Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
This is one of those books that can function as a straightforward story for children while having allegorical qualities for adult readers. Rotten Island is a nasty place where erupting volcanoes, violent storms, and earthquakes occur all day and where every living thing freezes solid at night. The creatures inhabiting the island and its environs are ferocious land and sea monsters and huge, predatory insects. All are terribly ugly and spend their time, when not devouring each other, fighting and just being nasty. For them, Rotten Island is paradise.
Suddenly, a lovely flower appears in the midst of all the savagery and brutality. As more flowers bloom, the monsters begin to accuse each other of planting the flowers to destroy their perfect home. The level of fighting escalates until every creature is involved in total war. Each one fights only for its own ultimate survival. At the war’s conclusion, all are destroyed. The rains come to the island; flowers bloom everywhere; and “it wasn’t long before the first birds came to the new beautiful island.”
Steig’s illustrations are dazzlingly bright, and the monsters and insects are done in a primitive, almost child-like style. The final four double-page spreads are very effective as Steig shows first the confused and frantic action of the battle among the animals and then freezes the creatures mid-fight in a nighttime tableau. The penultimate spread reveals the creatures’ skeletal remains being consumed by fire while rain falls. The final scene is quite pastoral and harmonious as a rainbow arches over a flower-covered island awaiting its new life forms.
Potential purchasers should note that this is not a new Steig book but rather is a new-format reissue of The Bad Island publishedby Simon & Schuster in 1969.