But what a beautiful story.
This Liberian folk tale, retold by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Ellen Weiss tells the tale of four friends – Spider and his three workers Buck Deer, Lion, and Rat. They live and work together, each with a job that best suits them, and after a hard day’s work, the tree toad who lives in the yard sings them to sleep.
Into their orderly life come chaos in the form of a giant hairy monster named the Vingananee. He demands the stew from Rat, and threatens to eat Rat for noncompliance. Rat fights for the stew and ends up tied to a tree behind the house.
“I’m the Vingananee,/and I am hungry./ Give me your stew,/Or I will eat you!”
Each of the friends agrees in turn to defeat the Vingananee and literally save their dinner. And each day the Vingananee eats their stew.
Typically in a trickster story (when there is a spider), the trickster is the spider, but in this story Spider is not even interested in trying after Lion and Buck Deer end up tied to a tree. It’s the little tree toad who thinks that he might be able to defeat the Vingananee.
What I love about this story are the conventions of the storyteller. There is repetition, escalation, and great onomatopoeia – Rat sweeps – fras fras fras; the Vingananee walks, pusu pusu pusu; and the tree toad sings them to sleep, tau au au au aut – among other sounds.
And I love it when the little guy wins.
The Vingananee and the Tree Toad by Verna Aardema, illustrations by Ellen Weiss, but I think this lovely book is out of print. Snatch it up at a used book store if you can find it.