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The Grasshopper and the Ants

pinkney_grasshopper and the antsThe Grasshopper & the Ants adds another title to Jerry Pinkney’s growing set of books based on fables by Aesop and Andersen. Unlike his Caldecott-winning The Lion & the Mouse (2009), this title has text, except for an extended wordless sequence in the middle.

But the Caldecott committee will not be comparing this to Pinkney’s other fable books, because they’re only allowed to discuss titles published in 2015.

Here, Pinkney’s adaptation softens the harsher elements of Aesop’s version, allowing the ants to show compassion and portraying the grasshopper as a guy who is devoted to his art rather than just a lazy freeloader. The action starts in the spring and moves quickly through the seasons as the grasshopper implores the ants to stop working and join him fishing, dancing, singing, etc. The ants don’t stop their rushing around to gather food before the snow covers it all up. Pinkney depicts his characters realistically (every leg segment, abdomen, and antenna in place), but dresses the ants in acorn caps and the grasshopper in a natty straw hat and vest.

When winter comes, the grasshopper finds himself surrounded by lots and lots of snow. What follows is a five-spread wordless sequence that juxtaposes the busy ants and the lonely grasshopper. In one especially effective spread, we see the ants in their cozy underground tunnels full of stored food, while a flap folds up to show the grasshopper, hungry and shivering in the snow above them.

Pinkney’s art is as intricate as ever, and it’s clear how much research and thought he put into this book. The endpapers, the illustrative lettering on the title page, and the dual jacket and cover are all exquisite. But to my eye, the pages illustrating the actual story are a little too detailed. They are so full of shapes that it can be hard to figure out what’s happening. This style works better for the ants, with their many dark legs making an interesting repeated design. This style is less successful with the grasshopper. It takes me a second to figure out what position he is sitting in and what he’s doing with all those legs. I also think the wings are too prominent. When I was a kid I spent many hours in the summer hunting and catching grasshoppers and crickets. Their wings stay folded against the abdomen until they jump, so that seems like one aspect Pinkney could have changed to make the character look simpler. I don’t think I’m alone in perceiving this art as overly busy. The first time through, readers will probably struggle to parse the images, but the payoff will come on subsequent readings when they will see more and more as they look again and again.

I don’t want to sound like a downer here. I am a fan of Pinkney’s work and love the texts he chooses to illustrate. Whenever a new book of his comes into the office, I want to drop everything and look at it. But I do think that his style is working against him in this instance.

But that’s just my opinion. I am ready to be convinced otherwise — and I have no doubt the Real Committee will be taking a good, hard look at this book.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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Comments

  1. Susan Dailey says:

    I think Pinkney’s books are so beautiful and “The Grasshopper and the Ants” is no exception. I love how the color palette reflects the changing seasons and all the white on the winter pages is breathtaking. The grasshopper is so isolated. However, I agree with you Lolly about not always being able to figure out the grasshopper’s position.

  2. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Isn’t there a note in the book admitting that the relative size of the grasshopper and the ants is not to scale? Will the committee care?

  3. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Yes, Roger. He does have a note about that. I’m not sure it matters because that kind of thing is pretty common. The fact that he has a note and shows the actual size of both should seal the deal. I don’t think the Committee will care. At least, I think the committee I was on would have found that answered any questions. But every committee is different.

  4. Shay Ramsey says:

    Although I am a fellow lover of Pinkney’s amazing use of watercolor, I have to agree with you; it does work against him a little here. In scenes where the ants are all together, their little legs blend together on me and its hard to tell what parts belong to whom. Very busy.

  5. This is very detailed and nicely colored. I loved how the pages and text flowed

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