by Jon Scieszka
After too many years in hermitage, author Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith have struck again with their latest book Squids Will Be Squids : Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables. While their past books have taken familiar fairy tales and twisted them to their own ends (see The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, as told by the wolf), Squids Will Be Squids tackles Aesop's fables. In the introduction, Scieszka reveals the secret to creating fables: "If you can't say something nice about someone, change the guy's name to Donkey or Squid." Through eighteen modern-day fables, Jon and Lane weave their strange Monty Python-like web through such fables as "Straw & Matches", "The Termite, Ant, & Echidna" and "Piece of Toast & Froot Loops." A personal favorite is "Duckbilled Platypus vs. BeefSnakStik, which shows the folly of thinking too highly of oneself. Indulge me as I share an extended example:
"I have a bill like a duck and a tail like a beaver," bragged Duckbilled Platypus.
"So what?" said BeefSnakStik. "I have beef, soy protein concentrate, and dextrose."
"I also have webbed feet and fur," said Duckbilled Platypus.
"Who cares?" said BeefSnakStik, . "I also have smoke flavoring, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrate."
"I am only one of two mammals in the world that lay eggs," said Duckbilled Platypus.
"Big deal," said BeefSnakStik, . "I have bee lips."
Moral: Just because you have a lot of stuff, don't think you're so special.
With lessons like this, it's not only kids who read these books! In fact, according to the book jacket, the recommended reading age is "49-630 (in dog years)". Other morals include "Everyone knows frogs can't skateboard, but it's kind of sad that they believe everything they see on TV", "Always tell the truth, but if your mom is out getting the hair removed from her lip, you might want to leave out some parts" and "He who smelt it dealt it". Or course, there is nothing heavy-handed here and that is why it is so effective. Few kids willing sit through a sermon and this book sprinkles the silly in with the sage, resulting in a vitamin packed yet tasty breakfast cereal.
Though not as integrated with the text as in The Stinky Cheese Man where the artwork was actually part of the story, there is still much to delight the eye. The book is oversized (12" X 9"), overwhelming the eye with colorful, imaginative images of large walruses, musk ox, and cabbage. The style is a hodge-podge collage of anything Lane could get his hands on, leaving the illustrations fresh and original even after many readings. The book ends by encouraging the reader to create their own fable, though warns them that very close to the end of his life (make that extremely close), Aesop was thrown off a cliff for creating a fable that hit a little too close to home.
This article first appeared in WhatzUp, March, 1999.