The age-old fables with universal themes have been used repeatedly as moral lessons for life: One good turn deserves another; haste makes waste; don't count your chickens before they hatch. Stories like "Don't Cry Wolf" and "The Ant and the Grasshopper," attributed to Aesop, have been adapted by many classical and contemporary writers.
Because of their popular format, they have been altered to fit current times and conditions. In 1981, Arnold Lobel wrote "Fables," a collection of 20 fresh and unexpected fables with contemporary themes and morals. Lobel received the Caldecott Award for that book.Since then, many authors and illustrators have "fractured" the fables while altering the literary elements - short story using animals in humanlike events leading to a moral. It was not a surprise that Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith have tackled the fable format to extend their antics. (They are well-known for other variations on traditional literature, "The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!"; "The Stinky Cheese Man"; and the Time Warp Trio series)
"SQUIDS WILL BE SQUIDS" (Viking Press) is a collection of stories - "fresh morals, beastly fables" - that would cause Aesop dismay! They do have most of the basic literary elements such as animals that react like people and a moral with each. But whoever heard of a skunk, musk ox and cabbage trying to decide about a terrible smell that one of them caused! Or about the termite, ant and echinda who find out about life the hard way and the moral "If you are an ant and are going to dump your best friend for a new one, you should now that Echidna is another name for Spiny Anteater." Then there's a squid who never wants to do anything and a slice of toast that thinks he's better than Froot Loops. Most poignant is Shark, Wasp and Bacteria who can't understand why they are shunned at dinnertime.
These are twisted fables for sure with nonsensical moral lessons as well as ones that fit life as we know it such as always remebering to call home or doing your homework.
Scieska and Smith admit that all of the characters were chosen for their individual attributes that match human traits. "Squids and Slugs are will known as rather spineless creatures. Frogs are famous for the gullibility. And anyone who has ever spent time with a Duck Billed Platypus or a BeefSnakStik will tell you they are insufferable braggarts."
Through all their work, the author and artist don't take themselves too seriously and certainly want their readers to have a "darned good time" with these stories. Why else would they warn that the stories could possibly " . . . make you laugh and snort the chicken noodle soup you were eating for lunch right out your nose . . . "
The book's zany stories are expanded with zanier artwork. Side-notes explain in a tongue-in-cheek way that ". . . all of the paintings in this book are actually illustrations," which divulge absolutely nothing. But readers expect the unexpected from this publishing duo. Other details tucked into the least-expected places support the sense of humor of this team. "We know that `squid' is often thought of as the preferred form for the plural of `squid.' But if `squid' is good enough for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it's good enough for us. It's funnier, too . . . "
"Squids Will be Squids" is going to push to the top of the best-seller list for children. It's the kind of fun young readers will clamor for.
Paul Rosenthal's "YO, AESOP!" (Simon and Schuster) is also a new collection of fractured fables. This book begins with an introduction to the storyteller from Greece; "Who was Aesop? One legend claims that he was a slabe in Ancient Greece. Another says that Aesop was an adviser to King Croesus, and the two used to wander the countryside challenging people to spell their names." According to Rosenthal, Aesop invented fables to solve problems. "After a while, it got pretty annoying. People stopped inviting Aesop to parties and pretended not to notice him on the street . . . "
So much for the origin o the traditional fables!
The nine fables in "Yo, Aesop!" hav characters that resemble people we know like Otis the Worm, Murray the Roach and the rabbit that had a bad hare day. They are clever stories that will delight readers who don't take personally the pokes at their foibles.
Marc Rosenthal, who has been published in "more national magazines than you can shake a stick at . . . " has illustrated the fables with bold and active drawings that extend the meanings. He's even added some make-believe letters from Aesop to make the stories complete.
If these fractured fables wet your appetite for more, try these three for more fun:
- "Aesop's Funky Fables," by Vivian French and Korky Paul (Viking)
- "Another Tortise and a Different Hare," by Judith Cole and Anke Van Dun (Treasure Chest)
- "Fables Aesop Never Wrote," by Robert Kraus (Viking)