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Module 3 - Book Reviews

International Children's Literature

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The Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum, Ill. by Lisbeth Zwerger
The Dragon with Red Eyes - Astrid Lindgren, Ill. by Ilon Wikland
Linnea in Monet's Garden - Christina Bjork, Ill. by Lena Anderson
The Shadows of Ghadames - Joelle Stolz

Baum, L. Frank.  1996. THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Ill. by Lisbeth Zwerger.  New York:  North-South Books.  ISBN:  1558586385.
     This is an abridged version of Baum's The Wizard of Oz complete with rich illustrations by Lisbeth Zwerger.  I have never read the original version by Baum, so I cannot describe the differences between the versions.  While there are similarities to the movie version, there are also a great many differences.  I read about many events and characters that were never featured in the movie.  The main characters are the same, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.  What was new for me was reading about the Queen of the Field Mice, the Hammer-Heads, and the land and people made of China.  In this version, the Wicked Witch sends wolves, crows, and bees against Dorothy and her companions before sending the flying monkeys to bring the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy back to her castle.  Some parts are actually quite violent such as the Tin Man decapitating the wolves that attack them and the Cowardly Lion takes the head off of an enormous spider.
     The water color illustrations by Zwerger are done in rich, vibrant colors and feature full page art as well as small cameos on pages.  The characters are not depicted as most of us in the United States are used to seeing them.  The Scarecrow is very fat, Dorothy does not wear the famous blue and white checked dress for very long in the book, but instead is pictured mostly in white, and the Cowardly Lion looks like a wild lion and not like a cute stuffed animal.  "Viennese illustrator and Hans Christian Andersen Medalist Lisbeth Zwerger takes a fresh look at L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz in a large-format edition. Zwerger's fantastical, delicate, eccentric illustrations bear no resemblance to the vision of the movie."  (Publisher's Weekly, 1996).  Zwerger includes a note at the end of the book that states that she was  intimidated by the need to paint the scenes set in the Emerald City in green.  In order to solve this problem, the book comes with a pair of green glasses that can be slipped on by the reader to get an enhancement of the illustrations by tinting everything various shades of green.
     My favorite illustration in the story is also used on the front cover of the book.  The illustration is of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man carrying Dorothy and Toto through the infamous poppy field.  The poppies are oversized, much taller that the characters, and are a vivid red against a grayish-blue background.  The poppies shadows are also shown, adding dimension to the illustration.  I also enjoyed the illustration of the Wizard after it has been revealed that he is not a powerful wizard after all.  The Wizard looks very small, and more like an elderly professor than a great wizard.
     The strengths of the book are the illustrations.  They are bright and colorful and add dimension to the book.  I think one of the main weaknesses of the book is that it is abridged.  "The deletion of some descriptive and transitional phrases and of various events creates a text that is much flatter and less engaging than the original."  (School Library Journal, 1991).
     Cultural markers in the book were not obvious to me.  I do not have a background in art, so I can only go by what I have found in reviews which say that there is a European influence.  "The art, naturally, has a European flavor, here translated into fey paintings that catch the lighter elements of the story."  (Booklist, 1996). 
     I enjoyed reading the "new for me"  elements of the story that are not included in the movie version, but I still found the language rather flat and sometimes uninteresting.  "All this time Dorothy and her companions had been walking through the thick woods.  The road was still paved with yellow bricks, but these were much covered by dried branches and dead leaves from the trees, and the walking was not at all good."  (Baum 1996, p. 27)  It just seems that the language should be more descriptive and lively than what this abridged version has.
Booklist.  15 October, 1996.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available from
Publisher's Weekly.  14 October, 1996.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available from
School Library Journal.  1 December, 1991.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available from
Lindgren, Astrid.  1985.  THE DRAGON WITH RED EYES.  Ill. by Ilon Wikland.  New York:  Viking Penguin Inc.  ISBN:  0670816205.
     This is an interesting story about a brother and sister who go out to the pigsty to see the new piglets that were born during the night.  To their surprise, in addition to ten piglets, in a corner by himself is a baby green dragon.  After a while, the sow refuses to feed the dragon (he bites!), and the children take over the chore of feeding the dragon.  They feed the dragon candle ends, string, and cork, but the dragon is still not happy.  The dragon is both mischievous and lovable and on one October evening he lays his paw against the girl's cheek as his eyes are full of tears and then flies away, never to be heard from again.
     I enjoyed the story and I thought it had a realistic ending that many children can relate to, especially if they have ever raised a wild animal from a baby and then had to let it go back into the wild.  I also thought it interesting that the dragon was never really accepted by the mother pig nor the piglets.  I think this demonstrates to children that even though they may not be accepted by the crowd, they still have good qualities of their own that should be valued.  Lindgren writes in such a way that will hold the interest of children.  "It was true, though I suppose no one will ever discover how it happened.  I think the sow was as surprised as we were.  She was not particularly fond of her dragon baby, but she got used to him in time - except for his biting her every time she fed him, that is."  (Lindgren, 1985).
     The illustrations use realistic colors for the pigsty, straw, barn, and outdoors, but the illustrator uses brilliant greens and yellows in illustrating the dragon.  This technique really makes the dragon stand out and demonstrate how different he is from the piglets.  The most touching illustration shows the little dragon saying goodbye to the little girl.  The setting sun is a large ball of blazing orange and the little green dragon really stands out.
     The book has been translated into English from the original Swedish and I could not really tell that it did not take place in the United States.  There are a few clues in the illustrations, but not in the text itself.  In the illustrations, the little girl has blond hair that is worn in braids.  This could be a cultural marker indicating Swedish heritage, but it is not an obvious clue.  Another illustration shows a scene from a meadow that includes tall evergreen trees.  These trees can also be found in areas of the U.S. as well.  Another possible clue in the illustrations is in the picture showing the children's beds.  The boy's bed has the typical headboard and footboard we are used to, but his bed also includes high sides with boards and his mattress fits down in it like a box.  The girl's bed looks like it is a wooden daybed, again not quite the style we are used to seeing in the United States.  Otherwise, it is not obvious where the story takes place.
     I could not find a review of this book anywhere.  I could only find one review by a reader on  The reviewer did not agree with the reading level that is posted on the site.  The site says the book is appropriate for babies through pre-school.  I find I agree with the reviewer that the book is more appropriate for slightly older children from ages pre-school through second grade.
  My overall opinion of the book is positive.  It is a story that children will relate to in spite of a somewhat sad but yet realistic ending.
Bjork, Christina.  1985.  LINNEA IN MONET'S GARDEN.  Ill. by Lena Anderson.  New York:  R & S Books.  ISBN:  9129583144.

