Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
By William Steig
The first time I read this book, I thought it was so sad. I was almost apprehensive about reading it to children. However, I think it could be used in such a variety of ways in the classroom that it could be very helpful. The story is about a young donkey who finds a magic pebble. He makes several wishes, and gets excited to go home to show his parents. But then, he sees a hungry lion, and makes a wish that he was a rock, so that the lion cannot eat him. However, his plan backfires- because now he cannot change himself back into a donkey. His parents become very worried, and a year goes by with Sylvester as a rock. One day, his sad parents go for a picnic, and use Sylvester the rock as a table. They find the pebble next to him, and think of Sylvester, subsequently wishing he was there with him and turning Sylvester back into his donkey self, and everyone is happy again.
The details about how much Sylvester misses his parents and how hard his parents look for him and cannot find him is a little bit overdone, in my opinion. If it were me writing this, I would have had his parents find him the next day, instead of going into detail about how much they missed him. I think for young kids to imagine their lives away from their parents and stuck in some awful situation is a little bit scary and unnecessary. However, the characters are donkeys and it is such fantasy to be wishing on a magic pebble, that emphasizing that this would never happen in real life would be an easy thing for the teacher to do.
After reading this book, I think it would be fun to have the kids write about what they would wish for if they had a magic pebble. Most every student would be able to write about something, and it would be fun for the kids to share their wishes with each other. I also think that this is a great way to talk about materialism and our modern society, with older students. At the end of the book, they lock away the magic pebble, because they have all that they need; each other. I think this is something that people forget about today, and it would be interesting to hear what the students had to say about it. Would they wish for people and for others’ happiness? Or would they wish for beautiful houses and money? Nobody’s wishes would be “wrong” but it would be insightful to hear what students might have to say about this topic.