HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Author and Illustrator: William Steig
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, republished in 2005
ISBN-13: 978-1416902065 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1416902066 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0671662691 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0671662694 (Paperback)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 6 and up
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Steig, William. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (published in 1969 by Windmill Books; republished in 1987 by Aladdin). Sylvester Duncan is an unassuming donkey who lives in the fictional community of Oatsdale and collects pebbles “of unusual shape and color.” One rainy day he happens to come across a magic pebble that can make wishes come true. Immediately afterward, a lion scares Sylvester on his way home before he can make all his wishes come true, and to escape he wishes himself into a rock, the first thing he could think of. Unfortunately, the pebble must be in contact with the wisher to work, and when it falls off the rock, Sylvester is unable to revert to his donkey form. The rest of the story deals with the results of Sylvester’s personal attempt to change back into his true self and his parents’ search for their only son.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble won Steig the Caldecott Medal in 1970, his first of many Caldecott (The Amazing Bone) and Newbery honor (Abel’s Island, which we enjoyed, and Doctor De Soto) awards. Illustrated with Steig’s characteristically simple pictures of animals in human garb portrayed with vivid emotions, the text is straightforward and the dialogue is touching. How Sylvester is eventually reunited with his loving family and restored to himself makes a story that is both tender and joyful. A few reviewers objected to the book because it is too scary or overly sad. However, most reviewers reached the same conclusion that we did, which is that it is a powerful story about unintended consequences that still has a happy ending. Also, I read that it raised controversy among several school districts and organizations for its portrayal of the police as pigs and as a result was banned in parts of the United States, although anthropomorphic pigs are shown in other professions too. Anyway, we liked it.