Tuesday, May 27, 2008

William Steig--An Unexpected Find!

Tomes for Tots

A few months ago, my children begged to go to the library (isn't that music to any mother's ears?). In our rush to get out of the house, I forgot my notebook that has my spreadsheet of titles recommended by various experts in children's read-alouds (Aren't I organized--ahem, anal?) So, although we usually have a few books that Mommy picks out and some that are chosen by the kiddos, this visit resulted in books that were exclusively child-chosen.

In our cache of picture books, I expected to find mostly duds and perhaps one or two good reads. I pulled out one book, which I wasn't particularly interested in, but which my daughter asked for and asked for again and again and again . . . .

As we first read the book, I wondered at my daughter's reading choices. Solomon, a rabbit, has the ability to change himself into a rusty nail. He first uses this ability to trick his friends and family and feels the rush of superiority in knowing something that they don't. He then finds a real use for his ability when he is kidnapped by a menacing cat with an even more menacing knife! Solomon changes himself into the rusty nail but returns to his true self too quickly; as the cat heads back toward him, he must change back into the nail, which saves him from being eaten, but the cat now knows his magic trick. He takes Solomon back to his house, where he cages him and waits for him to turn back into a delectable bunny. Frustrated at never being able to catch Solomon in his true form, the cat nails Solomon into his house. Finally, when the house burns, Solomon is able to change back into a rabbit and is joyfully reunited with his family.

I asked myself what it was that my daughter found enjoyable in this book. I recognized that the magic was a great pull for her as well as the joyful reunion with the family at the end. I also saw that the book's style did not condescend to children but had great vocabulary and sentence structure. I looked back at my handy-dandy spreadsheet and saw that William Steig (although not this particular book) was recommended by every book on children's literature I had consulted.

Although I didn't care for Solomon and the Rusty Nail, I decided to try others of William Steig's books. Spreadsheet in hand, we've checked out Amos & Boris from the library, along with Dr. DeSoto, The Amazing Bone, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Dr. DeSoto is delightful and also deals with the theme of outwitting a villain. Amos & Boris is reminiscent of the Aesop's fable of the lion and the mouse, but instead involves a mouse and a whale. The Amazing Bone and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble both have very similar plots to Solomon and the Rusty Nail but are without the darkness that makes reading that book uncomfortable for me. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is my favorite so far, and my daughter said last night that she wished that we owned this book. If you want to delve into William Steig's world, this is the book I would start with.

We are looking forward to discovering some of William Steig's other books: Brave Irene, Abel's Island, and Shrek are on the top of our list.

Happy Reading!


Jamie - RoseCottage said...

We'll have to look for some of these! Thanks for the recommendations!

Rachel said...

Sounds awesome! Thanks for the recommendation! I love these posts :-)