     This is a unique book that blends fiction, art history, and biography together into a seamless whole.  The book is told from the point of view of Linnea, a young girl who travels with her elderly friend, Mr. Bloom, to Paris to see Monet's garden.  Mr. Bloom takes Linnea to visit a museum so they can view Impressionist paintings before going to visit Monet's house and garden in Giverny, France.  After her visit to the museum, Linnea now understands what it means for a painter to have been called an Impressionist.  Linnea and Mr. Bloom picnic in Monet's garden and enjoy the famous water lilies that Monet painted.

     I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think it is one of the best children's books I have read.  It mixes the fictional story of Linnea while teaching children about art history and presenting a short biography of Monet and his family.  The book presents the information in a fun, interesting way without being didactic or stilted.  The following is an example that demonstrates this point, "But Monet practiced capturing impressions.  Every day, he studied his bridge.  He discovered that it looked different depending on the time of day and the weather.  It was sunlight that made the difference."  (Bjork 1985, p. 28).  What a great way for children to learn how important sunlight was to an Impressionist painter.  The language used in the book does not talk down to children, but explains the concept in language that is easily understood and yet entertaining.

     The ink and watercolor illustrations by Anderson are bright and colorful and often reflect the colors used in Monet's paintings.  My favorite illustration shows Linnea on a path in the garden with the different varieties of flowers on either side, nasturtiums overflowing and almost covering the walk, and a black and white cat playing with Linnea and a vine.  The colors used really make the flowers stand out and the different shades of green can help the reader get the feel of what it would be like to actually be in the garden.  "But, it is the sense of being there, and Linnea's own enthusiasm, that carries the book."  (Publisher's Weekly, 1987).  The book also includes actual photographs of several of Monet's paintings as well as photographs of Monet and his family.  The book jacket says that many of the photographs were previously unpublished. 

     The book contains many cultural markers.  The book describes a hotel in Paris, the Esmerelda, that is on the River Seine in the Left Bank.  Linnea describes her view from her hotel window which includes the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Linnea also points out that the book The Hunchback of Notre Dame takes place there.  The name of the hotel takes its name from the character Esmeralda from the book.  Linnea describes taking the Metro, the underground train in Paris, to the Marmottan, the art museum.  Linnea also describes the food that she and Mr. Bloom buy for their picnic lunch at Monet's garden.  They buy bread called a baguette, a goat cheese and a cow's milk cheese, pate`, tomatoes, nectarines, mineral water, and cider.  The book also tells the reader that Monet's biggest pictures that cover the walls of a big round room are called the Water Lily Rooms and are located in the Orangerie in Paris.  The Orangerie used to be the King's greenhouse but is now a museum.

