Swamp Angel

Anne Isaacs
Swamp Angel can lasso a tornado, and drink an entire lake dry. She single-handedly defeats the fearsome bear known as Thundering Tarnation, wrestling him from the top of the Great Smoky Mountains to the bottom of a deep lake. Caldecott Medal-winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky's stunning folk-art paintings are the perfect match for the irony, exaggeration, and sheer good humor of this original tall tale set on the American frontier. A Caldecott Honor Book An ALA Notable Book A Time magazine Best Book of the Year A New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year


Reviewed: 2019-02-16

Swamp Angel is a tall tale. Swamp Angel is both hero and maiden. She is kindly and sets out to help others as she can. Her maidenhood is even set out in how the men in line to kill Tarnation talk to her, not as if she is a miles tall woman, but as if she is any woman. I see Swamp Angel as being representative of how young women can see themselves, if they are inclined. She shows that no one has to conform to the standard set before us and the femininity does not mean lack of strength. The plot hopped along at a quick pace, to get to the main conflict, the fight with Tarnation. The setting, as in most tall tales, was vital to the telling of the story. The eVideo performer used a Southern affect, and there was twangy banjo music playing behind her telling, all adding to the setting of Tennessee. The rhythm of speech, and the Southern vernacular metaphors in the writing complemented each other. This was clearly culturally specific and though it was stereotypical, I think it is stereotypical of tall tales in general. No one was being made into a joke, in this fun and silly story.

The illustrations added greatly to the story, sometimes picking up where words left off, giving the observer more information than the words. They also help to show the sheer size of Swamp Angel, which can be gotten though the writing, but only by the careful observation that many children will not be capable of. The eVideo utilized the illustrations well, zooming in when focus was needed in a particular area and adding small animations of things like clouds or moving the illustrations to create a more active fight scene. Though this tall tale could be told without the book, I would not recommend it. The illustrations add so much to the story in setting and content, that it would feel incomplete without them. There are times when words are not present or are busy doing something else and the illustrations pick it up. In the beginning as Angelica is growing up, before she becomes Swamp Angel, she is seen putting out a fire with rain clouds, though the action is not described. Also, after the big fight with Tarnation is won and she is dragging the pelt to Montana, people can be seen taking his claws and making boats from them. These little touches in the art work succeed in adding depth to the story and the eVideo, with its added music and performer make the story into a world its own. If I were to share this with a class, I would first read the book and then share the video with the class so we could talk about the differences and connections they can make. This could even be used in a high school setting to talk about how different mediums can affect story.

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