Isaacs, Anne. Swamp Angel. Illus. Paul O. Zelinsky. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1994.
Swamp Angel follows the tale of a larger-than-life, Tennessee-born woodswoman, who earns her name from saving a group of pioneers stranded in a swamp. She can hold her own in the wilderness and becomes the only female contender in a competition to kill the Thundering Tarnation, an impressive bear that terrorizes the settlers. Utilizing her strength and intellect, she arises the victor.
Swamp Angel gives Paul Bunyan a run for his money with the stature of her accomplishments, including reigning a tornado and killing a giant bear. Isaacs creates a lesson in hyperbole with the feats and adventures attributed to Swamp Angel; however, she shows readers that female protagonists do not have to be princesses but can be strong, resourceful, and outdoorsy heroines. In addition, to add to the cultural atmosphere of the Tennessee backwoods, Isaacs incorporates words such as “tarnation,” “varmint,” and “twister” to recreate a southern dialect. Most importantly, she captures the reader with her humor, especially in relating the debacles of the buccaneers and the wittiness of Swamp Angel’s replies to the stereotypical male comments made toward her. When the men taunt Swamp Angel about whether she should be home baking a pie instead of hunting a bear, she replies, “I aim to… a bear pie.” Swamp Angel exemplifies that women can be what they want, that they can defy stereotypes, and that they can hold their own in a male-driven world.
Paul O. Zelinsky’s art is perfect for Isaacs’ text. The landscapes are reminiscent of the Hudson River School, which depicted such rugged and uncivilized landscapes. Additionally, the more subdued colors, focusing on neutrals, add to the pioneering setting. Moreover, the faux wooden frames give the art a rustic appearance, appropriate for the tale’s time period. Zelinsky also adopts the comedy found in Isaacs’ text; the family portrait on the first page, in particular, is absurd, presenting Swamp Angel as an adult-sized infant, with a giant, balloon-shaped, bobble head. Lastly, the illustrations allow the reader to better visualize the origins of landmarks, such as the Shortgrass Prairie, which is, supposedly, comprised of the colossal bear pelt, as well as the bear’s indention in the stars.
"Swamp Angel (Book)." Book Links 13.5 (2004): 27. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.
"Zelinsky's Caldecott Honor-winning art perfectly complements Isaacs' delightfully witty text, chock-full of tall-tale phrases."
ALA's 1995 "Best" lists: Notable children's books, 1995: All ages.
Burns, Mary M. "Swamp Angel." Horn Book Magazine 71.2 (1995): 184. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.
"Move over, Paul Bunyan, you are about to meet Swamp Angel, an original creation in the tall-tale tradition whose exploits are guaranteed to amaze and amuse a wide swath of readers."
Starred book review in Booklist.
There is a video version of Swamp Angel, which could be used in conjunction with the book.
Compare and contrast it with tall tales that have male protagonists or with tales from other cultures that have female protagonists; for example, Dona Flor may be a good read with Swamp Angel.
Read other tales by Isaacs or examine other artwork by Zelinsky.
The Snowy Day
Keats, Ezra Jack. The Snowy Day. New York: Penguin Group, 1976.
The Snowy Day presents the story of a young boy, Peter, who wakes up to discover that it has snowed overnight. The book follows Peter's adventures in the snow. That same night, Peter dreams that the snow has melted, but when he awakes the next morning, he realizes that it has snowed more. He embarks on another day of fun outside.
Keats's picture book is charming and playful. When Peter balls up snow to keep in his pocket for the next day and then realizes, later, it's missing, Keats captures the naive innocence of childhood perfectly. For young children, it can teach noises, such as the snow crunching under his feet, directions because his toes were pointing in and out, as well as enjoying nature. It also features an African American as the main character, which can help readers identify with similar or varying races.
The illustrations are simple but colorful. They resemble a collage, with colors, objects, textures, and patterns that seemingly overlap. Additionally, the snow, which covers the pages, contains muted watercolors and evokes a lighthearted spiritedness.
Elleman, Barbara. "The Snowy Day And The Art Of Ezra Jack Keats." School Library Journal 57.12 (2011): 144.Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
"In 1962, when Keats's The Snowy Day landed on book shelves, it became an immediate favorite of children and adults alike, received accolades from critics and reviewers, and was awarded the 1963 Caldecott Medal."
The Scholastic Web site contains an Ezra Jack Keats Study Guide. (http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/collection.jsp?id=541)
Visit the Ezra Jack Keats Virtual Exhibit at the University of Mississippi. (http://www.lib.usm.edu/~degrum/keats/main.html)
Have students create their own versions of the book; for example, The Sunny Day.
Students could read other books that feature Peter, such as A Letter to Amy and Pet Show!.
Brodie, Carolyn S. "The Snowy Day By Ezra Jack Keats." School Library Monthly 26.4 (2009): 24-26. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.