Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Sylvester and the magic pebble

Sylvester and the magic pebble

William Steig
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Simon and Schuster, 1969   ISBN: 141699615X

Can you imagine what it would be like if we could have anything we wanted? What if a whispered wish could conjure up a dream that we have? This is just what happens to Sylvester Duncan, an adorable young donkey who stumbles upon a magical red pebble one rainy day while he is outside.

The pebble is extraordinary, “flaming red, shiny, and perfectly round, like a marble,” - so extraordinary in fact, that it makes Sylvester shiver with excitement, although the rain does feel quite cold on his back as well. Then, while holding the pebble, he utters the fateful words, “I wish it would stop raining,” and it does!

The rain stops immediately as Sylvester's wish is granted. “What a lucky day this is, I can have anything I want!” he cries, thinking of how his mother, father, and friends can now have anything they want.

Then on that seemingly perfect day, a mean, hungry lion appears out of nowhere. The scared little donkey panics, and he wishes himself a “rock,” instead of something else, like being “safe at home with father and mother.” Unfortunately, he stays a rock. After all, a rock cannot  pick up a pebble and wish that it is something else. Things begin to feel quite hopeless. Mr. and Mrs. Duncan as well as everyone in the town of Oatsdale looks and looks for Sylvester, but to no avail. Is it possible that Sylvester is going to remain a rock forever?

Capturing the Caldecott Medal in 1969, this treasured favorite is still a favorite on many bookshelves. The 1997 reissued copy has William Steig's Caldecott Award acceptance speech at the back, which tugs at the heart as much as his seemingly simple story. With basic watercolor washes throughout, this book illustrates one of the most profound themes in literature: all we really need in life is love.