Swamp Angel (Caldecott Honor Book)

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Working in an American primitive style animated by the humor and storytelling genius for which he is renowned, Caldecott Winner artist Paul O. Zelinsky puts oils to cherry and maple for this tall-tale competition between a Tennessee woods-woman extraordinaire and a hungry, fearsome bear.Thundering Tarnation has a bottomless appetite for settler’s grub. When word goes out about a competition to hunt this four-legged forest of stubble, a young woman, second to none in buckskin bravery, signs up. “How about baking a pie, Angel?” the other hunters taunt. “I aim to,” says Swamp Angel. “A bear pie.”What follows is as witty a round of roughhousing as ever jostled the ranks of Americana. Anne Isaacs’ original text unfolds in a crackling combination of irony, exaggeration, and bold image-making. Zelinsky’s paintings respond with deft yet hilarious expressions, rhythmic shapes, and a sense of monumental motion, as benefits a heroine who can wield a tornado like a lasso, drink a lake dry, and snore down a forest. All through these grand shenanigans, the Great Smoky Mountains are stirred up, Montana’s short-grass prairie laid down, and Thundering Tarnation’s fate proves to have no less a reach than the starry heavens.Swamp Angel marks the debut of a promising new storyteller and adds to the tall-tale traditions a pictorial counterpart which will entertain and endure for a very long time to come.
On the day of her birth, nothing about Angelica Longrider suggested that she would someday transform the greatest woodswoman of Tennessee. In truth, the newborn was once “scarcely taller than her mother and couldn’t climb a tree without help.” It is not long, though, before Angelica is vanquishing varmints such as Thundering Tarnation, a huge bear with a taste for settlers’ winter rations, and swallowing entire lakes in a gulp.

This tallest of tall tales is an original from an intriguing newcomer to children’s books, Anne Isaacs. In the tradition of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, the story of a self-sufficient, tornado-wielding, unflappable heroine lopes along at a perfect pace. Paul O. Zelinsky’s folksy oil illustrations are painted on cherry, maple, or birch veneers, with old-fashioned frames; the extravagant and fanciful paintings have garnered the distinguished illustrator yet another Caldecott Honor. (Zelinsky has already received one Caldecott Medal for Rapunzel and two Caldecott Honors for Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin.) The dry and fantastically far-fetched humor of the creator-illustrator team will make readers of all ages feel as though Angelica herself has tossed ’em in the air so high that they’re still on the way up at nightfall. (Ages 4 and older) –Emilie Coulter

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