Category Archives: Traditional Tales

Book Review: THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY – written and illustrated by Simms Taback


Taback, Simms. 1997. THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 978-0670869398

Simms Taback brings the classic folktale about a little old lady’s disturbing eating habits to new life in his modern retelling of THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY.  This tale includes the traditional cast of characters: fly, spider, bird, cat, dog, cow, and horse.  The story also follows its predictable conclusion (she died, of course).  However, the vibrant illustrations, interspersed additional facts, and witty animal commentary make Taback’s version of this story unique.

This Caldecott Honor book is gorgeously illustrated and includes a peek-a-boo die-cutout view of the Old Lady’s stomach as she munches her way through a menagerie.  The graphics in this retold tale are boldly colored and have “the look of a ransom note” (Kirkus Reviews 1997).  The distressed and “digested wide-eyed animals float in a confetti-dusted space (which matches her dress)” after being swallowed by the Old Lady (Publishers Weekly 1997).  The Old Lady takes on an increasingly large and humorously zany appearance as the story progresses.  A Publisher’s Weekly starred review stated, “everything about the elderly woman’s exterior is equally askew, including the pupils in her eyes” (Publishers Weekly 1997).


Enrichment Activities:

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY is a popular rhyming tale that can be told orally in a familiar sing-song format.  The oral repetition of a familiar rhyme, read aloud from a storybook, “helps validate children’s experiences, connect written and oral expression, and invite active, physical participation” (Vardell 2008, 102).  The BBC website has a version of this traditional song, sung by Andy Day, freely available on their website ( Assist children to “explore neighborhood, cultural, and language variations” by translating this rhyme and song into differing dialects (Vardell 2008, 102).  For instance, the Spanish language version of this song can be found here:

If you would like to listen to a humorous Simms Taback singing version of this story, you can view the following video made by Jeff Seaver:

What to Read Next:

Taback, Simms. 1999. JOSEPH HAD A LITTLE OVERCOAT. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 978-0670878550

Pierce, Jason. 2012. THERE WAS AN OLD FLY WHO SWALLOWED A LADY. Bend, OR: 2Toad. ISBN 978-0985077310


Kirkus Reviews. 1997. “THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY.” September 15. Accessed February 9, 2014.

Publishers Weekly. 1997. “THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY.” September 1. Accessed February 9, 2014.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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Book Review: THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA – written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Randy Cecil


Kimmel, Eric A.. 2000. THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA. Ill. by Randy Cecil. New York: Winslow Press. ISBN 1-890817-18-X

Eric Kimmel puts a southwestern spin on the classic tale The Gingerbread Man in his book THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA. Tía Lupe and Tío José are the proud owners of the Texas taquería named El Papagayo Feliz.  The tortillas made at this taquaría are the lightest and fluffiest tortillas around.  One day, Tía Lupe made a tortilla so light that it jumped up and ran away! The clever tortilla made a mad dash across the Texas desert causing an eclectic mix of characters to pursue her.

Children will fall in love with this southwestern twisted take on the classic story The Gingerbread Man.  Cultural variants of traditional tales, such as THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA, allow children to “gain insight into the customs and values of many nations and cultures” (Vardell 2008, 94).  Moreover, telling familiar tales in several variant cultural formats allow children to “learn more about basic story elements, unique cultural marker, and their own personal responses” (Vardell 2008, 97).

The illustrations and text in this raucous caper fully represent the southwestern and Latino culture.  In this southern version of The Gingerbread Man, the tortilla races across a Texas desert “past horned toads, rattlesnakes, cowboys, and other pursuers” native to the southwestern landscape (Kirkus Review 2000).   The School Library Journal noted that “primitive oil paintings feature a palette of sunset colors” (School Library Journal 2000).  The illustrator, a native Texan, paints the pictures of this book in the traditional southwestern earthy/warm colors of yellow, red, orange, and green.  Moreover, the language is sprinkled with Spanish and southwestern language such as Senor/Senorita, taquaría, and arroyo.

