Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Story Blanket

Written by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz
Illustrated by Elena Odriozola
Published by Andersen press
Ages 4 plus

The Story Blanket celebrates a close-knit community that practises generosity.

An old lady Babba Zarrah (why is it that most stories have only an old woman as the most sought after story teller?) captivates the village children with her stories each day as they gather on her blanket. She weaves out stories to them as she knits away in the cold, cold winter.

One day, Babba Zarrah notices a hole in the socks of one of the kids. She is determined to help but she has run out of her stock of wool. It is not to be found in the harsh winter in the village either. With an innovative approach she uses some wool from one corner of the story carpet to knit socks for the boy.

She finds many more people and even a cat in need. So Babba Zarrah continues to unravel bits of wool from the blanket and knits and anonymously gifts a scarf for the postman, mittens for the schoolmaster and so on.

Meanwhile the decreasing size of the blanket draws the children closer at their story telling session- cosy to begin with but steadily uncomfortable as they go along.

When the villagers wonder about the source of the mysterious generosity and see all the beneficiaries together, it reminds a child of the story blanket!

So the villagers get together and make a present to thank the elderly lady and how they do that and what she does with it in turn forms the rest of this elevating tale.

The story is truly warm and endearing. And the illustrations by Elena Odriozola complement & embellish it further. Just marvellous.

The colours of the blanket/ quilt reminded me of Mexico or closer home the Ranthambore project from Dastkar. The snow and the characters reminded me of Poland, Russia or even rural Japan- some place really cold. The people's faces are round with dot eyes and rosy pink cheeks - kind of like Peanut's Charlie Brown with a folk twist. Or like Matryoshka dolls with dot eyes.

This tale is the Winner of Storytelling World Resource Awards (Stories for Young Listeners) 2010 and has been translated into Japanese, Korean and Spanish.


Author Ferida Wolff with a blanket made by school children

Here is a short and interesting Q&A with one of the authors, Ferida Wolff :

What is the greatest challenge and reward in writing for children?
I think my greatest challenge in writing for children is in keeping the main character’s voice appropriate and true. It’s what propels the story. The greatest reward is seeing the rapt attention on children's faces when my books are read to them.

Multi cultural books are more relevant today than ever... Can you recommend some of your favourites? Why?
I love the book Sweet Potato Pie by Kathleen D. Lindsey. It gives a sweet flavor of a strong African-American family solving a problem together. I also like Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, which is an amusing look at the rather sedentary life of the Australian wombat and its interaction with its human neighbors. And, of course, the Strega Nona books by Tomie dePaola are always fun.

How did you conceptualise this particular story?
My coauthor Harriet May Savitz and I were talking about recycling when she had the opportunity to meet her daughter’s friend who was visiting from a country in eastern Europe. The friend said that where she lived everyone reused everything – a coat became a jacket that then became a vest. We came up with the idea of a blanket that could have many new functions until it was used up. We also wanted the story to bring in the idea of how recycling is a kindness that can bring a community together. The idea of a circular tale appealed to us so we brought the story around to where another blanket was created and then...well, it all started again.

Why the name Babba Zarrah?
Ah. The subject of names is interesting. Most of the time a name will pop into my head and with it a whole character. Babba Zarrah came right out when we decided to set the story in the mountains. Babba Zarrah felt like the grandmotherly type who would tell stories.

Where is the story indeed set? Why ?( The blanket looks Mexican, the place could be any cold country, the people and names sound Russian....)
We set the story in the mountains (we thought of the Carpathian Mountains because we loved the name) where there could be enough snow to prevent travelers and supplies from getting through. The names seemed right. As for the look of the blanket, that was the illustrator’s vision. Elena Odriozola’s design actually made it easy for children to visualize their own blankets. Several school groups made paper blankets based on her design.

When it was translated, did you make changes to suit that particular culture? Add any footnotes?
I did not even know that there were translations until I was informed by my publisher, so there was no need or request for changes.

Any anecdotes you wish to share with our ST readers?
I was at a Reading Association conference one year when a woman came up to me and said that her son still carried around my first picture book wherever he went, even though he was nine years old! It was a strong reminder of the powerful influence a writer’s words have – and a humbling experience. I want to continue to write books that will be that valuable to my readers. I think The Story Blanket has that lasting quality.

Ferida Wolff is the author of 17 books for children. She is a former elementary school teacher who enjoys going back into schools for author programs. She also writes essays for adults; her latest book is Missed Perceptions: Challenge Your Thoughts Change Your Thinking (Pranava Books). You could visit her at her website. She also writes a nature blog and is working on a book of nature essays.


Unknown said...

wonderful. I'm reminded of story sessions with my grandma cozing up on a carpet / blanket made from her 9 yard cotton sarees. Sigh.

Sheela said...

Thanks, artnavy, for bringing Ferida Wolff to us... I enjoyed reading the interview. The Story Blanket seems like a treasure!

"...recycling is a kindness that can bring a community together" - beautiful words!

And, I am excited to note that Ms. Wolff mentioned Strega Nona (Tommy DePaola) books - we love them at home :)

artnavy said...

Nostalgia! This was a warm tale set in winter

It is indeed a treasure- I LOVED the school kids follow up activity as well!

THANKS FERIDA for the book and the interview!

nanands said...

In India, we have a strong tradition of recycling, though some of modern sythentic stuff resists such attempts. I wish people would devote some time and energy to recycling things which they store for years without using. Both functionality and nostalgia could be merged!

As for grandparents being story tellers, it makes perfect sense. Able bodied younger people have to run their commnuities and the wise old people with an alert mind have to prepare children for the challenges of adulthood.

sandhya said...

