Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: Ballad of the Rag Man

Ballad of the Rag Man
By: Cynthia Gustavson; illustrated by Kristina Tosic
Published by: Blooming Twig Books     Date: October 2009
ISBN: 978-1-933918-42-6
Price: $18.95
Ages: 3-10
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Nancy Messmore

Synopsis: In the village wanders a man who collects “yesterday’s treasures” including an eyeless, love-worn teddy bear.  Our eyes through the story are those of the teddy bear’s former owner, a little girl.  She is scared of the silent stranger who picks through the neighborhood trash.  But when she follows him back to his home, she discovers him lovingly repairing her teddy bear, which he returns to her clean and with new eyes.  The teddy bear isn’t the only one with new eyes at the end of the story.  I think all readers will come away with a new vision of their neighbors.

Overall thoughts:  The tale is told in rhyming verse.  It speaks volumes with a few well-chosen words that gently guide readers to the lesson at the end.  Tosic’s illustrations, mixed media including photographs and pen-and-ink drawings, vividly portray the story. They are pieced together much like the Rag Man’s work is a rag-tag collection of unmatched materials.  Together, the words and pictures tell a story of overcoming prejudice.  The dark, scribbly images reflect the words of the child describing the weird man in her village.  But as she learns about him, and accepts him as a neighbor, the words and images are brighter and full of hope.

Gustavson, a former teacher, is a psychotherapist who works with children.  She said, “I wrote this book because I found too many parents were teaching their children to be afraid of those who look different, or live on ‘the wrong side of town.’”  With that in mind, she said that the publisher has created the Rag Man Project, a non-profit endeavor, to promote diversity and publish more books about “compassion and understanding of those who are ‘not like you.’”  The book’s website, www.ragmanproject.com, includes parent and teacher resources that correlate with the book.  Along with promoting understanding and diversity, the Rag Man Project encourages “green” activities and volunteer work in local communities.

Reading this book took my breath away.  Not only does it read well, and not only are the illustrations perfectly paired with the verse, but the lessons of the story are timely.  Reading and discussing Ballad of the Rag Man is now on my family’s to-do list.


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