Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Three Sacks of Truth: A Story From France (Adapted by Eric A. Kimmel and Illustrated by Robert Rayevsky)

Published in 1993 by Holiday House, Inc.

Kimmel's adaptation of Paul Delarue's French tale The Three May Peaches is a delightful story that has a happy ending and a moral to teach: Tell the truth, and in the end, everything will work out. Whether or not this adage is true, the story reminds us that people who attain things through dishonest gain, may pay a cost in the end, and in this story, this is certainly the case for everyone in this story who lies intentionally.

The opening lines set the tone for a classic tale: "Once upon a time there was a king who was a good deal less honest than a king ought to be. Whatever he gave with his right hand, he took with this left." The king is described as having a craving for peaches, but not just any peaches. He craves the "perfect" peach and announces that the man who brings him the perfect peach can marry his daughter, the princess. But in truth the king has no intention of following through on his promise; in fact, he has concocted the entire ruse so he can eat all the peaches he wants without having to pay for them. This king is greedy and selfish.

Enters a poor widow who lives in a far corner of the kingdom who has three sons: Pierre, Pascal, and Jean. Jean is called Petit Jean because of his small size. The widow has a garden, and every day she sprinkles her peach tree with holy water. However, this tree is unusual; it only blossoms once every ten years and brings forth only three peaches. . . .But they are "perfect" peaches, and it just so happens to be the tenth year.

When the widow hears of the king's decree, she sends each of her sons to the king with a peach in a basket in order to win the hand of the princess in marriage. Pierre, the oldest, is sent first, but he meets an old woman along the way, and when she asks him what he has in his basket, he lies. He tells her the basket is full of frogs and toads. Suddenly the peach in the basket magically changes, and when Pierre arrives at the king's castle, he is thrown out for presenting the king with a basket full of the hideous creatures.

The widow sends her second son Pascal with the second peach, but when he meets the old woman along the way, he tells her his basket is full of snakes and lizards. The same thing happens again. When Pascal presents his basket to the king, it is filled with snakes and lizards, and he is thrown out of the castle.

The widow plucks the final peach from her special tree and hands it to her youngest son Petit Jean. She tells him, "You are cleverer than your brothers. Keep your wits about you, be polite to all you meet, and sure luck will follow you." When Petit Jean meets the old woman, he is polite and honestly tells her what is in the basket: one "perfect" peach. They speak kind words to one another, and Petit Jean thanks the old woman. In turn, she hands him a silver fife and encourages him to play the fife if the king goes back on his word: "You will come to a good end if you keep your wits about you."

When Jean arrives at the castle and the king sees his peach, he cries, "I must have a taste. . . .It is perfection itself!" When he realizes what he has just said in front of his entire court, he knows he must give Petit Jean the right to marry his daughter. The king has no intention of giving his daughter to Petit Jean in marriage, so he comes up with a devious plan. He presents Petit Jean with the impossible task of herding 10,000 rabbits in a pen four straight days in a row. Each day the king sets the rabbits loose thinking Petit Jean doesn't have a chance of completing the task, but what he doesn't know is that Petit Jean has the silver fife that was given to him by the old woman.

Once again the king tries to deceive Petit Jean by first sending his daughter and then his wife the Queen in an effort to trick him; however, Petit Jean IS more clever than his brothers. When his plan doesn't work, the king decides to trick Petit Jean himself. In the end, the widow's clever son places the king in a very embarrassing situation, and in order to keep from being exposed, he consents to their marriage. Petit Jean and the princess are married before the entire court, and of course, they live happily every after.

I had never read this story before, and I loved it. Similar to other fairy tales, it begins with "once upon a time" and ends with "they lived happily every after." Robert Rayevsky's illustrations are reminiscent of a classic fairy tale and are appropriate for the genre. The moral of the story? Honesty is the best policy.

I highly recommend Three Sacks of Truth for any age.

Meet Eric Kimmel
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Find this book in your local library.

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