Tony Johnston’s The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote is a delight to read aloud to children from four to nine. The children I read it to, asked to hear it again as soon as I finished the first time. Tomie dePaola’s lively illustrations spark the humor in this Zapotec legend from Mexico.
In a series of misadventures Rabbit tricks Coyote. The first ruse Rabbit tries on Coyote is to get him to change places with him. Farmer has hung Rabbit in a bag on the wall of his house and is preparing to eat him for dinner. The dialogue shows the sly humor in the story. While the farmer is away to find herbs for the Rabbit stew, Coyote comes along.
“What are you doing there?” asked Coyote. “This man wants me to marry his daughter,” Rabbit said, “but I am too young. Why don’t you take my place? Look, the water’s ready to make hot chocolate. There will be a grand party.” Of course, the gullible Coyote takes the bait and then escapes when he is popped into the boiling pot. “Ay, ay, ay! Coyote flew right out of that water and took off after Rabbit.” Three more times Rabbit tricks Coyote. Finally, Rabbit climbs a ladder to the Moon safe from Coyote. “That is why to this very day, Coyote sits gazing at the moon. And now and then he howls at it. For he is still very furious with Rabbit.”
Tomie de Paola and Tony collaborated on eight other picturebooks. This time, Tomie uses a different pallet for his stylized folk art using turquoise, bronze, purple and rosy hues. Some illustrations scatter Spanish phrases across the illustrations that are explained in the Glossary at the end. Each illustration is action packed with expressive features for the characters.
The Author’s Note describes the origin of the story. “The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote, from the town of Juchitán, in Oaxaca, Mexico, weaves together several traditional threads of story: tales of Brer Rabbit, the story of Coyote swallowing the moon, and the origin of ‘the rabbit in the moon.’ … The version of this tale that I read was written in Spanish by the painter Francisco Toledo. I was drawn to it by the zest of the language and echoes of Uncle Remus….” Tony read the original in Spanish and translated it into English giving it her own spark. One part of this trickster tale has echoes of the tar baby story from Uncle Remus. See The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, as told by Julius Lester and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, for another rollicking version of the story.
Other stories by this gifted writer and talented artist are: The Quilt Story, The Vanishing Pumpkin, Pages of Music, Odd Jobs and Friends, Four Scary Stories, The Badger and the Magic Fan and Alice Nizzy Nazzy. -Recommended by Marilyn Carpenter, Professor Emeritus Eastern Washington University.
Author: Tony Johnston
Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Publisher: Puffin Books
PubDate: May 18, 1998
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