Aesop's Fables (The Classics) by Beverley Naidoo and Piet Grobler
|Aesop's Fables (The Classics) by Beverley Naidoo and Piet Grobler|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A welcome primer for Aesop, revisited with a twist, but many of the contents are too brief, and the artwork quite unappealing.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 48||Date: August 2014|
|Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books|
They're not Aesop's fables. They're ours. The stories have lasted for so many thousands of years, and have been told and retold both verbally and in print that they are of this earth and all upon it. So that when we realise we don't really know much about Aesop himself, it hardly matters. Basing this collection on the idea that he was of African ancestry, the creators give us a dozen or so short snappy tales, peopled with southern African nature and sensibility. The result is a vivid and bright guide to the moralistic little tales – that always felt African and not European in style, according to the introduction.
It's not the easiest and best primer for Aesop, however. The book is clearly for the under-tens, and has a snap to the vocabulary and style that suits the primary school library. But it then dips in and out of African slang tongues and uses animals the reader won't know, so forcing many of the stories to have a glossary.
That said the collection shows the wealth of output Aesop had, whoever he may have been. I distinctly recognised only four of the contents – the obvious one of the mouse helping the lion, plus a proud tree getting a comeuppance, a tortoise with dreams beyond (or at least above) his station, and the farm's guard dog and cockerel making their own way in the world. It also shows us other things about the man, beyond the universally accessible approach to moralistic fiction that he had. The introduction says these are not like European fairy tales. Well no, for various reasons – one being that while the latter have been devoid of all their guts and blood and darkness for the sake of pantomime, these have retained a wealth of death and destruction. Never have so many animals been killed, eaten, hunted and set alight for the sake of a few short moral lessons.
What partly brings that to the fore is the brevity given these stories, and this is a problem. I know they all have a beginning, middle and end, and the bonus of the motto, but the tortoise, for example, given the feeling of flight by a friendly eagle, goes up and comes down to smash on rocks in one brief page. It's quite gallingly blunt, and a little unsavoury. Call me a fuddy-duddy wishing to take the blood and guts and reality out the stories, but at least present the death of your main characters with a bit of calm dressing.
That said, I didn't like the dressing of this book at all. This isn't the first Piet Grobler work I've seen, but the other looked a lot more appealing than this. His style refuses to allow any of the animals to be cute or friendly, and from a daft cat pretending to be what it is not to a drowning monkey, many of the images could in fact be called quite ugly. So while the simplicity of Aesop can be carried to any corner of the world, I do think this collection of his works could have done a lot more to convince the young reader of their ever-lasting appeal.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
Aesop's Fables by Aesop, Fiona Waters and Fulvio Testa has many more of the tales, and a more classical feel.
You can read more book reviews or buy Aesop's Fables (The Classics) by Beverley Naidoo and Piet Grobler at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Aesop's Fables (The Classics) by Beverley Naidoo and Piet Grobler at Amazon.com.
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