VRP 2007 – It’s Mad, Mad Movie Nights!

The Vacation Reading Program 2007 kicks off in just a few days, and kids of all ages will descend on the Libraries for fun programs and story times.

As part of our VRP 2007 programming, the Forest Park Branch will feature Family Movie Night. We start off on June 18 with a screening of the comedy classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in two parts (the second half of the movie will screen on June 25).



Mad World is a slapstick epic starring an unlikely mix of dramatic and comic actors, with cameos by some of the leading and legendary comedians of the day. Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney and Ethel Merman stumble across a dying Jimmy Durante, who tells them of a fortune in cash buried in a state park before literally kicking the bucket. It’s every man for himself as the team begins a mad race by car, plane and bicycle to find the treasure before someone else does. Along the way, unlikely alliances, encounters, trickery and general mayhem make for laughable situations. Spencer Tracy, as a police captain, monitors the race in an official capacity before his own troubles force him to join the madness.

The movie was released in 1963, and it shows its age. I doubt many kids will know the comedians that appear in the film, but many adults will remember Jack Benny, Phil Silvers and Buster Keaton and their shticks. Legendary director Stanley Kramer gets the movie off to a fun start with a wild and wooly car chase. Things bog down during the middle as the pack of crazies struggle their way to the park, but once the money is found, it’s a mad dash to a high flying, gut busting conclusion where all involved learn the high price of greed. The film is rated G with nothing too offensive and some slapstick violence.

In keeping with the VRP 2007 theme “Reading takes you everywhere,” our other movies involve adventures in travel. Family Movie Night starts at 7 PM and runs through July 30. Check the Events Calender for movie titles as well as other Forest Park programs and VRP activities at all CCLS branches.

Learn everything you’d ever want about It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). Information on Stanley Kramer and the cast members can be found there, also.

Published in: on May 23, 2007 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Remembering Brown v.s. the Board of Education

May 17th marked the 53rd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for the integration of public schools. Learn more about the case, the impact it had nationally and the key participants in the trial itself, including Thurgood Marshall who argued the case before the court and went on to become a Supreme Court justice himself.

NPR coverage of the 50th anniversary of the decision (2004)
“Separate Is Not Equal” online exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute

Toni Morrison shares why she wrote Remember in a short video clip from TeachingBooks.net

Published in: on May 21, 2007 at 5:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shrek and the Reinvented Fairy Tale

 Shrek and friends


In his article “How Shrek Changed Fairy Tales” (May 21, 2007),  Time Magazine film critic James Poniewozik observes how fairy tales of old are a far cry from the nice, gentle treatments of the Disney animated movies.  Today, fairy tales are “parodied, ironized, meta-fictionalized, politically adjusted and pop-culture saturated,” making for glorious send ups like Dreamworks’ Shrek and its two sequels.  The morals are still there, but the damsel in distress doesn’t always wait for – nor need – Prince Charming on a handsome white steed to rescue her, the hero isn’t always a morally good lad, and the wicked witch isn’t really bad, just misunderstood.  And not that there’s anything wrong with that,   apart from the fact that the family movie market is becoming saturated with these parodies.  Fractured fairy tales are a refreshing shot in the arm versus the staid old originals.  Seeing the old formulas turned on their ears can be pretty fun.  Plus, they still have a happy ending.

Poniewozik also observes that the exposure to today’s reinvented fairy tales may take the place of the originals.  Kids get a kick out of Puss in Boots in Shrek 2 & 3, or the reinvented versions of the Three Pigs, Goldilocks and Cinderella, the likes of which appear in book form.  But have they even read or know the originals?  Are the laughs as big for them as they are for their parents and older folks, who grew up with the originals? 

Such a thought alarmed the librarian, children’s literacy advocate and purist in me.  I’m all for movie adaptations and parodies in any form – I’ve adapted literary works for film and stage myself – but they shouldn’t be taken as substitutes for the original work.  A whole generation not knowing Grimm’s fairy tales and Mother Goose in their true forms?  Not on my watch!


With this in mind, the Staff and I compiled a list of as many of the fairy tale characters as we could recall that appear in the Shrek movies and linked them to PINES title listings.  To see a list of books available at Clayton County Libraries, simply click on the character name or subject below.  The list of characters is not complete, and some titles intended for adults – likely parodies or allegories – are among the title listings.  Please ask a librarian if you need any assistance:

Puss in Boots

Three Blind Mice

The Three Little Pigs

The Gingerbread Man

Pinocchio – Original novel by Carlo Collodi and versions for young readers

Robin Hood and His Merry Men

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Little Red Riding Hood

Nursery Rhymes

Fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm

The original children’s book Shrek by William Steig – You may be surprised to know that no fairy tale characters appear in the original book at all!

