Friday, May 17, 2013

Aesop's 1st Book of Childhood Adventures

Title: Aesop's 1st Book of Childhood Adventures
Author: Vincent A. Mastro
Illustrator: Anita Wells
Publisher: Vangelo Media
Publication Date: December, 2012
Genre/Format: Fables/Early Reader
Summary: Each fable is told from the perspective of a child observing the world and learning from it. In this truly unique series, Aesop is that child. He comes to live as an inquisitive, confident young raccoon who goes on a daily adventure and experiences each fable as it unfolds. Aesop's grandmother encourages him to go on these adventures so that he may find answers to his many questions. Upon his return Aesop shares what he has learned with his grandmother who validates his conclusions. 
     One of the most powerful forms of learning occurs through real life experience and self motivation. Learning begins with curiosity and succeeds only with perseverance. Unfortunately, as children grow, their curiosity and freedom of expression wanes. This book endeavors to strengthen a child's unbounded curiosity
 so that they feel empowered and never stop asking 'why'.
What Kellee Thinks: I was lucky enough to read not only the first book of Aesop's Childhood Adventures, but the second book as well. Vincent has done a wonderful job taking these fables which are just as relevant today as they were when they were originally told and putting them in a context that children will connect with and ultimately learn from. The stories reminded me some of Little Bear books in their format and illustrations. 
What Jen Thinks: I have always loved Aesop's Fables, the stand-out characters and the enigmatic lessons at the end. Mastro has taken some of Aesop's most famous fables and brought them to life in a more explicit way for children. He has written Aesop himself as a character in the book, searching for answers to his questions. By doing this, readers get to read Aesop's interpretation of what he sees around him. Reading Mastro's version of the fables might give readers more access to the fables because he does seem to explain the morals of the stories more than most versions of the fables do. It would be interesting to have students read other fables first and determine the morals for themselves and then read Mastro's version to see if they match his interpretation of the stories. 
Read Together: Grades Pre-K - 3
Read Alone: Grades 1 - 5
Read With: Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik, Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Snatch of Text: "Aesop waited for the boys to leave and then he climbed down the tree and headed home. 

'I'm happy to see you my little one,' said Aesop's grandmother, who was sitting in the den. 'Did you find what you were looking for? Did you get the answers to your questions?'

'No,' said Aesop as he climbed into his grandmother's lap, 'I still do not know why. But I did learn that a good friend will always be there when you need them.'" (p. 24-25)
Mentor Text for: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Personal Narrative, Compare and Contrast
Writing Prompts: Write about a time in your life when you learned a lesson; when something happened to you or you made a decision that you learned from. 
Topics Covered: Friendship, Perseverance, Problem Solving

Why did Vincent Mastro write this series? 
And specifically why did he choose to make them for the audience that he did? 
He answers in "The Gift of Life Lessons":
It Depends.

Is that an invitation to ‘cop out’ and avoid making a decision or is it an acknowledgement that there is no single answer to moral dilemmas?

Does might make right?

Should you give a hungry man a fish or teach him how to fish? 

Should you live life in service of others or in service of self?

We are confronted with these types of moral questions on a daily basis.  Some are small, bordering on trivial, while others are large and life changing.  Ultimately, our lives are defined by how we have addressed them.  The answers to these questions teach us life lessons and they have a direct bearing on whether our lives are fulfilling and harmonious or empty and full of strife. 

Unfortunately, there is often no right answer to any of these questions and ‘it depends’ becomes the pivotal issue.  Let’s take the question of whether or not might make right.  Immediately we think of the despot that rules with tyranny.  Or the bully who is prohibiting us from doing something that we enjoy.  In these cases, the answer is obvious.  The counter example however, is the parent who stops the child from doing something enjoyable but dangerous.  Bullies and tyrants do not live harmonious, fulfilling lives, but a good parent will. 

