Category Archives: Throwback Thursday

“Big and Bad” – but mostly bad


This Traditional Thursday, I got the exciting opportunity to read a Three Little Pigs adaptation called “Big and Bad”. This well-loved tale had me eager to see a fresh take on it. Instead, what we get is a fairly bland retelling with somewhat terrifying illustrations.


As someone who had nightmares over “Where the Wild Things Are” as a child, I can assure you those EYES would not have sat well with me. Also note the rather bland font. Later, some character names are emphasized with color, but it doesn’t seem to serve any kind of meaningful purpose with regards to the text.

In terms of narrative, we have a straightforward retelling of the traditional fable, with the exception that the houses are built as a trap for Big Bad devised by the various woodland creatures. Eventually when he gets scared up out at the chimney, he becomes a comet in the night sky. My biggest gripe with the narrative is that, being so blase, I never reached a point where I felt engaged with the mythos of a Just-So Story, so the only significant adaptation felt tacked on.


The issue with this book, aside from the borderline surreal illustrations, is not that it’s that bad, it just really doesn’t offer much worth reading.  A story needs a reason, it needs to want to be given life, and frankly I found myself only bored or annoyed as I worked through the text. And with something so well-worn as The Three Little Pigs, there are already so many fun and thoughtful adaptations, I don’t know why you would choose this one. A few that I love include “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs” by Jon Sciezka and Lane Smith as well as “The Three Pigs” by David Wiesner.

If you’re going to read a classic fable, I definitely recommend the two pictured above instead!

-Josiah Pehrson


Smooooooooth Jazz


new-doc-2_3Take a trip back in time with Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph. Using a collection of original poems, writer Roxanne Orgill tells the stories of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk, Rex Stewart, and Maxine Sullivan who all gathered one day on  126th Street.

This story started with an idea—all the good ones do—and this idea was a spectacular one in its own right. As told in the book’s introduction, Art Kane, in 1958, decided to take a picture. But not just any picture mind you, but rather a picture containing as many American jazz musicians as possible. Not even owning a camera, Art Kane partnered with Esquire magazine to help make this photograph a good one.


Armed with the Francis Vallejo’s tantalizing artwork, Orgill tosses us lightly onto those sun-bathed sidewalks, surrounded by laughter, chatter, and smiles. We are no longer viewing the book from 2016, because we are standing next to Rex Stewart as he passes a small cornet to a little boy named Leroy. We are standing next to a group of men wondering where Duke Ellington is at the moment. We are comforting a frantic photographer who is attempting, without prevail, to get everyone’s attention.

This is a great book to remind kids that history isn’t dead. Instead history is in the poetry found between the covers of a book, or in Vallejo’s exquisite illustrations, or in the smooth jazz that they might hear in an elevator, or even in a single photograph.


Post by: Stephanie Thompson

Traditional Thursdays: Sideways Stories from Wayside School


I have always loved Louis Sachar’s zany book – ever since it first crossed my school desk circa the fourth grade. Seeing the play interpretation at our local children’s theatre in a later field trip was a delight, and reading it years later to my dormmates as a college kid was like revisiting one of my funniest old friends.

What makes this story so timeless? Sachar’s ’78 classic is a crazy kooky and sidewayscoverfun read that brings in the ridiculous and unbelievable and makes it perfectly normal.

A teacher who thinks her students are so cute they must be monkeys?

Ice cream that tastes like your personality, but you can’t taste it?

Dead rats sneaking into school?

A boy who just can’t stop kicking things?

Just a normal day in a school that was accidentally built 30 stories high (without a 19th)!

Sideways Stories is a chapter book that collects 30 stories, each one starring a different member of the Wayside School community. Each chapter is about four pages long, and has a different tone, determined by the character.sidewayspaul

Some are driven by narration, some by action, some by descriptions – something for every type of reader. Paul, for example, engages in intense debate with Leslie’s pigtails over whether or not he should pull them. Sharie, on the other hand, is asleep her entire chapter.


What I most like about this story is its snappy wit. The children all have their youthful good-natured (and sometimes self-serving) naïveté, but so do the adults. And everyone states the obvious…except the obvious just happens to also be hopelessly silly. I would highly recommend this as a read aloud or a silent chuckle-aloud!


By: Julia McCorvey

Traditional Thursdays: The Name Jar


Oh, what’s in a name?
Well, alot actually!

Names are a huge part of how we identify ourselves, and children are bound to feel the same way. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, originally published in 2001, is a book that I remember distinctively when I was a young child and is one that I think will resonate well with children even today. Here on Traditional Thursdays, I will highlight some resonating and outstanding ideas this book offers.

the name jar cover

Many people consider Choi’s The Name Jar a more modern and culturally diverse spin off of Kevin Henke’s Chrysanthemum (which is also a wonderful classic!).


Actually, Chrysanthemum was the original book I wanted to review, but after rediscovering The Name Jar, I found that this book may be more relevant for classrooms today.
For those unfamiliar with the story, The Name Jar follows a young girl named Unhei, who recently moved to the States from Korea. On the bus ride to her first day in school, people are surprised by her unfamiliar name and tease her for it. She loses confidence in her name, and decides to pick a new one. Her classmates help her out by suggesting names, which are all collected in a jar. However, a friend named Joey learns the backstory of Unhei’s Korean name…and helps her pick the best name for her: Unhei.

the name jar 2

This book is great to help young children understand what it means to embrace one’s identity, culture, and differences. I loved seeing the Korean characters in the illustrations, and the end pages are used exceptionally well:

the name jar

Here, we see a mix of Korean names and English names the class came up with together.

