A familiar folk tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, transplanted to the bayou.
Swamp creatures intone a rhythmic chorus—“ ‘The fish was a-splashin’ as Paul went a-crashin’ / down to the bottom of the boat.’ / Kerplunk!”—each time the fisherman rows out to beg another wish of the talking sac-a-lait (the crappie suffers, she wails, under a spell from the evil swamp queen) at the behest of his ambitious wife, Paulette. So it is that Paulette gets a new pot, then goes from a cook whose gumbo earns raves from all over to mistress of a big house in a wealthy neighborhood. But her ultimate demand to be queen of the Mardi Gras Ball leaves the couple as poor yet happy as they began. Unlike the wife in another Cajun version, Whitney Stewart’s Catfish Tale, illustrated by Gerald Guerlais (2014), Paulette never takes any action to redeem herself. But Paul comes off as kindhearted rather than henpecked; so much so, in fact, that he gets one final, unspoken wish, which he bestows on the sac-a-lait herself. And soon a magnificent new Mardi Gras queen is crowned. Both as fish and, later, queen, the sac-a-lait sports glamorous, long-lashed blue eyes and lush red lips in Leonhard’s comically hyperbolic illustrations. Paul and Paulette present as white, but along with showing a range of ruddy bronze skin tones, the whole, robust human cast includes some African-American members.
The fisherman’s wife gets, as usual, short shrift…but this is a rollicking rendition, particularly well-suited to reading aloud. (afterword, glossary) (Picture book/folk tale. 6-8)