Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Favorite Author

"He was enjoying his trip immensely. It was beautiful weather. Day and night he moved up and down, up and down, on waves as big as mountains, and he was full of wonder, full of enterprise, and full of love for life."

Although William Steig is often associated with his picture books Doctor De Soto and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (and now possibly Shrek), Amos and Boris has the distinction of being on the list of my top five recommended picture books for boys. Brave Irene is also right up there on my list of great picture books.

The first thing I noticed about Steig's books was the vocabulary. He has an incredible way with words, never dumbing down content.

Steig's characters (often animals) possess an amazing spirit, spunk, and zest for life. They face trials with resourcefulness and courage, asking deep questions. They see possibilities in every situation.

While hunting for books recently, I stumbled upon Abel's Island. The only Steig books I had read up to this point were picture books, and I was delighted to find a chapter book (with the author's quirky illustrations) knowing that it would have great pizazz, life lessons, and tremendous vocabulary.

Abel's Island is a story about a newlywed mouse caught in a storm and stranded on an island. His efforts to survive and ultimately get off the island make up the rest of the book.

I read the first chapter or two to Levi, and he read the rest of the book to himself. If I had it to do over, I would continue to read the book aloud rather than handing it over to a young child (and I most certainly will read the book aloud to all the boys in the future). While I am sure that Levi caught the gist of the story, I am equally certain that he did not accurately catch a large portion of the words or adequately catch the transformation of Abel's outlook on life.

Because Levi and I love words, we have in the past kept a list of favorite or exciting new words we have come across in a book we read together. Had we made a list from Abel's Island, we would still be reading weeks later. This would be our list from page 11:

turbulent, plunged, maelstrom, churning, gasping, indrafts, subjected, abide, bandied, writhing, exasperated, fortitude, unyielding, drenched, pelted, moored...
pg. 34

Was it just an accident that he was here on this uninhabited island? Abel began to wonder. Was he being singled out for some reason: was he being tested? If so, why? Didn't it prove his worth that such a one as Amanda loved him?

Did it? Why did Amanda love him? He wasn't all that handsome, was he? And he had no particular accomplishments. What sort of mouse was he? Wasn't he really a snob, and a fop, and frivolous on serious occasions, as she had once told him during a quarrel? He had acted silly even at his own wedding, grinning during the solemnities, clowning when cutting the cake. What made him act that way when he did?

Full of such questions, he went to wash his face in the river that kept him captive, and drank some of its water. It was foolish, he realized, to harbor a grudge toward this river. It had no grudge against him. It happened to be where it was; it had probably been there for eons.

Adoring Abel's Island was cause enough to borrow Dominic from our library. This time I read the book out loud in its entirety. Dominic was probably a more endearing character to a young child than Abel, the vocabulary was not quite as heavy, and the story was teeming with adventure.

pg. 60

Dominic woke in the morning, a blissful smile on his face. The gentle radiance of a rosy sun pervaded the air, and little birds sang so lyrically that he took out his golden piccolo and joined them in their music. The world was suffused with peace and warmth. Dominic danced through the grass. Then, overcome with exultation, he flung his spear high in the air, where the early sun painted it pink for a moment.

pg. 64

The boar began crying again. Not out of sorrow this time, but out of excruciating joy. "How can I ever, ever in this world, not to mention the next, and disregardless of unforeseen contingencies, adequately thank you!" he said. "I can't even begin, let alone work up a proper preamble to a beginning, to tell you how unendurably happy you've made me. But I'll try..."

Next up-- The Real Thief.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Oh I am so glad to know about these books. One of Hannah's favorites (and mine) is Brave Irene. I have never thought to look for William Steig outside of the picture book section.

And I love the idea about keeping a list of new and interesting words!