When I lived in India, I had mixed feelings about the monkeys who had the freedom to venture wherever they pleased. On the one hand, I was fascinated by their cleverness while, on the other hand, I was fearful of their potential belligerence.
After living in close proximity to monkeys, I can’t resist sharing a story written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott, an expert in trickster tales. Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2011) is bound to appeal to youngsters as well as adults who like to see animals outfox one another. This is the final story out of a series of six multicultural tales that were created by this notable Caldecott winner.
Gerald’s story is an adaptation of one of the Jataka tales that were part of the Buddhist Indian tradition in the third and fourth century B.C.E. In this rendition, the monkey’s cleverness was no match for a crocodile whose sole goal was to capture the monkey’s heart. Like all trickster tales, one creature was able to gain the upper hand over the other animal. The monkey was always one step ahead of the crocodile’s intentions and was fixated on feasting on tasty mangoes whenever possible.
Amidst a vibrant red background, the monkey is depicted as a spindly brown mammal with an exaggerated long and curly tail and the crocodile is illustrated as a scaly green elongated species with oversized white teeth. The striking use of colorful collages adds to the Indian theme.
Open for Discussion
- Conflict between the two characters
- Anthropomorphism and character analysis
- Stereotypes of different animal groups
- Compare/contrast trickster tales from India and other cultures
- Timeline of ancient tales from different traditions
- Jataka tales and Buddhist traditions
- Message of the story
- Significance of ancient tales, fables, legends and myths
What is the best part of sharing trickster tales with kids?