One of the advantages of my daughter getting older is that we’ve started hitting the library more often. And one of the advantages of that is that I can screen books for possible purchase. If she likes it, and if I like it (either per se or reading it aloud), it goes in the wish list (and, shortly thereafter, onto her bookshelf) …
One such book — a series of books, actually — is an adaptation of the Uncle Remus tales by Joel Chandler Harris: Jump!, Jump Again!, and Jump On Over! The adapters, Van Dyke Parks and Malcolm Jones, have removed Remus himself from the tales, focusing instead on the actual tales of Brer Rabbit, et al. And the language, while still rich and evocative, has been smoothed out a bit. It still feels wonderful and colorful, but it’s also comprehensible to a young-un (the books are recommended by Amazon for ages 4-8, or pre-school to third grade).
Capping out these fine myths — no better word can be found for them — are marvelous illustrations by Barry Moser, a watercolor on nearly every pair of pages, rendering Brer Rabbit, Fox, Wolf, Terrapin, etc., in a grandly realistic anthropomorphism that certainly caught my daughter’s eye.
The stories generally revolve around Brer Rabbit and his ability — through cleverness and quickness, rather than size and strength — to win out over (nearly) any situation. It’s the same theme one can see through any number of classic cartoons (Tom & Jerry comes to mind, and any number of Bugs Bunny shorts), and rings as true today as it did then. And if Brer Rabbit’s role as trickster and chaos-bringer may sometimes make the complacent parent a bit uneasy, that may be to the good, too.
Indeed, Katherine (age 4) enjoys the books, and, I think, will continue to enjoy them for years. (Her favorite, thus far, is that of Brer Weasel, lickety-licking away the butter stored in the springhouse despite the efforts of all the other animals.) And I’ve used the characters to make up some stories for her as well, which she’s gotten a kick out of.
The books themselves are beginning to fall out of print, but there are plenty of both new and used copies available via Amazon. Get ‘em while you can.
(An earlier version of this review appeared here.)