The Eagle and the Wren
retold by Jane Goodall
illustrated by Alexander Reichstein

Jane Goodall's The Eagle and the Wren
Illustrated by Alexander Reichstein

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

Fables are generally old, old stories, oftentimes only a paragraph or so long, with a simple moral - most of which feel quite dated to us. (Find fables on this site.)

So allow me to coin a term. A "fleshed out fable" is a modern spin on an old fable, with more story and detail, and a message that rings true today.

Even if you don't like the term, you're likely to love Dr. Jane Goodall's treatment of, "The Eagle and the Wren." The original fable goes like this:

The Eagle and the Wren once tried who could fly highest, and the victor was to be king of the birds. So the Wren flew straight up, and the Eagle flew in great circles, and when the Wren was tired he settled on the Eagle's back. When the Eagle was tired he stopped, and--

"Where art thou, Wren?" said the Eagle.

"I am here above thee," said the Wren.

And so the Wren won the match.

It's a rather simple two character story, and you'd probably have to agree that the moral, essentially, is, "Cheat to get ahead." Or maybe, "Get others to do the hard work for you."

Appropriate messaging for its time, perhaps, but I know few parents looking to convey this philosophy to their five year olds.

Famed chimpanzee researcher Goodall turns it into much more.

In her version, all the birds compete for the honor of highest flyer. In her version, a wise ostrich tells the "losers" that they are anything but. They have all used their wings to fly precisely as high as nature intended.

Or, as in Ostrich's case, to fly not at all.

Goodall's version again features a crafty wren, but in her The Eagle and the Wren, a phenomenally gracious one. Says Wren to Eagle,

I couldn't have flown so high by myself. But don't worry, you won the contest.

I always wondered what the world looked like from high, high up at the top of the sky. Now I know.

I shall always remember this. Thank you.

Alexander Reichstein's exquisite and detailed illustrations feel of another age and more than worthy of framing.

The book doesn't go so far as to spell out a moral within the text, but in a substantial afterword by Goodall she pays tribute to all the eagles whose wings allowed her to sail higher and higher.

None of us can fly very high by ourselves. We all need an eagle. We need the help of other people.

Please include the afterword of The Eagle and the Wren as part of your reading session. The book isn't incomplete without it, but it's more complete with it.

And since much of the world has flown higher on Jane's wings, do visit the Jane Goodall Institute and consider making a donation!

Webmaster's note: Did you know there's a Caldecott Honor picture book about Jane Goodall's childhood? Read our review of the wonderful Me...Jane.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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