The Wit and Wisdom of Aesop's Fables

Recommended Picture Book Editions

Aesop's Fables - Children's Book Cover
Sterling Publishing

Although the history of Aesop is somewhat obscure, the fables associated with the sixth century B.C. slave in Greece have been told and retold for over 2,500 years. While dictionary definitions differ somewhat, they are generally in agreement that a fable is a brief story that illustrates a moral truth. Fables often feature animals who talk to one another and otherwise behave in a manner that would not be found in reality.

The moral of the story generally appears at the end of the fable.

You may not be aware that many common sayings come from Aesop's fables.

  1. "Look before you leap."
  2. "Don't put off for tomorrow what you should do today."
  3. "Appearances can be deceiving."
  4. "Slow and steady wins the race."
  5. "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched."
  6. "There are two sides to every story."

There are a great many versions of Aesop's fables available. When I began looking at picture books of Aesop's fables, I found three that stood out for the quality of the illustrations and the readability of the fables. The interesting thing about the fables themselves is that they are suitable for both young and older children. While younger children will enjoy the stories and begin to grasp the moral of each story, older children will be able to relate and apply them to their own lives. With younger children, you can expect to reinforce the fables with further explanations.

With older children, you can expect some lively discussions as they talk about how the moral of a particular story relates to them. In either case, the illustrations in the following picture books will add greatly to your enjoyment of Aesop's fables.

Jerry Pinkney is an award winning artist, who has illustrated more than 75 children's picture books.

His Aesop's Fables (compare prices) is a beautifully designed and illustrated book. The artwork ranges from thumbnail to full page in size and was created with pencil, colored pencil, and watercolors. The people in the fables represent a variety of racial and ethnic groups. With his illustrations of animals, Pinkney has an uncanny ability to express the emotions each animal is feeling. His artwork is filled with color, movement, and life. Pinkney's Aesop's Fables was published in 2000 by SeaStar Books, a division of North - South Books, Inc. The book contains more than 60 fables. Some, like "The Tortoise and the Hare," you will instantly recognize. Others, like "The Children and the Frogs," may be as new to you as they were to me.

Jerry Pinkney received the 2010 Randolph Caldecott Medall for his wordless retelling of The Lion and the Mouse, one of Aesop's fables.Illustrated in pencil and watercolor, it is a beautiful book the entire family will enjoy.

Another excellent Aesop's Fables (compare prices) for children is the one compiled by Russell Ash and Bernard Higton. It was published in 1990 by Chronicle Books. If you would enjoy seeing how a variety of nineteenth and twentieth century artists interpreted the fables, you will particularly enjoy this book.

There are more than 50 fables in this collection. The illustrations represent a number of different styles and eras. The artists include many well known names: Randolph Caldecott, Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane, Milo Winter, and Alexander Calder, among others.

Fulvio Testa was born in Verono, Italy. Testa's books have been translated into 13 languages and published in 17 countries. Fulvio Testa's Aesop's Fables (compare prices) has vibrant and engaging illustrations that reflect both European and Middle Eastern influences. His book was published in 1989 by Barron's. There are 20 traditional fables, each illustrated with a bordered painting that catches the essence of the fable.

After reading a number of versions of Aesop's fables, I picked these three as favorites. All three contain well written versions of the fables and distinctive artwork that complements the text.

I also came to the conclusion that adults as well as children should have their own copies of a picture book version of Aesop's fables and promptly bought myself a copy of Jerry Pinkney's version.