Aesop's The Fox and the Grapes, retold by Pauline Mackay.
Several years ago I was looking for fruit related ideas to build up activities to complement my book ‘Fruit Lane’. One of the characters in that book is called ‘Mr Grape’ and as I was following a fruit trail on the internet, I stumbled across Aesop’s fable ‘The Fox and the Grapes’. I’d already been writing little poems and songs to accompany my different characters, so it’s perhaps no surprise that a ‘Fox and Grapes’ poem started formulating in my head. I rewrote it a few times, but the opportunity to actually use it with reference to my book never arose. Years later, just before Christmas, I was due to run a fruit-related storytelling session with a group of multicultural children. I remembered my poem but felt it might be a little too advanced for non-native English speakers. So I rewrote it as a short, simple story with plenty of repetition, which mirrors the repetitive jumping of the Fox as he tries to get the grapes. As it turned out, I didn’t read my retelling of ‘The Fox and the Grapes’, but a different story I’d written about a snowman with a fruity twist!
Now, finally, it has been produced as a book in many language editions and this fits perfectly with why the story came to exist in its present form. The repetition of language is a crucial element, aiming to encourage confident reading in native speakers and build familiarity of language in children learning a second language.
In the original Aesop’s Fable, the Fox is hungry, but mine is thirsty, which gives scope to make the sun almost akin to a character. This is particularly helpful when you only have one character to begin with! This aspect is exploited to maximum effect in Dylan’s illustrations as his fabulous sun gets bigger and more dominant as the story evolves. By the time the Fox is lying on the ground with his tongue hanging out -one of my favorite pictures- the sun is at its most impressive.In rewriting the fable, one of the important aspects for me was to expand on the Fox’s attempts to reach the grapes. I imagined the Fox giving himself little pep talks and trying to work out why he wasn’t succeeding. This led to his coming at the grapes from different angles, which was very challenging to depict successfully in the illustrations in a way that could hold the readers’ attention and not be repetitive pictorially although repetitive textually. The many expressions and close-ups of the Fox as he moves around the grapes capture his frustration perfectly. The moment when he just manages to touch them with the tip of his tongue has always been my favorite in the story, so the corresponding illustration never fails to make me smile. The additional humor of convincing himself the ground is a little higher from one approach to the grapes can be fully appreciated because in the previous picture where ‘the sun is a fire’, Dylan has shown the ground is totally and utterly flat.
|The Sun on fire.|
As with many of Aesop’s fables, there isn’t a happy ending. The Fox doesn’t get the grapes. This amazing little tale has reverberated down through the centuries and is still as valid today as it was long ago. Human nature, which Aesop’s animal characters reflect, has not changed! We still have a tendency to turn up our nose at something if we can’t have it and say it wasn’t worth having anyway. Only this time, in ‘The Fox and the Grapes’, the final impression is not necessarily the Fox’s handling of his disappointment, but perhaps the redeeming qualities of that wonderful little hedgehog running after him with a grape!
On sale now from Ablekids Press Available in English and bilingual English with French, Gaelic, German, Italian, Malayalam, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Turkish versions.