Review of The Fabled Life of Aesop

The Fabled Life of Aesop
by Ian Lendler; illus. by Pamela Zagarenski
Primary    Houghton    64 pp.    g
3/20    978-1-328-58552-3    $18.99

Lendler gives depth to a collection of Aesop’s fables by incorporating them into the story of their teller’s life. Working off what few facts scholars have pieced together from historical legend, Lendler begins the book with a biographical account that introduces Aesop (born “a slave…around 2,500 years ago and somewhere near Greece”), who used his fables as a way of speaking in code, not only with his peers but also around slaveholders, when he was fearful of speaking too forthrightly. Thus, when asked by “his master, Xanthus” if he thought he was worthy to help in Xanthus’s business (“You’re clever enough to help slaves, but are you clever enough to help me?”), Aesop responded with the story of the lion and the mouse. This brief biographical section, illustrated by Zagarenski in soft, spare watercolors realistically depicting the setting, is followed by a collection of ten of the fables, lavishly illustrated with richly colored acrylics on wood panels. Returning to realistic watercolors, the book then wraps up the biographical account, culminating with Aesop’s freedom from slavery, and concludes with a tribute to the lasting impact of the fables. Appended with an afterword and a bibliography.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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