Picture Book Review-William Steig-"Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Children's Literature their are few illustrators so skilled at creating picture
books that impact adult emotions as William Steig. His book “Sylvester and the
Magic Pebble” is a book that is will loved by children, as a fun and
fascinating tale, and it is this. For many parents however it is an emotionally
heart wrenching story, a year lost that can never be regained. This is what is
meant when it is said that children's books at least high quality ones can
speak to both parents and children.
In this book Sylvester lives with his mother and father, in a closed and tight
picture, with warm pink backdrop. Sylvester in the first scene is looking at a
rock collection. This opens us up for the transition to him searching for
rocks, and finding a flaming red shiny, and perfectly round rock. The pebble as
it turns out is magical giving him whatever he wishes for. Within the realm of
literature wishes are dangerous things, for what we want or what we do by
accident in such situations is the catalyst for many problems. And so it is
that Sylvester later confronted by a lion wishes he where a rock, so that the
lion would not get him.
Now Sylvester is left alone as a giant rock, with his pebble sitting but inches
from him, in a giant double spread picture. One can see how lonely Sylvester is
in this picture, though not cold it is wide open. Most artists would have drawn
this picture as cold, Steig however needs to keep the picture somewhat bright
for the story and his keeping the initial pictures fairly warm shows his genius
for foreshadowing with pictures, for this scene is what will prompt Sylvester’s
parents to stop here a year later.
In the home Mr. and Mrs. Duncan
are seen to stair out the window as parents would when their young child did
not come home, they are crying. They do not know what has happened but they
know it is bad. Their heartache can and should be used to explain why people
who love each other tell each other where they will be. For their search is
futile, as is the search of all their neighbors. Steig is careful not to show
Sylvester’s location, for they did not know where he was. Of course being a
rock he is not findable, or one would presume.
For within a year the parents go off to eat in the beautiful scene where
Sylvester was transformed, and it is here that they find the pebble and put it
on the rock, for this rock being beautiful reminds them of their son. Allowing
Sylvester to transform and once again sit on his parents laps at home.
This book is one of the better picture books and is a perhaps a must read for
children, I will however note two things. For the feminist critics one can see
in the opening picture that while the mother is sweeping the father is reading
a paper. One can overcome the problems such pictures might present by making a
note of this, as perhaps the father started and the mother finished. Remember
children's books are read to children by parents often times, at least in the
case of picture books such as this. Parents therefore have a certain amount of
control over the message they give.
Equally worthy of note is the lack of tears in the father’s eyes, for as
Sylvester's mother cries at the loss of her son he stands sadly. Should the
loss be any less painful for him? It is a sad factor that while most of the
attention has gone to women’s rolls and feelings in literature, the portrayal
of men has often been ignored. The father should be just as sad, just as able
to express this sorrow, but he is not.