Review: A World Full of Animal Stories

Usually I like to review a series at the beginning of each month, but this time I want to share a collection of stories all in one bright volume. Since Christmas my children and I have enjoyed delving into A World Full of Animal Stories: 50 Folktales and Legends written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Aitch.

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I love folk stories; they show us how to respect what is different and celebrate what is the same about other peoples and places. This book is like a treasure chest. The tales are organized according to their continent of origin (Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Oceania) and then each is identified more specifically by the modern country or tribe from which it came (Ghana, Brazil, Lakota, et cetera). The range of donor nations could always be broader, and I would like to have seen a fuller representation from South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East; but there is a good mix of cultures included that will certainly encourage young readers to stretch their minds around the globe.

The stories are told in the traditional spirit; most are witty moral fables or cautionary tales that encourage cleverness and punish pride. In most of the tales the animals can talk; in some they interact with humans and in others they deal only with each other. There is an emotive blend of humor and tragedy, wit and foolishness, lessons learned and opportunities lost. The result is a story for every mood and a universal reflection of this life we all live.

Each story is tightly packed on one to three pages, and can generally be read within ten minutes. They are well-written and expressive, paced to build the climax without giving the story away. Along with “The Ugly Duckling” and one or two other tales that are well known in the United States, children meet the fabled West African trickster Ananse, a Bear Prince and a horse named Dapplegrim. With titles like “Why the Warthog is Ugly” and “The Owl of Cowlyd Coomb” it is undeniably hard to stop at just one.

If I have a complaint about this book, it concerns the ratio of pictures to text. The illustrations vary pleasingly in size and scale, and portray the stories with brilliance; I would only like to see more of them, and I suspect that little folks would also enjoy more images to enliven the words they’re hearing. But this does not detract from the stories or imply that they are boring; it’s simply that I could never get enough of these gorgeous pictures.

This treasury would make a thoughtful gift, as it can easily provide hours of quality reading for everyone: from toddlers first learning their animals to middle schoolers beginning to appreciate just how big the world is. I am also looking forward to finding a copy of McAllister’s other book: A Year Full of Stories: 52 Folk Tales and Legends from Around the World. This volume is illustrated by Christopher Corr, and appears to be just as tantalizingly vibrant as the animal stories.

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Happy reading!

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: National Geographic Kids Stories: HeartwarmingTrue Tales from the Animal Kingdom, written by Jane Yolen and her children, and illustrated by Jui Ishida

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Review: Oh No, George!

It’s time to choose something for our littlest readers, and this one is just as much fun as the title suggests: Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton.

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George is a dog who is left home alone and promises to behave in the absence of his human friend, Harry. Good-natured George has every intention of keeping this promise, but his resolve is tested when he spies a cake, and then a cat, and then a bed of neatly-planted flowers. As each opportunity presents itself he remembers his pledge to be good, but each time he succumbs to temptation. When Harry returns to a huge mess and a repentant George, he forgives his pet and they go out for a walk together. Buoyed by Harry’s mercy and love, George behaves much better this time… or does he?

The bright abstract paintings in this board book are a bit of a departure from my usual preference for softer and more natural artwork. However they are a great fit for the theme, and are probably a pretty accurate depiction of a toddler’s thought process. Simple shapes and bright colors depict the contrast between the tidiness of George’s surroundings and the chaos he leaves behind. As he pauses to make his decisions the expressions on his face are adorable. Little ones who love dogs (or perhaps have a penchant for trouble themselves) will love George.

The writing in this story is equally fun. It follows a pattern so that we empathize with poor George even as we anticipate his choices, but there is a clever twist at the end that leaves us wondering what we would do if we were George. Indeed, we are George; the themes of understanding expectations, decisions, and consequences – and making mistakes despite the best of intentions – will probably be very familiar to small children. But Harry’s forgiveness is ultimately reassuring, and George makes better choices when given a second chance (or at least we hope so!). With an easy, conversational style and a speedy plot progression, George’s plight will be an easy one to read over and over with toddlers and preschoolers.

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton

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