Daly, Niki. 2003. ONCE UPON A TIME. New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux. ISBN: 0-374-35633-5
Upon a Time is a wonderful tale about a young South African girl, Sarie, who struggles when she reads aloud
in class. Every time her schoolteacher says, "take out your reading books," Sarie panics. The words in the book
cause her to stumble. It becomes rather hard for Sarie because not only does she have trouble reading but a couple of
her classmates also make fun of Sarie as she struggles to read aloud.
Sarie's Auntie Anna, understands her problems and
tries to encourage Sarie to read. Every Sunday, Auntie Anna and Sarie sit in a broken down car and Sarie pretends
to drive far, far away on imaginary trips. Sarie and her aunt have a caring relationship and they talk about everything
- including Sarie's reading problem. One day, Sarie finds a book about Cinderella in the old car. Sarie and Auntie
Anna read the book together.
Auntie Anna helps Sarie with the words that
she stumbles over. The more the two read the Cinderella book, the more Sarie becomes comfortable with reading aloud.
The Cinderella book allows Sarie to use her imagination - and she dances around like a princess herself imitating Cinderella.
By the end of the tale, Sarie has overcome her fear of reading aloud.
This tale's illustrations help cater to the setting
- showing the colorful skies of the South African Karoo. The mention of the hot, dry air in the first sentence helps
also to convey the setting to the reader. The story encourages young readers to keep trying and to not give
up on reading. It even made me realize that sometimes it just takes the right book to inspire someone.
Upon a Time provides a calming feeling to having someone that understands your problems and fears,
and letting you know that you are capable of success. As in most traditional tales, Sarie's character is single-faceted
and does not change throughout the story. She has the basic human trait of being good and honest.
The plot is fairly simple and surely shows Sarie's
success obtained for reading. The theme addressed in the story could easily be perseverance and encouragement. It
is interesting how the author has named the town where Sarie lives, "Hopefield." The illustrations of the story are full of
dreamlike quality and the colors mix perfectly across the pages. This adds a very soothing touch to the flow of the
The story is not easily categorized as a particular
type of traditional fantasy. The closest definition is that of a realistic tale. Although there is no evidence
of the story being truly nonfiction, the events in the story are not far fetched and could actually be real. This is
definitely not a tall tale- with exaggeration as a main component.
It is considerable enough to claim Once Upon
a Time as a fable. It teaches a lesson and to some extent, concludes with a moral (even though it was not written
out). The moral could be "it is wiser to look for inspiration than to give up."