Sunday, January 03, 2010

Careful What You Wish For! The Fisherman and the Turtle by Erik A. Kimmel

One morning a fisherman cast his net as he always did. As he pulled it up, he felt something heavy in it. It was a green sea turtle.

The turtle spoke, "Fisherman! I am no ordinary turtle. I am one of the seven sons of Opochtli, god of the sea. Spare my life and I will grant you a wish.

What should I wish for? the fisherman wondered. "I know!" he said. "Give me four fish! I have never had a catch like that!"

In his Fisherman and the Turtle Eric Kimmel works his magic as a reteller of folktales, this time taking the Grimm Brothers' The Fisherman and His Wife, setting it instead in the days of the Aztec Empire. Accustomed to a meagre catch of one, two or three fish which daily kept him and his wife fed, the fisherman happily recites his good fortune to his wife when he returns from the sea.

Instead of being pleased, his wife flew into a rage.

"You foolish man. That turtle would have given you anything you wished for. Instead you asked for four stinking fish. Go back to the sea. Find the turtle. Tell him I am tired of living in a hut. I want a stone house. I want to be RICH!"

Of course, as in its German predecessor, the greedy wife is soon singing the "I Can't Be Satisfied" blues. Tiring of being simply rich and pampered, she orders her husband back to sea to tell the turtle to make her king. "Go home. It is done," the turtle said."

Back home, the poor fisherman learns that the great Aztecs have taken his wife to Tenochtitlan, where he finds her lolling on a carved throne, braceletted and necklaced with gold and jade and wearing the crown of quetzal feathers.

"Are you happy?" he asked.

"For now," she said.

But in no time the greedy wife demands that her husband return to the sea turtle and demand that he make her one of the gods of Tenochtitlan.

Turtle living in the sea,
son of great Opochtli,
my angry wife has made a vow.
She wants more than she has now.

"And what do you want?" the turtle asked.

"I want to go home," the fisherman said.

And the wise turtle god grants both their wishes in his own way. Returning to his home,the fisherman finds his old hut instead of the grand stone house, and beside it, his wife, now like all the other gods in Tenochtitlan--a statue in stone.

Centuries have passed. The hut and the Aztecs are gone. But the great turtle still swims in the sea.

If you met him, what would you wish for?

With the striking illustrations of Martha Aviles and an engaging new setting, Kimmel's skillful combining of the Grimm's well-known story with the Singaporean "The Crown of Sang Nila Utama" makes the old tale shine like a new penny, its theme of burgeoning greed intact, for a new generation of readers.

For more of Kimmel's magical hand with folktales from all over the world, see his African Anansi stories such as the classic Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, his wonderful Hanukkah story, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, and his Japanese tale, Three Samurai Cats: A Story From Japan.



  • Happy New Year to you at Books For Kids :-)

    I'm terrible at lurking (or rather I'm very good at it, although I intend to do less of it in the new year!), but I've been reading your blog for quite a while now. And with the New year and lots of resolve to make more contact with the bloggers I admire I though I'd invite you to contribute to the blog I write.

    My blog is called Playing by the book (, and once a week I have a post called Fantastic Fiction for Kids, in which other bloggers who are interested in kids' books provide me with details of 3 (or more) of their favourite books on a theme of their choice, I throw in some musical suggestions and crafty / play ideas and obviously link back to the guest poster's blog.

    I was wondering if you would be interested in contributing to Fantastic Fiction for Kids sometime in 2010 - full details are available at

    I quite understand if you are too busy to participate, but it would be so exciting if you could contribute to Playing by the book.

    Looking forward to hearing from you,

    All best wishes,

    Playing by the book

    By Blogger Playing by the book, at 7:48 AM  

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