Many websites say that today is Aesop's birthday. How they know given all the inconsistencies about everything else that is written about him I don't know. But it is a good excuse to tell you about favourite fable picture books.
Aesop was a fabulist or story teller credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop's Fables. Although his existence remains uncertain and (if they ever existed) no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day. In many of the tales, animals speak and have human characteristics.
Of all the fables The Hare and the Tortoise and The Lion and the Mouse are probably the two most well-known to children, probably because they are often used to produce beautiful picture books. There are a large number of beautiful anthologies of Aesop's fables, many with wonderful illustrations and just the right amount of text for each story, but here I want to share six picture books that I love sharing with children.
1. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney won the Caldecott Medal in 2010. The artwork is exquisite and it demands to be perused closely. In fact the story is textless and whether children know the story or not, they will still be able to 'read' the story here.
2. Mouse and Lion by Rand Burkert and Nancy Ekholm Burkert. This is the most recent version of this story and it too is made exquisite because of Nancy's illustrations. The fact that she collaborated with her son I think makes this a real work of love and commitment. The cover doesn't make it leap off the shelf but once you open it you will be enthralled.
3. The Lion and the Mouse by A.J.Wood and Ian Andrew. This version too, is mainly illustrations. This time phenomenal lead pencil drawings with a lot of close-ups. You get to know the mouse in particular, intimately. My copy has a different cover from the one depicted here. It is old-fashioned red book material on the cover with just a tiny drawing of the mouse in the centre, so straight away you know that the book is 'old' and special.
4. The Hare and the Tortoise by Helen Ward. I like this version of the story because there are a lot of visual secrets for the reader in the illustrations and the children love discovering them. When the hippos make stepping stones to help the tortoise across a river the children love the fact that the hare has been tricked.
5. The Tortoise and the Hare by Angela McAllister and Jonathan Heale. This version has beautiful illustrations done with woodblocks which I can't resist. The children and I always have interesting discussions about why the tortoise comes first in the title of this book when it is usually the hare first.
6. The Fox and the Stork by Karl Ruhmann and Roberti Allesander. I have included this one not so much for its illustrations, but because it is a good retelling in picture book format of a fable that the children know less well, but enjoy. Also they easily ascertain the moral.