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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Norton Juster

The Odious Ogre

The Odious OgreI’m a big fan of Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. I can remember reading it as a kid and thinking it both hilarious and clever. And I loved the words! So many words!

So when the Juster-Feiffer team came out with The Odious Ogre a few years back, I leapt at it. A picture book! A long picture book! My favorite kind! Full of long words and clever phrasings—it is a hoot. I’ve read it to pre-schoolers through middle-schoolers—they and their adults laugh.

The Odious Ogre lives on his reputation mostly—and it’s a ghastly reputation. He was, it was widely believed, extraordinarily large, exceedingly ugly, unusually angry, constantly hungry, and absolutely merciless.

At least that was his reputation—it’s what everyone thought or supposed or had heard or read …. As Juster says: No ogre ever had it so good. He terrorized the surrounding villages and everyone just … well, let him. They thought it was hopeless, that there was nothing they could do.

No one can resist me, says the Ogre. I am invulnerable, impregnable, insuperable, indefatigable, insurmountable …. He had an impressive vocabulary having accidently swallowed a large dictionary while eating the head librarian in one of the neighboring towns.

Now I know there are those who will read that sentence of wonderful i-words and and the detail of eating librarians and they will think one of two things (if not both): There’s a vocab list! OR, why would she read that to pre-schoolers?!

My husband just looked over my shoulder at the illustrations and said, “Wow. That looks violent.” And there are violent scenes, to be sure. (Although they’re pictures in sweet pen and inky water colors, so the impact is softened.) The best scene is when the ogre throws a temper tantrum, leaping and hurling himself around the garden of a completely unflappable young girl outside of her beflowered cottage. She’d just offered him tea. And muffins. This floors the ogre. He worries that his reputation might be in jeopardy. So he bellows and stomps and blusters. He grimaces and twitches and snorts, all while belching, clawing and drooling in an attempt to frighten the imperturbable young woman. There’s a two-page spread of his reign of terror. The children adore it. The younger they are, the more they delight in it.

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The girl is at first overwhelmed. Then she recovers herself, sets down her plate of muffins and applauds with great enthusiasm for a full minute.

“What fun, how magical, how wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Would you consider doing that for the orphans’ picnic next week? I know the children would love it.”

It simply doesn’t matter that the three-year-olds cannot define all of the words. They know exactly what is going on—they’ve thrown such spectacles themselves, after all! They think it hilarious that the young woman wants the ogre to do it again on purpose.

Tucked in my copy of The Odious Ogre, I have sheets that I made that fold into a wee little book. It helps the kids to write their own story about  (Name) , The Most (adjective) Ogre. It asks them to name their ogre, describe their ogre, draw the ogre-y face, describe the ogre’s voice and sounds ….

Kids love this activity! At first I thought it was the size of the book (maybe 2 inches by 3 inches). But I actually think it’s the words. They come up with such creative words after hearing such thesaurastic strings of adjectives from Juster. They name their ogres things like Christilliblly and Amdropistily. They describe their ogres with words like humungo, tizzlly, and grubbling. They use all the crayons in the box when they draw their ogre’s portrait, and they change their own little voices in the most amazing ways to let me hear how their ogre sounds.

Big words, long rambly sentences, large art spreads—this is a great book for kids of all ages. I stand by my call for the longer picture book. I wish Juster and Feiffer would do a series for my personal storytime pleasure.

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Skinny Dip with Caroline Starr Rose

Which celebrity, living or not, do you wish would invite you to a coffee shop?

L.M. MontgomeryAuthor L.M. Montgomery, of Anne of Green Gables fame. I’ve read all of her books several times over, including the journals she kept from fourteen until the time of her death. In fact, I’ve committed to revisiting Maud’s journals every ten years. So far, I’ve read all five volumes twice.

Though I have a feeling Maud wouldn’t approve of me (she was not fond of free verse), she has always felt like a kindred spirit. Like me, she was a teacher, a Presbyterian pastor’s wife, a mother to two boys, and an author. I’d like to think we’d have a lot to talk about!

Later this year my best friend and I are heading to Maud’s home, Prince Edward Island—a trip six years in the making and dream come true.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

The Phantom TollboothI adore Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. I’ve probably read it thirty times, first as a student, then as a student teacher, then with my students, and finally with my own children. It’s witty, it’s clever, it’s fun, and oh so quotable. It’s also great for teaching elements of story. There’s a reluctant hero on a classic quest, and even the climax takes place at the highest physical point in the story—the Castle in the Air.

Most cherished childhood memory?

Ernest HemingwayI’m going to change this one slightly to my most starry-eyed literary childhood memory. My family hosted a Spanish exchange student named Paula when I was in fourth grade. Since then, Paula’s family and my family have continued to remain close. The Maciciors own a home that is hundreds of years old, a grand thirty-four room structure in the Spanish countryside, near the city of Pamplona. In the 1920s Ernest Hemingway rented a room there while working on The Sun Also Rises.

I visited this house as a pre-teen and a teen. Though I hadn’t yet read anything by Hemingway, I knew his name and was thrilled to learn I’d get to stay in the room where a real-live author had temporarily lived. There are two beds in the room, and you better believe I slept in both, to cover my claim-to-fame bases.

Caroline Starr RoseBrother and sisters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

I have a half sister and half brother who are ten and twelve years older than I am.  I often describe myself as a semi-only child, as much of my childhood was spent as the only kid at home. This taught me to entertain myself, certainly, and meant I had plenty of time for reading and imagining and just making do.

Best tip for living a contented life?

This is one I’m still learning (and probably will be till I die). But so far I’ve learned contentment comes from gratitude, from realizing how many simple, wonderful, often-overlooked gifts we experience everyday. Like breathing. Have you ever considered how amazing it is that there’s air to fill your lungs every single moment? Contentment comes from loving and being loved. And it comes from acknowledging what you can control and letting go of what you can’t. Easier said than done, I know.

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The Nature of Humor

I’ve been pondering the many questions I have about the nature of humor as the Chapter & Verse Book Clubs prepare to discuss next week the book Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy, compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (Candlewick Press). Wherever we go, teachers and librarians—and parents—ask for more funny and light-hearted […]

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