Once Upon a Time
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Once Upon a Time

5.0 1
by Niki Daly

A struggling young reader triumphs

There is something worrying Sarie at school. Every time her teacher says, “Children, take out your reading books,” Sarie feels sick. The letters in the book all run together, tripping her up so that she stumbles and falters, and the girls in the back always make fun of her. Only Sarie’s old friend,


A struggling young reader triumphs

There is something worrying Sarie at school. Every time her teacher says, “Children, take out your reading books,” Sarie feels sick. The letters in the book all run together, tripping her up so that she stumbles and falters, and the girls in the back always make fun of her. Only Sarie’s old friend, Auntie Anna, seems to understand that letters and words can be difficult things to grasp. And it is Auntie Anna, with the help of a book from her own daughter’s childhood, who makes a unique Sunday ritual out of giving Sarie the help she needs, until the letters that were once her adversaries begin to seem friendly – just in time for Sarie to prove herself to the laughing girls at school.

Niki Daly’s illustrations set Sarie’s tale under the vast and beautiful skies of the South African Karoo, and his encouraging story conveys the power and magic of a good book and the joy of having a good friend to share it with.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
Sarie, a rural South African girl, dreads reading aloud in school: words on the page "tripped up her tongue. She stuttered and stammered over them." Everyone in class mocks her except Emile, who reasons that the ringleaders are jealous because Sarie is "as pretty as a princess." Daly (Jamela's Dress) brings in a host of elements to turn Sarie's eventual mastery of reading out loud into a Cinderella story. The elderly Auntie Anna, who lives across the veld, entertains Sarie in her rusted-out car, which sits comfortably on the dirt without its wheels; she and Sarie pretend to drive it far away. Shortly after Sarie confides her fears about reading to Auntie Anna, Sarie finds a battered copy of Cinderella in the back seat of the car, and with the old woman's help, she reads it aloud. Auntie Anna dubs Sarie a Cinderella and identifies Emile as her prince, and back at school, Sarie reads and "the words poured out as clear as spring water." While Daly's watercolors have lots of life, from the quick studies of Sarie's classmates to the vast expanse of the dry veld, the story's mix of fairy tale motif and real-life problem seems forced. Despite Auntie Anna's loving care in aiding Sarie with her difficulties, kids who struggle with reading may not find enough here to help them. Ages 4-8. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
The setting is South Africa, but the tale is universal. Sarie just can't seem to read aloud, so she dreads reading class in school. When her Auntie Anna visits the sheep farm, she encourages Sarie to keep trying as they read together, imagining the world of Cinderella while sitting in an old car chassis. Finally, despite the jeers of her classmates, the words begin to come together. With her friend Emile and Auntie Anna, Sarie travels happily to the world of Once Upon a Time. Daly skillfully creates a lively cast of characters, including a saucy goose, with his gentle watercolor palette. The arid landscape contrasts with the joyful actions of Sarie and her friends and relations. Auntie Anna is depicted with special verve. The visual narrative makes the reading success a sub-text to the intergenerational love. Life on a farm in South Africa is clearly shown as well. 2003, Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
— Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-The long walk to school under the hot South African sky doesn't bother Sarie at all. It's the destination that troubles her, or more precisely, the classmates who giggle when she tries to read aloud and who later taunt her. On Sundays, she escapes to Auntie Anna's rusty, old car, and while Sarie pretends to drive, the two swap stories. When the child unearths a book from a crevice in the back seat, she reads it with the help of her aunt. Sarie thoroughly enjoys the Cinderella story, which Daly peoples with characters from the girl's life, a technique that portrays her connection to this reading experience with economy and style. Although Sarie continues to struggle in school, she has gained the self-assurance to carry on. The cycle of skill and confidence is set in motion, ultimately impacting her class performance. The author is as adept at conveying the anxiety that accompanies failure as he is at depicting the pride felt with success. Sarie tries envisioning the words in the school text as they appear when she's with her aunt: "-lots of friendly letters holding hands to form words that danced and sang together." The realistic watercolors contrast the shimmering vitality of the sun, Sarie, and Auntie Anna with the dusty earth and lackluster classmates. Endpapers of swirling letters suggest the story's theme. Those who pause long enough may see a message; readers at any stage will appreciate the struggle.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sarie, a South African first grader, loves school but hates to read out loud to the class. She always stumbles, and Charmaine and Carmen laugh at her. Her friend Emile is cute and offers encouraging smiles, but Sarie still has no self-confidence. She spends her Sundays with Auntie Anna pretending to drive a rusted-out car. One Sunday, bored of "driving," Sarie finds an old picture book of Cinderella. She and Auntie Anna read it together. Sarie takes the book to school, envisions the words in her head, but still stumbles in reading. Auntie Anna makes reading practice more fun by dressing Sarie up like Cinderella, and Sarie improves and proves herself in front of the class and the principal. She invites Emile over for a Sunday "drive," and together they enjoy the near magic of the South African desert. Daly (Old Bob's Brown Bear, 2002, etc.) once again captures a moment in a South African childhood and makes it universal with a simple story and beautiful watercolor illustrations. Sarie's confusion and subsequent joy are evident in her face as she and the reader discover the once-upon-a-time magic that reading offers together. This is an excellent choice for one-on-one sharing or lap story times. (Picture book. 4-7)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
10.50(w) x 10.12(h) x 0.33(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Niki Daly is the author and illustrator of many picture books, including Old Bob’s Brown Bear, What’s Cooking, Jamela?, and Jamela’s Dress, an ALA Notable Book. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Once Upon a Time 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago