Fourteen animal tales are presented in the same format as Quentin Blake’s Magical Tales (2012), with many of the same strengths and weaknesses.
These very brief tales do not all have happy or resolved endings, and no sources are given. Some clues to context and locale come in the stories, but readers may need to search elsewhere for the origins of others. “The Singing Tortoise” is a West African tale and “The Turkey Girl,” a Zuni Cinderella with an unhappy ending. (Some of these tales were previously collected in The Singing Tortoise, 1993.) Blake’s squiggly and expressive pictures are the selling point, describing with ragged brio the hippos and the coyotes, the cobras and the ravens, the princesses and shepherds. The coyote who cannot remember the song the locust has taught him is a jagged mass of frustrated lines and angles. “The Impudent Bird” of that title, with his borrowed colors and feathers, contrasts nicely with the befuddled king and hardworking tailor, both of whom the bird hoodwinks. One of the few stories that is both satisfying and happy is the Italian “Monkey Palace,” wherein twin princes both end up with a kingdom to rule as a consequence of acts of kindness and honor.
Remarkable illustrations, brief retellings and clear morals do not quite make a satisfying collection. (Folk tales. 7-10)