“Mmmmm,” murmured hungry Crocodile. “How delicious a monkey heart would be!” Sassy Monkey, swinging through the trees, is a tempting treat to Crocodile, lurking below on the river bank. Monkey loves mangoes, which grow on an island in the middle of the river. How he longs for sweet, juicy mangoes! Crocodile offers him a ride to the island on his back —which Monkey accepts! Does Monkey end up like the Gingerbread Man, snip, snap, snout? Nooooo! Monkey is too crafty. He tells Crocodile that he’s left his heart in a tree, and Crocodile reluctantly ferries him back to the river bank where Monkey scampers up a tree to retrieve his “heart.” Crocodile goes home hungry, while Monkey figures out a way to get to the island using large rocks in the stream.
End of story? Nooooo! Crocodile is too crafty. He lurks under the water, hoping his bumpy back and head will look like rocks. Does he snatch Monkey? Nooooo! Monkey suspects that something’s wrong with one of the rocks. He calls out “good evening” to the strange rock until Crocodile assumes that rocks must usually answer, so he replies, “good evening.” Discovered again for what he truly is, Crocodile again offers Monkey a deal: “You can jump on me to get to the other side.” Will Monkey fall for this deal? Nooooo! Monkey is too crafty.
You’ll want to read this wild story to find out who lives to tell the tale again! McDermott’s superlative artwork, composed of hand-colored textured papers mounted on heavy watercolor paper, is filled with arresting detail. Against a bright red wash of horizon, Monkey, made with a technique McDermott learned from a book artist that features handmade paper teased apart to create a fuzzy edge, leaps with supple grace from tree to tree. His bright eyes are full of intelligence and mischief. Crocodile’s textured body with incredible teeth—painted to look carved and sharp—lurks from the multihued water, orange-yellow eyes sinister and reptilian. The text is spare, leaving the reader to glean juicy details from the amazing illustrations. This tale, which McDermott notes in the preface, is the final volume in his series of six trickster tales, is a brilliant addition to any collection of stories. It is a wonderful introduction to the folklore of India and to the work of this distinguished storyteller and artist.
Recommended by Shari Shaw, Librarian, MLIS, Michigan