________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 8 . . . . December 10, 2004


It Couldn't Be Worse.

Vlasta van Kampen.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2003.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $7.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-782-5 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-783-3 (cl.).

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Irene Schlarb.

*** /4


The fishmonger smiled and told her to take their sheep into the house. Then things would get better. As the woman and her husband pushed and pulled and finally got the sheep into the house, they could only agree that the fishmonger was such a wise man. The next day the frazzled woman hurried back to the fishmonger. She told him that things couldn't be worse!

internal artIt Couldn't Be Worse describes itself as an adaptation of a classic folktale and appears to be based on It Could Always Be Worse, a Yiddish Folktale retold by Margot Zemach. In this version, it is the farmer's wife, not the farmer, who goes out seeking advice about the family's unhappy situation in their tiny one room house: the noise! the quarrelling! the fighting! In this version, instead of the rabbi who gives advice in Zemach's tale, advice is sought from the local fishmonger because, hadn't the fish monger sailed the seven seas and from all of his adventures gathered wisdom in such matters?. As in the Zemach version, the advice received each time the fishmonger's counsel is sought is to take an additional animal into the house. Beginning with the goat, then the sheep, the pig, the chickens, and finally the cow, the farmer's wife follows the fishmonger's advice though the situation progressively worsens. His final advice, to take all of the animals out of the house, produces the desired result: it was much better than before! There was no quarreling and no fighting and plenty of room for everyone. Although purists may prefer the traditional folktale wording, it could always be worse, the joy and humour of the illustrations make up for the change in the wording. Van Kampen's watercolour illustrations make this book. Children will enjoy looking for all the idiosyncrasies depicted in the illustrations: the animals taking turns riding downhill in the wagon, and then grandma as well as the family also taking a turn, the sheep knitting a scarf, the cow playing the harmonica, the sheep mixing up a batter, etc.


Irene Schlarb is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

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