Childhood Favorites: Rediscovering “The Gunniwolf”

About two years ago, I wrote a short screenplay about what I thought was a good and original premise. By original, I mean a story idea that comes out of my own head, not based on, inspired by or derived from another story, event, newspaper or magazine article. (Nothing’s really wrong with basing or deriving ideas from others’ works; it’s just that I tend to it more than I’d like.)

The screenplay is about a pop superstar who, while out walking in the woods, comes face to face with her childhood monster. In order to escape it, she must sing to it until it falls asleep and she can run away. But when the monster doesn’t hear her singing, he wakes up and chases her down, forcing her to sing it to sleep again.

Pretty original, no? Or does it sound familiar?

The idea began to sound familiar to me a few weeks after I finished the script. It turns out that my script bears some similarity to a story I read in fourth grade about a little girl who wanders into the woods, meets up with a monster and must sing to it until it falls asleep and she can run away. The monster wakes up and chases her down, forcing her to sing it to sleep again.

That tale from my grade school days is The Gunniwolf, an American folktale as told by librarian/folklorist Wilhelmina Harper. The origin of the tale is uncertain. I recall hearing somewhere that it is an Appalachian tale, yet a website I found states that it is African-American. There is a myriad of variations on the tale, which suggests that it has roots in many cultures. The only certainty is that the story was passed down through oral tradition.

The Gunniwolf is a favorite of storytellers because of “its cadences, onomatopoeic words, and dialect songs.” (Upton, 2003) The little girl’s song “kum-kwa, khi-wa” varies from version to version, as does the “pit-pat, pit-pat” of her running and the “hunker-cha, hunker-cha” of the gunniwolf’s pursuit, but elements such as descriptive sounds and cadences are maintained. The repetitiveness of story elements – the chase, phrases of dialogue and the girl’s song – makes it a favorite of very young children.

The main difference between The Gunniwolf and my screenplay is the theme or moral (There are several minor differences as well that I won’t go into here). The Gunniwolf is a cautionary tale – a story created to entertain children and adults, as well as to scare or warn against certain actions or behaviors – that warns children of the dangers of wandering away from home or into the woods alone. My screenplay instead looks at how the pop star who, having never grown out of her childhood fear, comes to see the irrationality of her anxiety: There’s nothing to fear, not even fear itself.

Though ultimately the stories are different, I was at first a little bummed that I hadn’t at last come up with a truly original story idea. But I was more amazed that I had somehow incorporated elements of The Gunniwolf into my screenplay after not having thought about it for many, many years: I didn’t even remember the title until a few weeks ago! It goes to show the power of a good story!




The 1967 (left) and 2003 editions of The Gunniwolf

PINES lists two editions of The Gunniwolf by Wilhelmina Harper. Harper’s text is the same, but each edition has a different illustrator – William Wiesner and Barbara Upton – whose artwork has a profound impact on the story. Similar to some of Maurice Sendak’s work, William Wiesner’s illustrations are like line drawings colored with earth tones. Despite it being an American tale, Wiesner creates a world that bears some Asian influences (or so it appears to me). This is evident in the look of the girl, the gunniwolf, her home and the jungle (as it is called in the text). I wonder if Vietnamese culture might have had any influence on Wiesner, as the edition was published in 1967, during the Vietnam Conflict. By contrast, Barbara Upton’s illustrations are done in colored pencil, creating a beautiful, colorful rural American setting. Frogs, mice and rabbits populate the jungle where the little girl picks many types and colors of flowers: A complete opposite of Wiesner’s dense, motionless jungle. The gunniwolf itself draws comparison. Wiesner’s gunniwolf resembles a lion, or a poodle with a bad haircut; Upton’s looks more like a wolf, but comes across as a big friendly dog. Critics feel that while indeed more aesthetically pleasing, Upton’s artwork doesn’t reflect the threat and danger of the jungle and the gunniwolf as does Wiesner’s.


Girl and gunni

“Little Girl, why for you move?” Compare Wiesner’s illustration (left) with Upton’s


The Gunniwolf with illustrations by Barbara Upton is available at 5 CCLS libraries. The Gunniwolf with illustrations by William Wiesner is available through PINES. Please ask the staff at your library branch for assistance. Below are some resources available on the web:


Read editorial and user reviews posted at Amazon.com.