‘Might makes right’ is an excellent example of a moral concept that is difficult for young children to understand.  On the one hand, human beings, like all animals are born with the instinct of survival of the fittest.  Children quickly learn to grab and take what they want without even recognizing that their actions impact others.  Eventually, as a child experiences life with other children, he learns that his actions do indeed affect others.  It is at this point that the concept of ‘sharing’ becomes relevant.  Soon, children learn to use sharing, or more precisely the act of not sharing as a weapon.  The degree to which the child is able to maintain control over the prized object is the degree to which he is able to wield power.  As adults, we generalize this into the concept of ‘might makes right’.  For children, it is much more basic, almost instinctual and expressed in a single, very concrete word ‘mine’.

How then, do we teach children these complex concepts?  How will they learn to discern the nuances, balance all aspects and make the right decision?   

Guiding children through life experience is one method.  Another is to teach life lessons via short stories or fables.  One of the oldest known teachings of life lessons are Aesop’s fables.  They were written between 620 and 560 B.C and are attributed to Aesop, a Greek slave.  ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’, and ‘The Goose that Laid Golden Eggs’ are three well known Aesop’s Fables.  There are as many as 200 individual stories attributed to Aesop.

Aesop’s Fables are a favorite among parents and have been for many generations because they have captured the essence of these complex moral dilemmas.  The good adaptations of Aesop’s Fables allow the reader to discern the many nuances of the dilemma and learn the associated life lesson.   In this way, the reader will understand why it does indeed ‘depend’.  But, more importantly, the reader will also recognize that the resolution of these moral dilemmas is a fundamental prerequisite to a harmonious and fulfilling life.

As parents, aunts and uncles, we want the children in our lives to have the skills necessary to properly evaluate these situations and resolve them in the best possible way.   Although parents are the primary teachers of life lessons, they are not alone.  We all have that responsibility.  In fact, we are both teacher and student.  The power and value of life lessons lies in this fact.  It means we are constantly learning and our life experiences are the means by which we are able to uncover the nuances of ‘it depends’.

One of the extraordinary things about life lessons is that they are enduring truths based on moral principles that have not changed much with time.  This is why Aesop’s fables have endured these many generations and why they are known to so many different cultures.  There are literally 1000s of English language books devoted to Aesop’s Fables. 

With so many choices, how do you choose the best ones for teaching the children in your life?  The books can be divided into three types:
1)      Straight translations of each fable, most often from Greek or Latin sources
2)      Modern day adaptations rendered into a children’s book
3)      Historical and philosophical texts

Parents wanting to pass these enduring life lessons to their young children will obviously skip the historical texts.  The straight translations are not at all interesting to children under the age of 10 because they are often stark and obscure.  That leaves a 1000 or so, modern day adaptations. 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the modern day adaptations are woefully inadequate.  They often do not state the moral or life lesson as an integral part of the story.  Some don’t even state it at all.  Instead, the author expects the child to make that leap of understanding.  This requires both abstract thinking and a wealth of life experience.  Two things, young children do not yet have.

Other books simply declare the life lesson either at the beginning or end of the story.  The benefit of this approach is that it provides the adult with a starting point for discussion.  The unfortunate limitation is that the timing and relevancy of the lesson is lost to the child. 

The ideal adaptation is one which states the life lesson at that point in the narrative when it is most relevant.  Telling Aesop’s fables in this way has two very powerful features.  First and foremost is that it teaches the life lesson.  The second is that it fosters abstract thinking because it takes the concrete action of the story and generalizes them into the concept of a moral dilemma. 

As a parent, I was frustrated because I could not find a book that presented Aesop’s fables in the way I have just described.  On April 28th, 2013, my twins turn 20.  I have finally completed my second book in the Aesop’s Childhood Adventures series; a gift for my twins.  My hope is that the children in your life will benefit from these timeless fables too.

We *heart* It:
**Thank you to Vincent Mastro for providing books for review 
as well as that amazing guest post**

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