"(why is it that most stories have only an old woman as the most sought after story teller?)"

Why indeed? Is it possibly to do with the fact that traditionally, in families, stories were told by grandmothers to all the family/clan members gathered together around a fire /candlelight, after the evening meals after sundown, at the end of a hard day's work? Women's lives did revolve exclusively around the home. This can be compared with male storytellers, who more frequently were professional storytellers, or storytellers in temples, etc.

A very warm post, Art. Reminded me of my grandmother and her stories. Also of clothes handed down and re-cycled for many many years.

Ferida Wolff's choice of favourite books also was so co-incidental. We just received "Diary of a Wombat" from Australia through the picturebook swap hosted by Zoe, and there was a lot of laughter over it at home.

artnavy said...

nanands- this grandpa does have a way with words.. and thoughts!

sandhya- somewhat like male chefs and women cooks right?.... though now a lot of our professional story tellers are women- jeeva/ss and so on

The theme of recycling is so woven into the story but SO subtle- master story tellers these. Pity Harriet( the coauthor) is no more.

As for the swap i am still awaiting mine- mine got delivered- (sigh of relief)

Vibha said...

The interview was really interesting, enjoyed reading it.
Lovely warm story. Truly a gem Art.

dipali said...

What a wonderful book! Loved the post:)

artnavy said...

dipali/ vibha- thanks!

ranjani.sathish said...

Art..thanks for a great pick !! I really loved the story and your highlighting of the various aspects of the book.

Thanks Ferida and Art for this lovely interview.

Mama - Mia said...

gorgeous story!! i must join a library soon before i go broke!

all these awesome books for kids! its brilliant! :)



artnavy said...

Ranjani/ Abha-
I myself borrowed this book from Uma. It was love at first sight and read!

utbtkids said...

Art, what a treat. I will definitely share this book with my daughter's class for Thanksgiving.

Great to hear Ferida's thoughts.

sathish said...

Artnavy, An endearing story. would love to get hold of the book.

Anonymous said...

I haven't come across this book, but I've been looking for picture books lately that have adult characters, as opposed to the standard child protagonist. This seems as if it might be a nice addition to that list. Thanks for the post. Your question about the gender of storytellers is an interesting one as well--these are the kinds of questions that send me off on a reading spree, and that often results in a writing journey, so many thanks.

Poppy said...

Wonderful story and interview. I say it again Art - you have missed your true calling :)

Choxbox said...

Wonderful Art.

What a warm story! And equally awesome interview!

And we love Diary of a Wombat in these parts.

Ferida said...

Wow, I am delighted that my book resonated with so many people!

Thank you, MindMeander, for sharing your memories of your grandma. My grandmother used to tell me stories of what she called "the old country," especially when I was ill. She would tuck me into a feather quilt and tell me about her younger days while I would drift off into a healing sleep.

I see that recycling is important to you, Sheela and nanands, and to others as well. Our community has a recycling program for some things but not all. I sometimes visit other towns that take what I can't recycle here. My friends and I recycle/share books, clothes, baby things, information...anything that is of value to someone. I think it's a great thing.

sandhya, ChoxBox, and Sheela - we like the same books!

I appreciate your kind words Vibha, dipali, ranjani.sathish, Mama - Mia, utbtkids, sathish, Poppy, and Uma Krishnaswami.

And especially thank you, artnavy, for your wonderful review and for the opportunity to connect with your terrific followers.

Praba Ram said...

A real treasure of a review and an interview. And lovely reading all the comments from the community. :)Thanks Art and Ferida! :)

I love how schools here incorporate art projects based on children's books. The story Blanket sounds like a neat idea.

Tomie De Paola's Strega Nona is a favorite here as well. In fact, my daughter's entire kindergarten class had worked on an art project based on Strega Nona. The expressions and details of the story and the elderly lady captured by each of the kindergarteners..priceless!

More power to picture books! :)

Meera Sriram said...

Yes Art, there IS something about "Paatis" and "Babushkas":) I had a grand aunt who told us tons of stories, while we all cuddled into her black plaid "kambli" (a thick shawl). This book brings back those memories. Very heart warming. Ferida, thanks for your thoughts - details about the making of a book (names, setting, concept) always excite me, thanks! Thank you Art!

Artnavy said...

I am glad you enjoyed it

Thanks for your valuable thoughts. Do keep visiting ST this week and later...

Did you also see the review of your book-

Tharini said...

I would love love love to read this book and dwell in its warmth. It sounds truly endearing! I love Baba Zarrah already!

Thanks Ferida for a great interview. I have placed a hold on 'Sweet Potato Pie' after your reco.

Artnavy said...

Do review Sweet Potato pie once u read it

Anusha said...

Enjoyed the interview very much...thank you, Art for bringing Ferida Wolff to us. I was marveling at the bit in her interview where she did not have to change a single detail to carry it across translations. Story Blanket sounds truly cross cultural.

ferida said...

Hi Everyone. Saffron Tree is a wonderful community! I love reading all your comments.

Praba - you and I feel the same way about picture books.

It is my pleasure, Meera Sriram, Tharini,and Kodi's Mom, to talk about writing and mostly everything else.

Arthi, I will certainly continue to check in. Thank you so much

Praba Ram said...

Thanks, Ferida for taking the time. Appreciate it greatly!
And thanks Art for spreading lots of joy and cheer bringing the very talented Ferida to ST! :)

Artnavy said...

I found this book- The Mitten Tree- a lot like the Story Blanket- Very lovely illustrations too

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