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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Monkey, written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott. Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2011. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Monkey jumped so high
and so fast through the
treetops, no one could
catch him. But catching
Monkey was exactly what
Crocodile wanted to do."

Of trickster tales, Gerald McDermott has this to say:

"The trickster has special appeal for children because of his ability to triumph over larger foes not by physical strength but by wit and cunning. In addition, tales of the trickster still speak to us in a gentle, humorous way about the strengths and weaknesses of humankind."

The is the last in a series of trickster tales that Gerald McDermott has been telling since he wrote Papagayo, a Brazilain folktale in 1980. Through the years he has published books about Zomo (West Africa), Raven (Pacific Northwest), Coyote (American Southwest) and Jabuti (Amazon).

Monkey's tale is from India, and gives us a spunky monkey with attitude to burn. Crocodile can't imagine anything tastier than a monkey's heart, and he does his best job of convincing Monkey to trust him in his quest to get mangoes from the island in the middle of the river. As the river water creeps closer to Monkey riding on Crocodile's back and threatens to drown him, Crocodile sees his chance. To his surprise Monkey advises that he has left his heart in the tree on the riverbank. Back they go! Once there, Monkey tells the truth and Crocodile leaves in a huff.

Now that he has a yearning for the mangoes, Monkey must find another way to get to them. He finds some rocks downriver that will allow him access to the island, and off he goes. Crocodile is busy watching and makes himself still and silent as a stone, hoping that Monkey will use him on the return path. Of course you know that Monkey is just a bit too smart for that trickery, too. He finds a most satisfying way to bamboozle Crocodile once more and lands safely on the riverbank.

Crocodile is not about to give up, but Monkey has proved his prowess and is always careful to step on a 'real' rock whenever he returns home.
In keeping to the illustrative elements used in the first five tales, the artist uses cut and torn paper collage to help him tell his droll story. He incorporates cultural elements from India that includes a unique and familiar paisley design on the cover and then again on the dedication page. The colors are brilliant and the hand-colored papers add texture and depth to the telling.  He adds a note about his design work:
"My gratitude, as well, goes to book artist Tania Baban-Natal for sharing the technique of teasing apart moistened handmade paper to create a furry edge." 
Once you read and appreciate this sparkling tale, you will want to see if you can find the others. You won't be sorry!

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