Turner South’s Learning Through Storytelling uses a version of The Gunniwolf as a tool to teaching listening skills: http://www.turnerlearning.com/turnersouth/storytelling/classtwo.html

An audio version of the tale read by Bonnie Pierce in mp3 format: http://charactercast.blogspot.com/2006/11/gunniwolf.html


Richard Thompson’s The Story Vine provides resources for parents and story tellers. His version of The Gunny Wolf (note the variation in spelling) is interactive with sounds: http://www.drawandtell.com/slsv/gwolf/gwolf01.html


Ms. Garden Plum lists several tales for girls, including this version of The Gunny Wolf (again, note the variation in spelling): http://www.gardenplum.com/girls/gratree/gunnywolf.html



My screenplay, titled Fear Itself, won’t be available for a long time, but I plan to produce a film version next year. I’ll keep you up on its developments.

Published in: on May 10, 2007 at 4:31 pm  Comments (1)  

What I Saw at the Atlanta Film Festival

This year, I was able to attend only one night of film screenings at the Atlanta Film Festival (versus last year when I was a bit of a fixture) during which I saw two interesting documentaries.

The first was titled War/Dance, a look at three Ugandan children, each carrying emotional scars from war atrocities in the region, who prepare to represent their school and tribe in a National Music Competition. The children, who live in a displaced persons camp in northern
Uganda, tell their experiences in their own words with surprising frankness and heartbreaking detail. By contrast, the images of the children’s preparation for and journey to the competition shows that within them still dwells the joy and spirit of childhood. While sobering in its descriptions of the impact of civil war and genocide, War/Dance shows how music lifts the children and those living in the refugee camp above their suffering so that they can revel in the joy of life.

The second film I saw was Crazy Love, and the title is an understatement of what the film is about (I can’t say here how I described it on the CinemATL blog!). Using personal photos, newspaper clippings and news footage, this documentary recounts the romance of lawyer Burt Pugach and Bronx beauty Linda Shill, and the bizarre twists their relationship takes after years of brutal obsessive behavior by Pugach. In the mid-1950’s, Pugach wines and dines the star struck Shill until she learns that he is married and refuses to get a divorce. Shill breaks off the romance, which sets off Pugach’s obsession to get her back. His stalking grows progressively cruel, culminating in an attack which leaves Shill blind for life. Even after this and his continued professions of love, Shill eventually forgives and marries him. The tale becomes even more incredible from there. Crazy Love also takes an indirect look at how the media’s coverage of Pugach’s trial sensationalized the story and made the players household names: Much like the news coverage of the Anna Nicole Smith tragedy, for example.

These films will eventually run in theatres (Crazy Love is slated for a June 1 release) and/or be available on DVD. Here’s some reading material available on each subject:

Uganda – CCLS’s holdings on Uganda are few and do not address the conflict in northern Uganda specifically. The holdings do address the brutal regime of dictator Idi Amin and the history of the country. More titles are available through PINES.

A Very Different Love Story – This book is an account of the Pugach/Shill ordeal leading to Pugach’s trial in 1959. Though it won’t have the visual impact of Crazy Love, the book should make for good reading. Available through PINES.

A couple of Web resources:

Shine Global is a non-profit organization that raises awareness of abuse and exploitation of children through documentary films. War/Dance is their first production. – http://shineglobal.org/shine_home.htm

Magnolia Pictures is the production company behind the film Crazy Love. Information on this and other Magnolia films can be found at http://www.magpictures.com/profile.aspx?id=6da0d2d3-191b-4a83-b07f-c85749e0c167

Published in: on May 1, 2007 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cinco De Mayo Links

The Mexican national holiday is May 5th and celebrates the victory of Mexican forces in the Battle of Puebla over Napoleon III, Emperor of France and nephew of Napoleon I. The victory was largely symbolic of Mexican resistance against French intervention. While the holiday is celebrated in Mexico with re-enactments and speeches, in the U.S., the holiday has taken on a festive character and is associated with hispanic pride in much the same way that St. Patrick’s Day celebrates Irish heritage.

Some useful links on Cinco de Mayo that can be used for classroom activities or just to learn more about the origins of the holiday:

Photo courtesy of UBookworm - http://www.flickr.com/photos/ubookworm/

Published in: on May 1, 2007 at 2:07 pm  Leave a Comment