The Fabled Life of Aesop
Author: Ian Lendler
Illustrator: Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Ages: 4 to 7 years old, Grades P to 3 (Also Middle Grade 8-12)
Aesop had learned early on that telling truth to power could be accomplished, if power did not feel threatened.
There are numerous collections of Aesop’s fables on the market. Indeed, the stories are in the public domain, so a collection would have to be pretty special to warrant a good review. It would have to be extra special to warrant a purchase. Well, The Fabled Life of Aesop threads the needle beautifully, and I mean beautifully; using golden thread, illustrations and prose.
To begin with, the story book is more than just a collection of Aesop’s most wondrous fables, it’s also a biography of the man himself. We learn how Aesop was born a slave and, through the use of storytelling went from working in the grape fields of Samos to working for a powerful master to earning his freedom. All through his use of humble storytelling. Aesop had learned early on that telling truth to power could be accomplished, if power did not feel threatened. So, he used powerful allegories, in simple animal stories, to have “power” come to its own conclusions.
Interspersed with Aesop’s biography we have several of his fables: The Ant and the Grasshopper, The North Wind and the Sun, The Goose and the Golden Egg, and the Mouse and the Lion, among others. Each fable is retold simply; without embellishment, so that the message rings clearly. There is no need for long, drawn out storytelling, when the story is a good one.
Lendler’s writing weaves seamless through the biographical and fable storylines of the book. Indeed, the only things really separating the “sections” are Zagarenski’s (Caldecott Honor Winner) glorious (yes glorious) illustrations. The biographical portions have illustrations that aline more with what we’ve grown to think of the “Greek” tradition; where the fable illustrations are more fantastical and more vivid. Note, more vivid is a relative term. All the illustrations in the book are of exceptional quality. This book is a delight on the eyes. So much so that it’s hard to call it a children’s book.
The recommended ages for the book are set at four to seven-years old. I would push those ages to include Middle Grade (8-12) and recommend that the book be given to at least First Graders. Yes, Lendler’s writing is accessible, easy to read, and the book is well-written; but, the subject matter is deep and the fables are harder to understand the younger you are. Of course, if a ready caretaker is available to interpret, than the earlier ages are in play.
The book also touches on (albeit in an Afterword) whether the story of Aesop himself is a work of fiction. It concludes, as do I, that whether or not Aesop existed is actually of no importance. The stories are what count. This book encompasses a great one.
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The Fabled Life of Aesop (Support an Independent Bookstore)
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More books for this Age Group can be found here.
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