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Worth the Candle
Mary Ann Hoberman, currently the children’s poet laureate, makes kid literature that looks simple, while having as many layers as a phyllo pastry. In It’s Simple, Said Simon, a clever and confident boy meets some animals and talks with them in the direct fashion with which that other Simon met the pie-man. With the dog, cat and horse, our Simon proves his ability to growl, stretch and jump. (Meilo So provides magnificently energetic watercolor-and-ink illustrations.) Next the boy meets a tiger, who challenges him to growl and stretch and jump as magnificently as a Bengal can.
Simon meets all these dares and announces, “It’s simple” after every one. The refrain makes this book a great read-aloud, as do the ample opportunities for young listeners to show their growling, stretching and jumping.
Then the tiger invites Simon to hop onto his back, and go trotting off through the jungle. At dusk, they discuss mealtime in a matter-of-fact way.
“I’m having an egg for my supper,” said Simon.
“I’m having a boy for mine,” said the tiger.
What a tension-building line for the preschool set! But Simon, ever a level-headed boy, escapes from his tiger—using another of the skills that seem simple to him. (It’s not a skill that comes as easily to children as stretching or jumping, but it is one whose mastery makes them feel like almost omnipotent.) Simon leaves the tiger—a vanquished Wild Thing—behind and gets home just in time for supper.
For decades now, the foremost story about a boy who outwits tigers has gone largely untold. The racist uses to which the name Sambo was put have made Helen Bannerman’s 1899 story almost radioactive. It’s Simple, Said Simon has no overt tie to that story, except a similar understanding of its psychological resonance. Outsmarting a creature who would devour you—that’s one of the world’s most primal plots. And in It’s Simple, Said Simon, kids learn the very definition of their human empowerment early: They belong to the species that can out-think any magnificent beast.