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Friday, April 29, 2011

2004 Honor Book: THE POND GOD

This is a 2004 honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:

Keyser, Samuel Jay. 2003. The Pond God and Other Stories. Asheville, NC: Front Street.

Here is a Readers' Guide for THE POND GOD AND OTHER STORIES created by graduate student Michelle Rodriguez.

Keyser, Samuel Jay. The Pond God and other stories. Illustrated by Robert Shetterly. Asheville, NC: Front Street, 2003. ISBN: 978-1-886910-96-6

Recommended grade levels: 5th – 12th

While he has long worn the hat as professor of linguistics at MIT, Keyser has proven that he has a true gift for interweaving folklore and prose to create his own mythology. Inspired by the tales of a Navajo Shaman, Keyser has created a collection of stories that illustrate how the world came to be. Why do the waves crash on the shore? A foolish god tried to fly. Can we fight our nature? Not
according to the ant. Robert Shetterly created unique illustrations to pair with Keyser’s collection. The almost bare drawings are strange at first. However, as the reader dives deeper into the stories, they can see how the pictures envision Keyser’s text. The gods are viewed as strange beings that humans cannot understand or comprehend. Though the reader may tire of endlessly reading “And that is why…” such a thing came to exist, Keyser and Shetterly have truly created a tome worthy of Aesop’s recognition.

Review excerpts and awards
School Library Journal
“The simple line drawings that accompany each story suggest the action, make the abstract concrete, and help to open up the format. These sophisticated fables may appeal to readers knowledgeable in traditional literature.” - Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library.

Publishers Weekly
“[It] explores the gods' human qualities with humor and insight.”

2004 honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award

Questions to ask before reading
Younger children:
Choose several of the more detailed illustrations and project the images. Have the children study the pictures and guess what the story image might be about.

Young adults:
*What is a fable? Where did it come from?
*What is a moral? What does it do?
*Which fables do you know?
*Do you know Aesop? What did he do?
*What is the difference between a folktale/fable?

Suggestions for reading poems aloud
Keyser’s poetry has more in common with short stories than poetry. Each poem contains a tale with a moral. As such, treat each poem more as a story than prose during reading.
Have several children volunteer and read one line individually. The poems are short so chose several to give everyone a chance to read.
Adult Read Aloud
Select several poems to read aloud. Use either word cards or a copy of the poem’s illustration to help with the read along.
Act It Out
Select a poem with several characters such as “How the Gods changed,” “How the Gods Made Altars out of Mountains,” or “Why Gods Are Like Clouds.” Have the children then act out the poem. Use simple handmade props or masks to help create the characters.
Read: “Hideous God”
This story has a rooster that can no longer crow. Have the children crow for him. At every reading of “rooster” have the group “cook-a-doodle-doo.” Make sure to read slowly to allow for the aspiring roosters time to crow.

Follow up activities
In Keyser’s stories, the gods are responsible for acts of nature. What does science say is really the reason? What are some acts of nature that you can explain?
- rainbows - valley formation
- clouds - sun/moon eclipse
- ocean waves - earthquakes
- rain storms - gravity

Social Studies
Different cultures have different sets of beliefs.
*What is mythology? Does it serve a purpose? What is that purpose?
*What are popular cultural myths you know?
• Greek
• Asian
• African
• Native American
**What is polytheism?
**What religions follow this belief system?

Using various art supplies and materials, illustrate a poem with your own images. Shetterly gave the gods a human like form. Take the opportunity to give them any form.

Think of something that occurs in nature. Something that science has already explained. Now write your own story about it. Make it silly and fun!
Try some of these:
*Why do dogs chase cats?
*Why do mice love cheese?
*Why do we cry when we smell cut onions?
*Why is blood red?

Related websites
Encyclopedia Mythica
This online encyclopedia contains mythologies from around the world from Asia to
Greece to Native American. If you seek it, you’ll probably find it here.

Nature activities for kids
This page from babble lists 25 different activities that can used to explore nature.
Many are simple but they are still entertaining.

Collection of Aesop’s fables
An organized and alphabetical complete listing of Aesop’s fables.

Related books
Poetry [foreign cultures and mythology]
Greenberg, Jane. Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World.
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2008. ISBN: 0810994712
Nye, Naomi Shihab. 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East. Greenwillow
Books, 2005. ISBN: 0060504048

Fables, Folktales, and Myths [foreign cultures and mythology]
Forest, Heather. Wonder Tales from Around the World. Illustrated by David Boston.
August House Publishers, Inc., 1995. ISBN: 0874834228
Grimm, Jacob and Brothers Grimm. Ed. Neil Philip. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers
. Illustrated by Isabelle Brent. Viking Juvenile, 1997. ISBN: 0670872903
Yolen, Jane. Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys. Illustrated
by Raul Colon. Harcourt Children's Books, 2003. ISBN: 0152163913
Yolen, Jane. Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls.
Illustrated by Susan Guevara. Harcourt Children's Books, 2000. ISBN: 0152020470

Author: Samuel Jay Keyser
Samuel Jay Keyser is Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at MIT. He currently is the special assistant to the Chancellor at MIT. The Pond God and other stories is his only book for children. He has also written several other books as well as a book of poetry for adults, Raising the Dead. When he is not
traveling with his wife or writing, Keyser plays jazz trombone with the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra and the New Liberty Jazz Band. His music has appeared in number of CDs.

Illustrator: Robert Shetterly
Robert Shetterly’s artistic claim to fame was his illustration of William Blake’s Proverbs of Heaven and Hell. Currently residing in Maine, Shetterly has illustrated more than 25 books and continues to serve as Audubon Society’s illustrator for their children’s newspapers.

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