I had forgotten that the Tortoise and the Hare was a centuries-old Aesop’s fable despite using the moral “Slow but steady wins the race,” on a regular basis. In his new book, Aesop in California (Heyday Books, $16.95, ages 4-8) author/illustrator Doug Hansen, a California State University, Fresno illustration professor, revisits 15 of the fables including The Grasshopper and the Ants, The Lion and the Mouse and The City Mouse and the Country Mouse and ties them into the flora, fauna and fantastic locations around the Golden State.
Combining extensive research, photographic field trips and some poetic license, Hansen has delivered a superbly satisfying storybook. Parents will want to read different fables with their children at different points in their childhood because of the valuable morals imparted. One of my favorite fables is The Fox and the Grapes about a hungry fox unable to reach delicious looking grapes growing on a vineyard trellis. Naturally when the fox, whose efforts are observed by a little bluebird, prove unsuccessful he calls over his shoulder in hearing range of the bird, “Don’t waste your time on those grapes. I’m sure they’re all sour anyway,” hence the popular expression, “sour grapes.” If you don’t remember the moral of this tale, it’s a good one worth teaching children, “It’s easy to find fault with what you cannot have.” When the fables are finished, there’s a Fabulous Facts section in which Hansen describes the plants, animals and locales beautifully illustrated in each fable. For example The Fox and the Grapes takes place in Napa Valley and the bluebird, a western one, helps keep the grape growers’ insect population at bay.
Of interest to L.A. readers would be The Jay and the Peacock set in Rancho Palos Verdes and The City Mouse and the Country Mouse featuring the Santa Monica Mountains and a Hollywood bungalow. With its abundant timeless fables and amazingly detailed artwork, Aesop in California is a picture book parents will not want to rush through, but rather share one fable at a time because after all, slow and steady wins the race!
-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel