This amusing anthology of four reworkings of folkloric motifs and tales celebrates the power of persistence and peaceful contemplation in brilliant colours and slapstick artistry for young readers. The book itself is created for both constant library borrowings and continued parent and child readings—with a sturdy hardcover and large and flamboyant panels throughout the interior. The book jacket has different illustrations than the cover of the book itself. My favourite character, the frog, adorns the back of both the book and the book jacket. The frog may just be sitting on the singing rock of the second tale.
The first entry, “Hip Hop Wish,” plays with the story of the genie in the lamp who grants three wishes to the person (frog) who releases him from the lamp. After accidentally hopping on the lamp and releasing the almost desperate genie who tries to grant the poor frog with various materialistic gains, the confused frog finally gains peace and quiet when he wishes the genie to re-enter the lamp. Or does he? There are still two wishes for the genie to grant! This reviewer loved the facial and other non-verbal expressions of the beleaguered frog. The illustrations of the genie were equally well executed, but I did not like the fact that he was depicted as a spoiled brat rather than a worthy opponent for the frog. However, as I am not the age of the intended audience, this is a very minor quibble with the story.
The title entry, “The Singing Rock,” also played with popular folktale components, the transformative powers of an angry witch. This witch despises music in any shape or form, converting all who play an instrument, whistles, or sings in her presence into a farm animal. One day a rather untalented musician is sent to the witch’s village by faraway people who truly appreciate music. After a series of musical mishaps and animal transformations, the hapless musician happily becomes the most famous singer in the kingdom in his new form: a rock. The strong colour palate and cartoony characters effectively aid in the telling of the story with a happy ending for the musical rock, the kingdom, and, ultimately perhaps, the witch.
“The Sorcerer’s New Pet” moves the setting from the timeless woods and the medieval countryside of the first two tales to pseudo-ancient Greece where the great and humble sorcerer uses his command of Pig Latin to work his magic. When a rival sorcerer gifts him a parrot to steal his spells, the clever hero uses his words, and the parrot’s habit of repeating of them verbatim, wisely and carefully. Strangely, the characters in this tale are the only ones not included in the “Character Designs” portfolio at the end of the collection, but their expressions and reactions do get the complete treatment in these illustrations. “Ogreish Art” also explodes off the page in bold colours and characterization. The setting moves the reader back to Medieval Europe before plunging into the underworld of ogres. As with the previous tales, narration boxes and letters carry much of the text. And, as with the other stories, this one contains echoes of familiar folk motifs and literary tales such as the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” This tale is the most didactic of the four, but it includes enough silliness and drama to rescue it from being too much so.
A worthy purchase for public and elementary school libraries.
The Singing Rock & Other Brand-New Fairy Tales
By Nathaniel Lachenmeyer
Art by Simini Blocker
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 5-8