Enrichment Activities:

There are many web-based activities that parents can utilize to supplement this fable.  The books publisher, Winslow Press, has several fun games, activities, and relevant fun facts on their site (   In the classroom setting, teachers can compare/contrast multiple versions of The Gingerbread Man to discuss point-of-view and different cultures.  For example, North East Independent School Library, in San Antonio, has a free compare/contrast group activity to be completed in a classroom or library setting (


What to Read Next:

Kimmel, Eric A.. 2009. THE THREE LITTLE TAMALES. Ill. by Valeria Docampo. New York: Two Lions. ISBN 978-0761455196

Nolte, Nancy. 2004. THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Ill. by Richard Scarry. New York: Golden Books. ISBN 978-0375825897


Kirkus Review. 2000. “THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA.” September 1. Accessed February 8, 2014.

School Library Journal. 2000. “THE RUNAWAY TORTILLA.” Amazon. Accessed February 8, 2014.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IN ACTION: A LIBRARIAN’S GUIDE. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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Book Review: THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS – written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith


Scieszka, Jon. 1989. THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS. Ill. by Lane Smith. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-82759-2

Do you know the classic tale of the Three Little Pigs? Jon Scieszka’s retelling of this common story, THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS, confirms that everything you know about the shocking events of that fateful day are wrong.  This book is tells the “true” tragic story of the three little pigs from the perpetrator’s (AKA- The Big Bad Wolf) point of view.   The misjudged and innocent Big Bad Wolf was framed!

This retold traditional tale is listed as #35 in the School Library Journal’s top 100 picture books of all time (Bird 2012). Younger children will enjoy this well written and illustrated picture book, however, it will be “less meaningful if they do not understand what is being parodied” (Vardell 2008, 85-86).   Kirkus Review mentions that middle grade children will easily understand this twisted tale’s lesson regarding the “unreliability of witnesses” (Kirkus Review 1989).  Older children will understand that the, “second view of the same events may yield a story that is entirely different from another but equally ‘true’” (Kirkus Review 1989).

Publisher’s Weekly remarked that the book’s “imaginative watercolors eschew realism, further updating the tale” (Publishers Weekly 1996).  The illustrations in this book compliment the text and visually assist in the telling of this narrative.  For instance, the wolf is drawn with an innocent and trusting expression while the small glances of the pigs’ faces illustrate an angry and fearsome demeanor.


Enrichment Activities:

There are many freely-accessible and pre-planned extension activities created to incorporate this book into a lesson plan or story-time.   Scholastic has many of these activities listed on their website at: This book is could also be used as a tool to teach children about point-of-view.  This could be accomplished by asking the children to write the story of Three Little Pigs from yet another character’s point of view. Bright Hub Education has a wonderful THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS lesson plan based around the concept of point-of-view (

A teacher could also guide children  in acting out their own dramatic theatrical production of this story.  Here is an example of a theatrical production of THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS produced by the Dallas Children’s Theater:

What to Read Next:

Scieszka, Jon. 1992. THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES. Ill. by Lane Smith. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 978-0670844876

Shaskan, Trisha Speed.  2011. SERIOUSLY, CINDERELLA IS SO ANNOYING!: THE STORY OF CINDERELLA AS TOLD BY THE WICKED STEPMOTHER (THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY). Ill. by Gerald Guerlais. Mankato, Minn.:  Picture Window Books. ISBN 9781404870482


Bird, Elizabeth. 2012. “Top 100 Picture Books #35: THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith.” School Library Journal. June 1. Accessed Febuary 21, 2014.

Kirkus Review. 1989. “THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS.” August 15. Accessed Febuary 9, 2014.

Publishers Weekly. 1996. “THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS.” March 4. Accessed February 2014, 2014.

Vardell, Sylvia M. 2008. Children’s Literatue in Action: A Librarian’s Guide. Westport, CT: Libraies Unlimited.

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