Thursday, November 07, 2019

Token of Fortune: The Tale of the Tiger Slippers by Jan Brett

"I live in a big house my father built, and I love to bound around the garden.

My friends are always curious about one thing, though.

"Why is there a pair of raggedy slippers in that fancy fountain?" they ask.

And in answer, the little Tiger Girl's father is always glad to tell his favorite story.

It seems when he was a cub, he and his mother were very poor. He worked hard all day, gathering firewood and carrying buckets of water, and his mother kindly sewed him a fine pair of red slippers to protect his tender feet. Soon thereafter, he discovered some fine white kaolin clay and earned money by making beautiful bricks. He even built his mother a beautiful house of the elegant white bricks where they lived happily, as fortune smiled upon them.
Years went by, and the slippers seemed to guide my every step.

At last he decided to wed, and as he presided over the splendid wedding party, a crocodile poked his toothy snout from the river and asked him a question.
"What kind of elegant bridegroom are you with those old slippers on your feet?" he scoffed.

The Tiger had to agree that the slippers are raggedy and worn, so he removes them and tosses them into the river to float. But, alas, they lodged in the sluice that serves a village downstream, and the river's waters eventually backed up and flooded everything. But an elephant spotted the problem, pulled out the slippers that plugged the sluice, and returned them to the Tiger, who put them on and wore them happily, until a visiting rhino remarked that such a wealthy landowner should surely not have to wear such raggedy slippers.

Time after time, the Tiger agreed to replace and dispose of his old slippers, each time with unfortunate results, until they are somehow found and returned to him. At last the Tiger's young cub suggested that he build a beautiful shrine to the lucky slippers his mother lovingly sewed for him, where they continued to bring him good fortune and adventures as long as he lived.

Author-illustrator Jan Brett's new reworking of the old story of "Abu Kassem's Slippers," The Tale of the Tiger Slippers, (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2019) provides an opportunity for her trademark decorous rococo borders and panels that amplify and foreshadow each following page.

A new Jan Brett picture books is an event, and this one is a delight for the eye, and, considering her preschool and primary grade readers, offers a cheerier plot line than the original tale from which it is derived, which depicts a miserly merchant whose refusal to replace his old shoes brings misfortune to all concerned. Brett's conclusion is upbeat, celebrating the Tiger's mother's love and his young cub's wisdom, and as always, her elaborately detailed paintings are fascinating and lovely. Says School Library Journal, "The lavish textiles and swooping architecture of ancient India look fantastic in this illustrator’s finely drawn style . . . . Brett continues to be one of the most revered retellers of classic tales.”

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