Fables by Arnold Lobel

  • Title: Fables
  • Author: Arnold Lobel
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Year Published: 1980
  • ISBN: 0064430464
  • List Price: $6.99 (pb)
  • Page Count: 48
  • Age Range: 4-8 yrs
  • Genre: fable
  • Award(s): Caldecott Medal Winner; ALA Notable Children’s Book; Library of Congress Children’s Book; New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year

Author information: Arnold Lobel was the author or illustrator of over one hundred children’s books. He is best remembered for his iconic Frog and Toad series, the first of which received a Caldecott Honor. He died in 1987. A very short biography is available at HarperCollins.

Reader’s Annotation: Have you ever seen a camel in ballet shoes or a wolf disguised as an apple tree?

Reviews: Kirkus reviewed Fables in 1980 and said that it lacked depth and subtlety: “there’s not a jot of wit, wisdom, style, or originality in these 20 flat and predictable items”. Unfortunately, due to the age of the title, no other reviews were accessible.

Summary: Arnold Lobel brings his original fables to life with his entertaining humor and eye-catching illustrations. Each of the twenty fables is one page long and includes a moral lesson as well as a full page illustration. These fables use anthropomorphic animals who find themselves in a variety of wacky situations, such as a bear who is convinced by a crow to go into town wearing a frying pan on his head and a pelican with atrocious table manners.

Evaluation: Lobel’s playful take on the fables genre is a treat to read. Each tale showed the animal characters in bizarre scenarios that entertain the reader and the artwork is hilarious and a joy to look at. Most of the morals are appropriate for the target age group, but some of them are weak, such as “when the need is strong, there are those who will believe anything” or “a locked door is very likely to discourage temptation.” The reader will forgive Lobel for morals that miss the mark, however, due to the delightful nature of the rest of the book. The page-long fables are a great length for a quick read before bed and children can revisit their favorites out of order without worrying about disrupting narrative consistency.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5  Lobel’s fables masterfully combine the traditional story/moral format of Aesop, but his original fables bear his trademark humor and heart. The illustrations are rich and do not lose their luster after multiple readings.
  • Popularity4/5  These fables are quirky and the accompanying artwork is sure to spark the imaginations of young readers. Because the fables are concise, they allow readers to consume them all at once or over time according to the readers’ preferences and abilities. Readers may feel that the morals are confusing or preachy, but Lobel’s tongue-in-cheek humor makes sure they do not seem overly condescending.
  • Appeal factors: Short format, unique artwork, anthropomorphic animals in unusual and strange situations.

Read-alikes: 

  1. Readers who enjoy the fable format would probably like Aesop’s Fables, retold and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. With lush pictures and a combination of stories both familiar and new, this volume will enthrall fans of Lobel’s book.
  2. Fans of Lobel’s artwork may be interested in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, with poems compiled by Jack Prelutsky and illustrations by Arnold Lobel. The pictures have Lobel’s signature humor and whimsy, and the brevity of the poems will appeal to readers who appreciated the short format of the fables.

Book talk ideas: Focus on the outrageous and humorous illustrations by showing a picture and asking children to make up a story about it. After that’s done, read Lobel’s fable and moral, and briefly discuss what they think it means or if they’ve been in a situation that’s relevant. Let them know that the fable they just heard is only one of twenty zany and original fables they can find in the book.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  • What is your favorite fable Lobel tells? Why?
  • Make up your own fable and give it a moral.

Reason for reading: I’m a member of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and every year they present an exhibit on a significant children’s book author or illustrator (who is Jewish), and this year the author was Arnold Lobel. After seeing the exhibit in January, I bought a few of his books, including Fables, from the gift shop, so it seemed natural to include a review of this title for this project. I very much admire Lobel’s wit and whimsy, and have read his work extensively after seeing the CJM exhibit.

Additional relevant information: The Lobel exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum runs until March 23rd, 2013. This exhibit had a variety of interactive stations for young children, such as a spot where they could sit down and write a postcard to a friend (as Frog does for Toad in one book), or create a wacky bird (such as the ones found in The Ice-Cream Cone Coot and Other Rare Birds). These activities would translate well to a library setting, possibly as a craft to pair with a storytime reading of some of Lobel’s books. Reviews and critical reception of the CJM exhibit can be found here and here.

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