Friday, March 7, 2008

"Swamp Angel"

Title: Swamp Angel
Author: Anne Isaacs
Illustrator: Paul O. Zelinsky
Publisher: Puffin Books, 1994
Genre: Traditional Stories, Tall Tale
Age Range: K-3

1995 Caldecott Honor Book

Summary: Angelica Longrider was born as tall as her mother. She was a giant who helped Tennessee by building log cabins, like they were toothpicks. She picked up wagons stuck in the swamp and earned the nickname Swamp Angel. There was a bear roaming around eating everyone’s food. Thundering Tarnation was such a problem that there was a competition held to see who could kill him. After several men failed to kill the bear, Swamp Angel decided to try. She and the bear met one morning and began to wrestle. She threw him up in the sky, and they stirred up dust all over the mountains, making them known as the Smoky Mountains. They fell asleep wrestling and knocked down some of the forest. Finally, the bear was killed when Swamp Angel snored down a huge tree. The entire state of Tennessee fed off of the bear, and Swamp Angel took his pelt to Montana, which is now called Shortgrass Prairie. The bear left his impression against the stars when she threw him into the sky.

Response: I enjoyed reading this tall tale because it was one that I had never heard of before. The southern setting and vocabulary adds another dimension to the story. The most noteworthy aspect of the book is the incredible illustrations. They are done using oils on birch, cherry, and maple veneers. The wooden backgrounds coincide with the time period in which the story was written. Homes were built of logs, and portraits were drawn at that time on wood. The illustrations are drawn on wood, with the picture painted in a carved-out oval. The colors that are used in the illustrations are rich and warm. Angelica, very similar to her nickname “Angel”, is drawn like a giant, as she makes log cabins and wagons look like miniature toys. She is very interested in working outdoors, even wrestling Thundering Tarnation, but wears a dress and a bonnet. This shows the toughness of the southern woman. I love that when she is born, her mother is holding Angelica and the baby’s head is three times the size of the mother’s. The only thing that is remotely the same size as Swamp Angel is Thundering Tarnation. This giant bear and Swamp Angel engage in an epic battle across the mountains and plains of Tennessee. They kick up so much dust that it makes the mountains become smoky, thus creating the Smoky Mountains of today. They sling each other around, drink a lake dry, and snore down trees, which ends up being the downfall of Thundering Tarnation. She uses his skin as a rug out in Montana, creating the Shortgrass Prairie. When she throws the bear into the sky, Tarnation crashes into stars leaving an imprint. All these things are examples of how early settlers used to explain the creation of places and things that they really didn’t know about. Also, storytelling was a great source of entertainment. The more exaggerated the stories were told, the better the audience liked them.

Teaching Ideas: This story goes great in a unit of Tall Tales. It is important for students to realize that they are extreme and exaggerated stories about life. When talking about Tennessee and the early southern settlers, this would be a great story to show different aspects of life. The building of log cabins, cooking and storing food, the need for everyone to work together in a small town in order to survive. If I was to have a Tall Tale unit, I would have my children to create their own stories.

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