It is touching to see Unhei write her name in both English and Korean in front of the entire class and explain that her name means ‘Grace.’ It is even better to see the teacher respond to the students’ reactions, “Lots of American names have meanings too.” No matter what language our names may come from, they are special and deserve respect! Spending the time to know fellow peers and finding an appreciation of different identities is one of the most valuable lessons I believe a student should learn. The story is complex, yet written in a simple way easy for even younger readers to understand. Any elementary classroom would benefit from reading this book together.
On a slightly more critical note, I do feel that this story touches only briefly on the other struggles of immigrating to a new country (food, family, etc). While this is already a wonderful book that has culturally diverse elements, there is much room for expansion in future books.

In general though, as someone who also immigrated to the States from Korea at an early age, this book hits home to me. Many of my friends are not aware of the dread I feel during the first few days of classes when the teacher does not know or even try to pronounce my legal Korean name. It can be embarrassing!
But I will also admit that the few people who do stop me to ask, “Hey, how do you pronounce your real name?” is one of those small things that I appreciate deeply.
Cheers to The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi and the push for more classic diverse literature!

By Sunny Kim

Traditional Thursdays: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom


Some may not consider Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to be along the classic genre of children’s books. However, this was a book I grew up with and it is very endearing to me. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom was written by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. It was published in 1989 by Little Simon which is part of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Company.


Children were unaware as they were reciting along with the book in its rhythmic cadence that they were actually learning the alphabet. As a child, I loved the competition of which letter would get to the top unaware that I was learning the alphabet.

The book is about a group of friends going on an adventure that ends up with them racing to the top. The reader experienced anticipation to never knowing which additional letters was eventually going to crash the tree. So again it drew on children’s imagination which lead to discussion with the reader and the child.


The illustrator made the book bold and colorful while relating it to the reader by providing some human elements to the letters. For example, when they fall out of the coconut tree the letters had injuries like any other child might experience. So some of the letters ended up with injuries like “skinned-knee D and stubbed-toe E and patched-up F.”

An important lesson this book teaches is being inclusive. The reader sees throughout the book that no letter is ever left behind not even “tag-along K.”


This book allows any child’s imagination to imagine the adventure always begins anew each day even if “A is out of bed.”

P.S.: For all of you teachers or aspiring teachers out there. There are some different lessons, crafts, activities on Pinterest that go along with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom if you want to use the book in your classroom.

-Kendall Shaw

Traditional Thursdays: Cinders, a Chicken Cinderella


cinders cover

Jan’s unique artistic style transports us to Russia (where she traveled before starting Cinders to get inspiration) for a quirky reimagining of the classic Cinderella story. Her attention to detail has always kept me interested in her artwork long after I am done reading the words on the page, and this book was no exception. Each chicken is made to look different and each wears elegantly unique outfits to the ball. The middle pages of the book even open up to reveal a magical ballroom scene to mimic the illusion of the godmother hen watching the ball from the outside, which is a great interactive feature for children.


Of course, the details in the written story are just as wonderful. Even though she uses advanced vocabulary and some Russian words, the book does not feel stuffy and the story can continue either through the use of contextual cues or by referring to the aforementioned details in the illustrations. The character names are silly (Largessa the mother hen and the two sisters Pecky and Bossy in particular), keeping the story light for younger readers (or listeners). Jan treats her characters lovingly and truly transforms ordinary animals into vibrant characters with personalities to rival those of any human.


In the end, it is left ambiguous as to whether the story was just a dream of the human girl who takes care of the chickens, but this only adds to the magic and wonder that Jan breaths into this classic fairy tale. To hear Jan talk about her trip to Russia and to see how to draw Cinders, watch this video from her blog!


~Reviewed by Katie Goetz

Traditional Thursdays: The Wreck of the Zephyr


This book is not all that traditional, but having been published in 1983, I think Traditional Thursdays is the best place to review The Wreck of the Zephyr. This is honestly one of my favorite books from my childhood and I was quite surprised that nobody had done it for this blog before.

The Wreck of the Zephyr was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, a Caldecott winning author that most people know from his more popular books like Jumanji and The Polar Express (he is also from Michigan and graduated from the U of M, so he’s a hometown hero to me).  While The Wreck of the Zephyr is one of his lesser known books, it is still a literary and visual masterpiece.

imgresThe tale begins with the author wandering in the hills above a small fishing village, where he runs into an old man and the wreck of a small fishing boat, resting far above the shore. When asked about the peculiar wreck, the old man tells a story of a young boy long ago who was the best sailor in the entire village. The story goes one to describe this boy’s adventure that ultimately ends with him finding a hidden town that knows the art of sailing in the sky, him receiving a pair of magical sails, and eventually, in his sailing hubris, crashing the boat into the hills and injuring himself. The book ends with the old man walking away with a limp, hinting that he was that boy from long ago.

The plot and written portion of the book are similar to a lot of Van Allsburg’s books, with the ending leaving the reader to decide what actually happened. The story is fantastical and mysterious, giving the reader a beautifully haunting book that feels like a flipping through the pages of a dream.



The illustrations are perfectly suited to the story, with misty, stormy colors and great lighting effects that accentuate the dream-like nature of the book.

In the end, The Wreck of the Zephyr is an almost modern fairy tale, with a story and pictures that would make for a great bedtime story or something of that nature. In this way I think it is entertaining for children and adults alike to read, which is a happy medium that is often hard to come by. If you liked Jumanji or Van Allsburg’s other books, then give The Wreck of the Zephyr a read. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

~Peter Burke