Top 100 Picture Books #55: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
I know a little girl who cried when she thought Sylvester would be a rock forever. I’m not sure what it says about me, but that made me love the book even more. The best books are a little scary, aren’t they? – Jessalynn Gale
Overwhelming anguish and transcending joy. Not common fare for picture books. A book in need of an Amber alert. – DaNae Leu
I’ve talked about the psychology at work behind loving one children’s book or another. And no author better represents a person’s individual personality than William Steig. When I print the full list of all the nominations that didn’t quite make it onto the Top 100, you’re going to be shocked by sheer amount of Steig on that list. Everyone has their favorite. Sometimes it’s The Amazing Bone (that’s my personal love). Sometimes it’s Doctor De Soto (though not as often as you might think). But nine times out of ten the title that came up the most was Sylvester. That strange little story of magic, loss, and recovery strikes a deep chord in the hearts and minds of children and parents everywhere.
From the publisher: “One rainy day, Sylvester finds a magic pebble that can make wishes come true. But when a lion frightens him on his way home, Sylvester makes a wish that brings unexpected results. How Sylvester is eventually reunited with his loving family and restored to his own donkey self makes a story that is beautifully tender and perfectly joyful.”
I mean, just look at that cover image! Name me one other picture book where the defining shot of the book is two parents desperately searching and querying their neighbors about the disappearance of their son. It’s heartbreaking.
Now the reissue of this book did a rather wonderful thing that I’ve not seen repeated in any other picture book. When a “deluxe edition” of the book came out the publisher placed in the back the reprinted Caldecott acceptance speech Steig gave for Sylvester. This strikes me as a brilliant idea. Would that every Caldecott and Newbery Award and Honor winner had this reprinted in their future editions. For just a little bit of ink you get a pretty cool concept.
The Weston Woods video features the voice of John Lithgow, so I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t find a clip of it. Here instead is a glimpse of a cool looking stage production of the same book:
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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