     The book has amazing illustrations and photographs of artworks and of Monet and his family.  The book also includes a section at the end that lists more things to do in Paris and a timeline of Monet's life.  I like the small illustration at the very end in the bottom corner that has Linnea smiling and saying Au Revoir! 




Publisher's Weekly.  30 October, 1987.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available from

Stolz, Joelle.  2004.  THE SHADOWS OF GHADAMES.  New York:  Delacourte Press.  ISBN:  0385731043.
     This story takes place in the Libyan city of Ghadames in the late 19th century.  The women in Ghadames are segregated from the men and lead a quiet life confined to their homes and rooftops.  Malika is approaching her twelfth birthday, a time when she is approaching adulthood, and according to her family's Berber custom, a time when she is close to marriageable age and will be confined to the world of women.  Malika is not looking forward to this as she yearns for more.  She wants to learn how to read and dreams of visiting far off places which she knows will never happen once she is confined to the world of women.  Her world does get expanded slightly when her mother and her father's second wife secretly take in a wounded stranger and nurse him to health.  He teaches Malika how to read Arabic and describes the places he has visited and widens Malika's world.
     The book is full of cultural markers since it describes the Muslim culture which many in the United States are not familiar with.  The women are segregated from the men and must wear veils.  The only men the women see or talk to are the men in their own family.  When Malika and Bilkisu go to the women's baths, their servant must make noise in the street before them to alert any man on the street that there are women coming.  If they hear a loud stamp on the ground they must go back and hide in a doorway for the man to pass before they can go on.  Many of the women are tattooed and Malika is anxious for the time when the meanings of the tattoos will be explained to her.  Her brother, Jasim, is working for their Uncle while their father is away.  When their Uncle visits the women to tell them of a stranger and of his mysterious disappearance, he also describes how grown up Jasim has become and Jasim's mother then tells Jasim and their Uncle that Jasim can no longer come to the rooftops to visit the women.  He must go to work each day now; his childhood has ended.  Another cultural distinction is that when Malika's father leaves on a trading journey, his wives do not wear any jewelry while he is absent.  Malika also describes the custom of the oil lamp.  "Papa has been careful to place the oil lamp pointing inward in the niche.  This way, if a visitor looks in through the hole in the door, he will immediately know that my father is off on a trip.  Placed another way, or unlit, the lamp conveys a completely different message.  For example, The master is in the palm grove.  Or, There has been a death in the house. The men know not to knock at the door when, thanks to the little lamp in the entryway, they see that the women are alone in the house."  (Stolz 2004, p. 9)  Jasim loves to torment Malika with the fact that she is a girl and will someday be confined to the world of women.  "He never leaves me in peace, always harping on the fact that I am "just a girl."  It is his favorite refrain, and he whistles it between his teeth with a mocking air as soon as our mothers are out of earshot.  "I am going to travel, I am going to drive caravans, I'll be going to Kano and Timbuktu, and all the way to Mecca and Istanbul!  While you, you're going to stay right here and never go anywhere!" (Stolz 2004, p. 7).  The author also describes the use of camels in the caravans and desert sandstorms.  The practice of slavery and servants customs are also described. 
     The book has been translated from the original French and I found the book to be very enjoyable to read.  The author and translator give the reader a very realilstic glimpse of what it was like to have been a girl in a 19th century Muslim city.  The reader also experiences Malika's jealousy of her brother and her confusion about becoming a woman and following their customs.  "This quiet story is notable for the intimate picture of the traditional Muslim world that it conveys; unfortunately, not until the author's note at the end is the time period made evident.  The imprecise use of language may make it difficult for readers to visualize this distant world and to understand the characters' motivations."  (School Library Journal, 2004).  I found that I did not quite agree with the second portion of this critique.  There are clues within the story that indicate that the story is not set in modern times.  There is no mention of electricity or cars.  Oil lamps are used for light and camels are the main form of transportation.  I also did not find the language to be imprecise and thoroughly understood the character's motivations.  Malika was struggling against being confined to centuries of Muslim custom and wishing she could have more freedom.  I found this to be a great learning experience of what it would have been like to have lived as a young Muslim girl during this time period.

School Library Journal.  1 November, 2005.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available from


International Children's Literature
Sylvia M. Vardell, Ph. D. - Instructor
Renee Schneider - Student

This site was created as an assignment for a Texas Woman's University course.  The course is a graduate level course in Library Science LS 5903.24 Special Topics - International Children's Literature.