Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book #353: Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life by Jerdine Nolen, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Image from KadirNelson.com
Hewitt Anderson lived in an enormous house with his parents who believed big things were best. Everything about J. Carver Worthington Anderson and his wife was big, which made sense because they were giants. Unfortunately, Hewitt was not a giant. In fact, he was so small he could sit in the palm of his father’s hand or on the brim of his mother’s hat and there was still plenty of room. Although the family was very happy, full of love, laughter, and song, Hewitt’s parents worried about their son’s survival in the big, wide world. So they start giving him survival lessons. They try to teach Hewitt to swim and climb beanstalks, but something always went wrong and Hewitt had to save his parents with his quick thinking and small stature. After Hewitt helped his parents and the family doctor, Dr. Gargantuan, escape from a locked room by crawling into the lock and pushing the gears to open the door, the Andersons realized that Hewitt knew how to live among big things. Not in spite of his size, but because of it. “For his parents realized that big or small, either is best of all!

Inspired by the classic folktale, Jack and the Beanstalk, this original story is a tall tale full of big descriptions and musicality. Nolen’s words are carefully constructed for reading aloud. As befits a tall tale, the telling of each incident is exaggerated. This heightens the urgency of the story, pushing the pace and tying the small episodes together. Nelson’s oil illustrations use perspective and angles to further emphasize the largeness of Mama and Papa and the smallness of Hewitt. The four characters in the book are African-American and the clothing and hairstyles place the story sometime in the late 1800’s. The illustrations and the text both demonstrate the love in the Anderson family. This is especially evident in the illustrations that show Mama, singing “resounding, resplendent melodies,” and Papa with his “deep baritone,” serenading Hewitt until he falls asleep in the palm of his father’s hand.

Before reading this book, read one or more versions of the Jack and the Beanstalk story. Try Steven Kellogg’s humorously illustrated Jack and the Beanstalk, Colin Stimpson’s Jack and the Baked Beanstalk (set in a diner), or E. Nesbit’s Jack and the Beanstalk. Independent readers might enjoy the graphic novel version retold by Blake A. Hoena and illustrated by Ricardo Tercio. Compare the giants in the different retellings of Jack and the Beanstalk to the Andersons.

In this story Hewitt and his father climb a beanstalk, ask kids if they think it’s the same beanstalk that Jack climbed. Is it a new one? How did it get there? Nelson mentions in the text that Hewitt’s great-great-great-grandmother Ida moved to the valley after “that business with the beanstalk.” Make a family tree to show the generations between Ida and Hewitt.

Follow up by making some growing newspaper beanstalks. For very young kids, you can make the beanstalks before storytime, show the kids how to make them “grow,” and encourage them to decorate them with markers, paint, or stickers. Preschoolers and older will be delighted to learn to make their own beanstalks, something they will want to make and show off to their friends.

There are a number of musical terms used in this story, including “aria,” “serenade,” “operatic,” and “harmonies.” Define these words before, during, or after your reading.

Learn about synonyms by finding all the words that mean "big" in the text of this story. You could read the book once for enjoyment and then a second time asking kids to stop you when they hear a synonym. Make a list of synonyms from the text and use thesauruses to add to the list. You can do the same with synonyms for "small" in this story. Other stories that reinforce this lesson include “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” and The Duchess of Whimsy.


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