Spotlight: Henri, Egg Artiste

Every once in awhile, I stumble upon a book that’s just unique or particularly worth mentioning.  It’s not always the newest or best-reviewed title, but one that just somehow caught my attention and is worth sharing.  Today’s spotlight is on:

Henri, Egg Artiste

written by Marcus Pfister, translated by J. Alison James

NorthSouth Books (2005)

The Preschooler is a Rainbow Fish fan.  So we’re well-familiar with Mr. Pfister.  And not just with the Rainbow Fish character.  We’ve expanded beyond that most famous fish to enjoy other Marcus Pfister works as well.

However, when we came upon this book at the library, it was new to me.  Preschooler had expressed a desire to find an Easter book with “bunnies and eggs”, and this one fit the bill.  Plus, it was by an author we were familiar with and had enjoyed in the past, so I slipped it into the library bag without reading or even skimming through the pages.  We finished our visit and went on home.

When she pulled it from the library bag and brought it to me later, I settled in for a story about Easter, and friendship, and making good decisions (a common theme among Pfister stories).  This one, however was a little different.

In this tale, egg painter Henri has grown tired of painting the “same old painted eggs, year after year.”  But Henri is famous for his eggs and knows that the children will expect to find painted eggs in their yards come Easter morning.  In a moment of inspiration, Henri begins painting designs like he’s never painted before.  His friends and family worry that the children will be disappointed, but Henri sticks with his plan.  Come Easter morning, the eggs are prominently displayed throughout the yard, just waiting for the children to wake and come upon them.

So a fairly typical Easter story, right?  What was it that caught my attention?

The designs that Henri “creates” are replicas of famous paintings throughout history.  16 different artists and styles are represented, from Dali, to Matisse, to Warhol, to Munch.  A blurb at the back of the book then identifies each painting represented throughout the story, as well as information on the artist.

Now, my 3yo was a little young to truly appreciate the artwork.  She doesn’t recognize it as anything other than illustrations in the story.  But for older readers, this would be a fantastic opportunity to combine a seasonal story with a little learning.  Some of the images, such as Munch’s The Scream, or da Vinci’s Mona Lisa may already be familiar.  But other images, such as Rothko’s modern Orange and Yellow or de Saint Phalle’s Nana may be entirely new.

A quick look online showed that this book is no longer in print.  However, there are still copies available in libraries, and through secondhand resources.  It’s worth digging around for.

Got a story that deserves a place in the spotlight?  Let me know!


St. Patrick’s Day Roundup

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Here at Once Upon A Story, we’re celebrating by shining to the spotlight on some Irish (or Irish-inspired) authors.  I’ve highlighted some of my favorites, and then asked some friends for help in suggesting authors I’d missed.  The authors listed here represent both children and young adult literature.

Eoin Colfer

Born, raised, and still residing in Wexford, Ireland, this young adult author has almost 30 titles to his credit.  Almost all of these titles have appeared on the New York Times’ Bestseller list since.

Recommended: Artemis Fowl series.  The reader follows the teenage criminal genius Artemis Fowl II on his outrageous pursuit for money.  From Monaco, to Ireland, to Siberia, to Taiwan, the location is always colorful and exotic.  If your reader enjoyed Harry Potter and has not yet read this series, seven titles are available, the most recent being published just last year.  An eighth (and supposedly final?) book is in the works.

Tomie dePaola

While born in Connecticut, dePaola’s Irish and Italian heritage plays an important role in his timeless stories.  Having written and/or illustrated over 200 books for children, this is likely an author you already know.  However, as he is a favorite in our household, I thought this might be a good time to remind you of the joy found in his books.

Recommended: This is difficult since I could honestly recommend anything with dePaola’s name on it, but for St. Patrick’s Day, I’m going to pick Jamie O’ Rourke and the Big Potato and Jamie O’ Rourke and the Pooka. Lovable, lazy Jamie never seems to learn his lesson, but he remains one of my favorite characters, perhaps because of his clueless nature. I love Jamie’s attempts to dodge responsibility, even while the mother in me is smacking my head in frustration.

Patricia Reilly Giff

Born and raised in New York, the setting of many of her young adult novels, Giff is by no means an Ireland native.  However, her novels never fail to combine the tension, compassion, confusion, and exultation that constitutes the lives of her middle school/teen readers.  Having said that, I want to introduce you to two very important novels:

Recommended:  Nory Ryan’s Song and Maggie’s Door tell the story of 12-year-old Nory Ryan and her family as they struggle to survive the Great Hunger of 1845-1852.  When it becomes apparent that survival in Ireland is no longer possible, Nory and her family set out for the American Dream.  It has been several years since I have read Nory Ryan’s Song, and the sequel, Maggie’s Door, but Giff’s description, imagery, and stark reality have remained with me.  While not a light read, the novels are important, not only in the telling of Irish history, but in American history as well.

C.S. Lewis

Born in Belfast, this author was known to his family and friends as “Jack”.  After the family dog, Jacksie, was killed,the young Clive Staples Lewis informed his family that he would now answer to no other name but Jacksie.  The family eventually convinced him to go with Jack, but the story is an example of his love for animals, a trait apparent in his most famous works.

Recommended: While Lewis wrote many other works, mostly for an adult audience, none ever achieved quite as much long-lasting fame as The Chronicles of Narnia. The series has sold over 100 million copies in 41 languages, and is considered a classic of children’s literature.  Like so many others, I read the series in my childhood.  Of the seven books, my favorite remains the most famous–The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Now, some thoughts from others–While preparing to write this post, I turned to my Twitter friends for suggestions.   Some of the responses are below.  While I haven’t personal experience with the most of the authors mentioned, I’m including them because, let’s face it, you just can’t read ’em all and I don’t want to leave out something good!

  • Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks and author of The Book Whisperer) suggested Michael Scott.  No, not the guy from The Office.  Scott writes the bestselling series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. From his website:

“Irish-born Michael Scott began writing over twenty-five years ago, and is one of Ireland ‘s most successful and prolific authors, with one hundred titles to his credit, spanning a variety of genres, including Fantasy, Science Fiction and Folklore. He writes for both adults and young adults and is published in thirty-seven countries, in twenty languages.”

  • Amanda (@FaerieTaleMom) suggested Melissa Marr.   A native of New York, now living in Washington, D.C. (look! a local!) Marr grew up believing in faeries, ghosts, and all manner of fantastical creatures.  She has turned this love of folklore into popular novels for young adults.  Wicked Lovely, the first in her popular series by the same name, is currently being adapted into a screenplay.
  • And finally, my friend Amy suggested that I not leave off James Joyce and William Yeats.  These two poets (and novelist, in the case of Joyce) may be a little heavy for the younger set, they still represent the pride of Ireland.  Amy pointed out, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that it’s never too early to start em’ young.  She’s right!  Don’t underestimate the capability of your children or students.  I would never have tossed a book of Yeats at my fifth grade students and expect them to read and comprehend on their own, but we DID use Yeats to examine imagery in poetry, a skill necessary for state tests at that grade level.

Now it’s YOUR turn!  Anybody I missed?  Any books with Irish settings that have resonated with you?  Let’s hear it!

, let’s find a positive here…when he’s older, and says, “You never do anything for me!” you can respond, “I broke a rib for you!”