cover image Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables

Beverley Naidoo, illus. by Piet Grobler. Frances Lincoln (PGW, dist.), $18.95 (52p) ISBN 978-1-84780-007-7

In her introduction, Naidoo (who collaborated with Grobler on The Great Tug of War) points out that Aesop’s fables are closer to African folktales than to European fairy stories. She believes that literature’s best-known slave was captured from Africa, and she retells 16 of his stories with a South African twist. “Sjoe!” her characters exclaim when they’re impressed; “Eishh!” they groan when they’re dismayed (Afrikaans and Swahili terms are glossed at the foot of the pages). Populated with lions, jackals, klipspringers, and other African animals, the fables seem more bloodthirsty than Aesop’s originals (“Seconds later, he felt Lion’s teeth and claws rip into him”), but Grobler’s sly ink-and-watercolor artwork keeps Naidoo’s gorier instincts in check. In the most provocative fable, a man is threatened with certain death by the rinkhals (a kind of cobra) and saved by the snake-eagle. He never understands how close to catastrophe he’s come—only the reader does—which makes for a disturbing reminder of how little people sometimes know about their own lives. It’s a worthy experiment, and a well-executed twist on these beloved stories. Ages 5–11. (Nov.)