in watercolors and gouache with airbrushed backgrounds.

Review Excerpts

School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 2–Brett’s sumptuous retelling of “The Three Little Pigs” is set in southern Africa and stars three small guinea-pig-like creatures that live in rock crevices in the Namib desert. The three dassies, garbed in traditional African dresses and turbans, are harassed by an eagle, who, like the wolf in the traditional tale, wants them for supper. He flies to the dassies’ houses made of grass and sticks and screeches, “I’ll flap and I’ll clap and I’ll blow your house in!” then captures them and plops them into his nest. On the side panels another story develops with a brightly dressed lizard, the Agama Man, who is intent on rescuing the little creatures. Children will enjoy following both stories and will linger on each page following the exacting detail of the setting: the desert, the characters, the decorative borders, and all the small touches in between. This tale will captivate children and introduce a setting and animals unfamiliar to most of them.

Publishers Weekly
This offering is classic Brett: meticulously rendered animal characters, an authentically depicted setting, ornate borders, action-filled side panels, and lively storytelling. This version of The Three Little Pigs takes place in southern Africa, where three dassies–small native mammals also called rock hyraxes–bid adieu to their family and set out “to find their own place.” After crossing the Namib Desert in a tortoise-pulled wagon, sisters Mimbi, Pimbi, and Timbi reach a mountain where they agree to settle down. They’re welcomed by an agama lizard, who mentions that an eagle, an enemy to dassies, lives nearby. After this predator destroys two of the dassies’ houses and carries the dassies to his nest, the lizard rescues them and helps outwit the bird. Brett (The Easter Egg) dresses her dassies in the vibrantly patterned traditional dresses and turbans of the Herero people of Namibia. The eagle and lizard are nattily attired in hats and colorful menswear–but even the suspenders, straw hat, and checked pants of the eagle don’t lessen the menace of his talons. A buoyant and original reimagining.

Discuss the Three Little Pigs.
Discuss how this tale is different. How is this tale similar?
Introduce a discussion about deserts and the animals that live there.
Introduce a discussion about African culture and dress.

Related Books
Honey… Honey… Lion! A Story from Africa ISBN 978-0399244636
The Three Snow Bears ISBN 978-0399247927
The Clever Monkey: A Folktale from West Africa ISBN 978-0874838015

Caldecott Award Author: Anne Isaacs

Swamp Angel

Isaacs, Anne. 1995. Swamp Angel. Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. New York: Puffin Books.
ISBN 978-0439692564

Plot Summary
Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs falls in the tall tale genre of Traditional Literature. Angelica Longrider was taller than her mother at birth; she could lasso tornados, and drink an entire lake dry. In this tale she fights the savage bear “Thundering Tarnation” to save the winter supplies and by defeating the bear she becomes the greatest woodswoman in Tennessee. Angelica helped the wagons mired in the swamp to earn her nickname of the “Swamp Angel”.

Critical Analysis
This is the only tall tale that I’ve read that featured a woman. How unique! Angelica Longrider is cut from the same cloth as Pecos Pete and Paul Bunyan. She is brave and fearless and helps others in need. She helped move the wagons out of the swamp and she tracked down the bear that was stealing and eating the winter supplies. She is a great role model for young girls.

Review Excerpts

Swamp Angel can lasso a tornado, and drink an entire lake dry. She single-handedly defeats the fearsome bear known as Thundering Tarnation, wrestling him from the top of the Great Smoky Mountains to the bottom of a deep lake. Caldecott Medal-winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky’s stunning folk-art paintings are the perfect match for the irony, exaggeration, and sheer good humor of this original tall tale set on the American frontier.

Publisher’s Weekly
Zelinsky’s (Rumpelstiltskin) 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. Her energy-charged narrative introduces Angelica Longrider. “On August 1, 1815,” Isaacs begins, “when [she] took her first gulp of air on this earth, there was nothing about the baby to suggest that she would become the greatest woodswoman in Tennessee. The newborn was scarcely taller than her mother and couldn’t climb a tree without help…. She was a full two years old before she built her first log cabin.” The story continues in this casually overstated vein, explaining how Angelica got the appellation Swamp Angel at the age of 12 after rescuing a wagon train mired in the mud. But the larger-than-life girl’s reputation grows to truly gargantuan proportions when she bests an even larger bear, throwing him up in the sky, where “he crashed into a pile of stars, making a lasting impression. You can still see him there, any clear night.” This valiant heroine is certain to leave youngsters chuckling-and perhaps even keeping a close watch on the night sky.

A Caldecott Honor Book
An ALA Notable Book
A Time magazine Best Book of the Year
A New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year
Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
Open a discussion about other tall tales such as Paul Bunyan.
Have the students make up their own tall tale.

Related Books
Thunder Rose ISBN- 978-0152164720
Dust Devil ISBN -978-0375867224
Mike Fink ISBN-978-0688135775