Diversity, recycling, acceptance: Themes in Ballad of the Rag Man

December 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm Leave a comment

Ballad of the Rag Man by Cynthia Gustavson; illustrated by Kristina Tosic; published by Blooming Twig Books, New York; 2009.

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.

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.

So, obviously, I would include this book in the multicultural displays as it teaches not to judge a book by its cover.  It also belongs in pathfinders or displays about recycling; after all, the Rag Man is the ultimate recycler!  Certainly, any list that includes this book should also include links to the Rag Man Project online (www.ragmanproject.com).

(Note: A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher for me to review forStories for Children Magazine. I include the review here, with some additional thoughts.  Please note that all books I review for Stories for Children Magazine are donated to a local tutoring program for homeless and marginalized families.)


Entry filed under: Multicultural Picture Book, Picture Book. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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Disclaimers: Per the FTC regulations, please note that sometimes books are received for review for free by publishers or authors. All books (ARCs, galleys, library or purchased) will be reviewed fairly; no special consideration is given to anything reviewed on this blog. In addition, I make every attempt to avoid spoilers. Sometimes they happen inadvertently or because they are important to defend a review; not all spoilers have been removed or fixed. This disclaimer is a general statement included as a warning to readers.

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