The Trial of the Stone
by Richardo Keens-Douglas
illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch
Published by Annick Press
32 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Faraway Fairy Tale
Reviewed by Monica Stark
There are a few very good reasons that well-worn fairy tales remain such a popular jumping off point for children's books. In the first place, the stories are fascinating enough to have captured the attentions and imaginations of many generations since the tale was first told. And, in the second place, to children the world is new. Though most adults have heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood or Rapunzel, to a three-year-old it's as new as the latest offering from Scorsese and it's possible to them that the wolf just might eat that brightly dressed child. You never know.
Aside from the classic Western fairy tales that many have heard, a shrinking world has brought a new bounty for children's book authors to plunder: the fairy tales and stories from other countries. Countries whose verbal histories have been less explored and distributed than, say Denmark and the United Kingdom.
The Trial of the Stone is a classic example of a fairy tale that was ripe for exploitation. Or, more accurately, the classic and variously told story from throughout Asia and South America on which Richardo Keens-Douglas' book The Trial of the Stone is based was a good candidate for the children's book treatment.
In The Trial of the Stone a young boy named Matt is on his way to a neighboring village to visit his grandfather. When he tires, he lies down next to a large stone to sleep. Afraid he might be robbed in the night, he hides his small stash of coins under the rock. When he wakes in the morning, he discovers that his money has been stolen. He makes so much noise about it that nearby villagers come to find out what's happened. When he tells them, the village Chief asks him if he saw anyone. And when Matt says he didn't, the Chief has the stone arrested and taken to court. With great pomp and circumstance the stone is examined and cross-examined but remains mute. The crowd that has gathered to watch begins to giggle and guffaw as the Chief demands to know where the stone came from and what its business might be there. When the Chief insists that the stone is in contempt of court and must be punished, the crowd can't take it anymore: they burst out laughing. At which point, the Chief stands up and shouts:
"Enter in the records that upon the judgment the crowd raised a huge commotion in disrespect of the court," and right then and there he fined each spectator one penny.
Which the wise Chief then turns over to Matt, who can now have a fine breakfast before resuming his trip to his grandfather's house.
The charm is not only in the story, which is solid, humorous and well-told, but also in Stéphane Jorisch's deceptively simple illustrations. Jorisch's take on The Trial of the Stone is vaguely African. Well-fed hippos cavort in the water while Matt contemplates his tired feet. While Matt sleeps, an anteater inspects him closely while a thief skulks behind a tree. And so on, ultimately creating the perfect picture book blend. Both the words and the illustrations help to move the story forward. And the illustrations are not, as is often the case, merely a colorful afterthought to give children a place to look -- something to do to amuse themselves -- while the story is being read. The resulting book is a delight. A well-rounded picture book with all of the elements required for childish enjoyment. | January 2001
Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.