CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 13 . . . . February 16, 2007
Two-Eyes looks different than most people. She has two eyes. Her two normal older sisters, One-Eye and Three-Eyes, are ashamed of her and pick on her by feeding her leftovers, dressing her in hand-me-down rags, and making her do all the household chores. Understandably, Two-Eyes is overcome by her hunger and her sisters’ mistreatment, and she eventually sits down to cry tears of despair. A magical old woman appears and offers Two-Eyes two verses that, when sung to the family goat, make a feast of food fit for a king appear and disappear. Unfortunately, the wicked sisters trick Two-Eyes into revealing why she stops eating her leftovers, and they take the goat away.
When all seems lost, the magical old woman appears again and gives Two-Eyes a magical seed that, when planted, grows overnight into an enchanted apple tree that produces silver leaves and golden apples. The older sisters’ desire for the apple tree’s riches reveals their greedy and wicked nature to a passing knight while firmly establishing Two-Eyes kind nature. The knight opens his visor to reveal his two-eyed face and grants Two-Eye’s wish to be free of her wicked sisters. Two-Eyes moves into the knight’s castle and the evil sisters are left to fight each other in their fruitless efforts to steal apples from the enchanted apple tree.
Based loosely on tale #130 in the collection of Brother Grimm’s folktales, Aaron Shepard’s modern retelling of this story maintains the once-upon-a-time, structure-of-threes, and third person perspective expected in folk and fairy tales. In many ways, this modern retelling of this Grimm’s folktale parallels the Cinderella story, offering educators and parents a resource that they can explore, compare, and contrast folk and fairy tale structures with their children.
Similar to Robert Munch’s Paper Bag Princess, Shepard’s retelling of this folktale does not end with a happily ever after marriage. Instead, the knight takes Two-Eyes back to his castle where they become friends because “they had so much in common.” Unlike the Paper Bag Princess, however, Two-Eyes is portrayed as a fairly helpless individual and must draw upon the old lady’s magic to rid herself of her wicked sisters’ tyranny. Depending on your view of politically correct retellings of folktales, this can either be a selling point or not for this picture book.
One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes! is the thirty-fifth folklore publication by Aaron Shepard. Like all of his prior folklore publications, Shepard maintains the integrity of the drama and plot contained in the original folktale, while ensuring the “Grimm” graphic nature of the story is removed, and events are changed to more closely reflect current mainstream North American values. For example, the goat is not slain but just driven into the woods, the evil mother is removed altogether, and the illustrations include modern amenities, like televisions, microwaves and tissue boxes. The modern amenities give the story a more contemporary feeling while adding some visual tongue-and-cheek humour for older children.
The story, itself, is fairly long, convoluted and complex. Although the printed text exhibits a grade three Flesh-Kincaid readability level, the complexity of the tale’s plot may be too difficult for some seven and eight year olds to understand both when reading independently or being read to by an adult. Strong readers and children who like discussing challenging plots will thrill to this involved tale. Aaron acknowledges the story’s plot complexity on his website (see http://www.aaronshep.com/storytelling/GOS27.html), but he also provides storytellers with storytelling strategies specific to the book for maximizing reader comprehension. Having said that, I used these strategies to read this book to a small group of four seven-year-olds, and most had difficulty focusing in on why they thought the apple tree refused to drop apples down to the older sisters.
Well noted for providing educators with free online readers theatre scripts of his printed books, Shepard does not disappoint with this current publication. Not only does he post One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes! on his web site in readers theatre format, but he posts the full story for educators to download, storytelling tips, and music to play and follow when singing to the goat (although this is not absolutely necessary for most storytellers, I found the music to be invaluable for a monotone singer like myself).
Using watercolour and pencil, Gary Clement (winner of the 1999 Canadian Governor General’s Award for The Great Poochini), illustrates the text in pleasing, warm and bright orange, red, yellow and brown tones. The illustrations have a comic book feel to them, and they both extend the story and reinforce much of the plot presented in the text. The illustrations set the story in a world that is both medieval and modern, allowing students to draw upon their prior knowledge of folktales, medieval life, and their own experiences when coming to understand the story structure and plot. Since it is odd to see humans with less or more than two eyes, I was not surprised when children jockeyed with each other in an effort to spend extra time viewing and reviewing Clement’s fascinating and intriguing facial illustrations.
The tale is an excellent springboard for initiating discussions and explorations into attitudes, prejudices and stereotypes around physical features of people. Storytellers should be prepared to deal with intense discussions about people who are physically different from the norm. A unit on bullying can draw upon the actions and attitudes of Two-Eye’s sisters and the terrible consequences inherent in judging someone solely by their physical appearance.
Although there are many less convoluted folktales available to introduce and explore the topic of physical differences and prejudices with children, this story is a refreshing break from the old standbys like Cinderella. The humorous illustrations alone are worth purchasing the text. If you are in any doubt if this is money well-spent, read the story ahead of time on Aaron’s website at, http://www.aaronshep.com/stories/051.html
Keith McPherson, a primary and elementary teacher in BC since 1984, is currently the coordinator of the Language and Literacy Education Research Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.