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Deidre's Book Reviews

Once Upon A Time
True Believer
The Tale of Despereaux
The Giver
The First Part Last
A Single Shard
How Angel Peterson Got His Name
SHAKA: King of the Zulus
The Gold Cadillac
Freedman's Voice that Challenged A Nation
Messages in the Mailbox
Seymour's Stars
Author Study: Joyce Carol Thomas
My Favorite Joyce Carol Thomas Books
Suggested Response Activity
Review of Thomas's Hush Songs
Review of Thomas's Gingerbread Days
Ride a Purple Pelican
My Momma Likes to Say
My Man Blue
Beast Feast
The Stinky Cheese Man
Once Upon A Time
My Friend Rabbit
Caring for Your Pets
Two Bad Ants

Daly, Niki. 2003. ONCE UPON A TIME. New York: Farrar,

               Straus and Giroux. ISBN: 0-374-35633-5


Once 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. 


Once 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 text. 


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."



Last updated: February 10, 2005

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