The King and the Tortoise
Lisa Arsenault is an elementary-school teacher in Ajax.
An African king claims to be the cleverest person in the world, and
challenges those who might be dubious to disprove it by making him a
robe of smoke. The king will acknowledge that a creature who can
accomplish that is smarter than himself. The swiftest, fiercest,
strongest, and most cunning animals attempt the impossible and fail.
Then the tortoise wishes to try his luck. The vanquished creatures
snicker, and the king is indulgent but contemptuous when he agrees to
allow the slow-moving (and presumably slow-thinking) tortoise to
compete. But the tortoise tricks the king into agreeing, on his honor,
to provide anything the tortoise may need to complete his task, and
eventually he asks for thread made of fire. The king is thus outwitted
by the tortoise, for he can’t provide thread made of fire any more
than the tortoise can make a robe of smoke. However, the king must save
face, so he confers on the tortoise equal status as co-cleverest
creature in the world.
The great appeal of this story for both children and adults lies in its
expression of two universally popular themes: triumph of the underdog
and the deceptive nature of appearances. The book would be a helpful
tool in the classroom when self-image is under discussion. The use of
animals to convey human traits precludes the hazard of a child
recognizing himself or herself in one of the characters, or of being so
identified by a peer. Nonthreatening classroom discussion will be
generated by this useful picture book. Recommended.