Like Aesop’s Fables, Paul Smith’s inclusive collection of 30 animal tales delivers life lessons.
Each tale is a standalone with different characters, but all follow a 10-15 page per story format, with five chapters (excluding one that isn’t broken into chapters) and a concluding message. The animals are typical—bunnies, squirrels, birds, bears, lions, tigers, elephants, and so on —and adhere to tropes (e.g. “the wise old owl”). Yet Smith places them in oddball, unexpected situations: competing in a dangerous forest game show for unimaginable rewards, for example, or learning the ice sport of curling in the jungle.
Acceptance is promoted through stories of LBGTQ+ characters coming out or finding a new identity, and tales of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holidays. The message is clear: focus on similarities and establish bonds with others and together you will overcome difficult challenges.
Smith’s Introduction explains his desire to write “amusing and witty characters, each with its theatrical presence,” yet the stories don’t live up to this aim; while they deal with different situations, the writing is highly repetitive. In “Leo is Missing,” the author writes: “The sun rose over the lush green forest, and as the birds chirped, a group of animals convened for a conference.” In “Disappearing Fish”: “The sun was shining down on the lush green forest, where a group of animals were gathered in a clearing.” In “The Orchestra,”: “The sun had just risen over the forest, and all the animals were excitedly bustling.”
There’s often a search involved in the story with no explanation of why characters or objects go missing. In the game show tale, the prize is never revealed. Instead readers learn, “everyone could not help but feel a special bond, having worked alongside each other so closely towards a common goal…”
Published separately, these tales might hold interest. Together, however, the repetition quickly becomes wearying. Revision is necessary for this collection to appeal to readers.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.