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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Review: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

Not only is this one of my favorite books from my own childhood, but I adore this new edition as it has the text of Mr. Steig's Caldecott Award acceptance speech.

Sylvester collects rocks (as I did as a kid and lots of kids do). One day he finds a very cool red pebble to add to his collection. He accidentally figures out that the pebble grants wishes, which is neat. But while he is out he encountered a lion! And while this is a world where donkeys and pigs walk on two legs and wear clothes, lions do not and they still like to eat donkeys. And so Sylvester, scared for his life, wishes he were a rock so the lion will go away and not eat him. And because he is holding the magic pebble, it works! The lion is confused but eventually leaves. Unfortunately Sylvester, who is now a large rock in the field, can't hold the stone as he doesn't have hands (or hooves). His parents worry and worry when he doesn't come home. They look for him everywhere, ask the neighbors, involve the police (pigs, haha!) But eventually they have to admit defeat and come to terms with the fact that they may never see their beloved Sylvester again. The book has a happy ending but I won't give it away here.
Kids will be captured by the idea of a magic pebble, but this book mostly teaches unusual lessons that aren't given much attention in most picture books: empathy, and long-term thinking. A large part of the book is devoted to Sylvester's sad and despairing parents. One thing little kids rarely think of if they decide to run away or do other things of that ilk, is how their parents will be upset. Empathy is a vital lesson for children, and yet one that is sadly neglected.
Now, in the panic of seeing a hungry lion, few of us might be able to really think about the long-term consequences of wishing we were a big rock. But children do need to be taught that actions have consequences, and maybe there might have been a different wish Sylvester could have wishes, that would have both saved him from the lion and not had him turn into a rock. He's not happy with the outcome, but has to live with it.
Steig's illustrations are brilliant. They are sophisticated and funny and appeal to adults as well as to children. He doesn't talk down to children, although the language is certainly simple enough for them to understand. I hope my niece who is getting this for Christmas loves it as much as I do! Happy Holidays!

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

1 comment:

Julie P. said...

This sounds like a very special book and one that you hold close to your heart. I'm sure your niece will love it!