CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 1999
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.
Grades 3 - 8 / Ages 8 - 13.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.
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