Brian Gleeson,
illustrated by
Steven Guarnaccia
(Simon & Schuster, 1992)

All tales are Anansi tales. Even this one. And two by Brian Gleeson, writer of this delightful book of traditional folktales.

Although Anansi tales originated in Africa, the pair collected in Gleeson's Anansi are colored by a Jamaican influence. Brought to the island by slaves, the stories have been told through the generations.

Anansi is a mischievous spider-god who manages to create enough trouble for himself to fill volumes. Though small in stature, he is wily and creative, often outsmarting the larger animals who are always ready to put him to the test.

The first story is one of the more common, although the manner of telling often changes from source to source. How did Anansi get all stories -- even those he does not appear in -- to be named for him? Always by outsmarting whomever had them first. This time it's Tiger. "Everything is named for you, Tiger," Anansi laments, citing tiger lilies, tiger moths and such. "How come nothing is named for me?"

While Tiger agrees this is not fair, he will not let his stories go without a challenge. Anasi must bring him Snake within one week. But Snake is "big-big-big-big, and Anasi the Spider, he is teeny-teeny-teeny." All the other animals in the bush laugh at Anansi, and say Tiger tricked him bad. But tricky Anansi, he will not give up, even when it seems a losing battle. And you know he must win in the end, because whose tales are these after all?

The second story is of how Anansi came to be bald. This is one of my favorites, because although Anansi can be clever, he can sometimes be foolish, too.

When his mother-in-law dies, Anasi feels he must show his grief in an unusual way -- by not eating for seven days. He thinks, "This will show that I have the most sorrow of everyone at the funeral, make me a big-big man!" Alas, the only thing bigger than his ego is his stomach, and his plan goes pitifully awry.

The book is filled with bright illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia, making it fun just to peruse whether or not you are yet old enough to read. The pictures alone are enough to tell the whole story.

The accompanying cassette is well read by Denzel Washington, who manages a passable Jamaican accent as he carries on the oral tradition and gives voice to Gleeson's interpretation. Music throughout is by UB40, which adds a touch of whimsy to Anansi's adventures.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 27 March 2004

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