________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 1999

cover Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables.

Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Lane Smith.
Toronto, ON: Viking (Penguin Books Canada), 1998.
48 pp., cloth, $25.99.
ISBN 0-670-88135-X.

Subject Headings:
Humourous stories.

Grades 3 - 8 / Ages 8 - 13.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*** /4

image Educators through the ages, including Quintilius of ancient Rome, the Dutch humanist Erasmus of Renaissance times, and political philosopher John Locke of 17th century Britain, have advocated the use of Aesop's fables to entertain and instruct the young. Carrying on this time-honored tradition 2500 years after Aesop is that brilliant and irreverent pair, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, with their own particular and decidedly peculiar spin on fables, Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables. Scieszka and Lane wrote and illustrated the hilarious twisted fairy tale collection, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. They are also responsible for The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as well as Math Curse and the wickedly funny "Time Warp Trio" series. As their many fans well know, it is fun to examine Scieszka's and Lane's books carefully from cover to cover in search of hidden jokes. For example, the reader of Squids... is assured that "No animals were hurt in the re-naming of the fables."
     Smith's in-your-face-paintings are, as always, bold and sassy. His depictions of Scieszka's zany animal characters are a hoot, from droopy-faced, wet-blanket Squid to Little Walrus and his hairy-lipped mother (moral of the latter fable: "You should always tell the truth, but if your mom is out having the hair taken off her lip, you might want to forget a few details.")
     Scieszka introduces the book as "...a collection of fables that Aesop might have told if he were alive today...beastly fables with fresh morals about all kinds of bossy, sneaky, funny, annoying, dim-bulb people. But nobody I know personally." However, most kids, parents and teachers do indeed know such characters personally: the Frog who believes everything he sees on TV, the Rock, Scissors and Paper trio who blame each other for their low project mark, Pigeon who fishes for compliments, and Elephant who keeps forgetting to call home. In each fable, Scieszka neatly pinpoints a common and irritating kid-foible, then deftly substitutes creatures such as slugs, blowfish, mosquitoes and walruses for the characters in the story. Scieszka goes on beyond Aesop in his use of exotic animals and bugs (including Bacteria) as characters in his fables; nor does he stick at employing inanimate objects such as fruit loops, toast, straw and matches. Despite its tongue-in-cheek humour (which will not necessarily be picked up by young readers), up-to-date lingo, and superb illustrations, this latest collaboration between Scieszka and Lane may not turn out to be a winner. Many of the morals following the fables miss the mark. For the most part, they elicit a puzzled frown rather than a giggle. It is true that the interpretation of a fable is tricky and open to argument; however, the moral which follows each should, at least, provide the reader with a chuckle of recognition, if not a belly-laugh.
     If the school's folklore collection includes copies of illustrated Aesop's fables, such as the excellent 1991 publication, Aesop & Company, prepared by Barbara Bader, then Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly fables would be a reasonable addition to such a collection. It might, on the other hand, enjoy a wider circulation if it were shelved in the picture book section. Language arts teachers who use fables to inspire creative writing, literary interpretation and drama in their classes should enjoy sharing this book with their students.

Recommended with reservations.

Valerie Nielsen is a retired teacher-librarian who lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364