Steig, William. 1969. SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 067166154X.
Sylvester Duncan is a happy donkey who collects pebbles as a hobby. One day he discovers a shiny red pebble and accidentally realizes that it has magic powers. Expressing his good fortune Sylvester says “My relatives, my friends, and anybody at all can have everything anybody wants.” On the way home Sylvester is confronted by a lion and mistakenly turns himself into a rock. His parents are devastated when their son does not return home and they search everywhere for him to no avail. A year later they go on a picnic to cheer themselves up and use Sylvester the rock as their picnic table. The shiny red pebble works its magic once again with the happiest of endings.
Through the story and illustrations Steig successfully conveys the themes of family, community, and magic woven throughout this book. Using the words “hopeless and helpless” Steig shows the scary feelings that Sylvester is experiencing in his predicament. Steig shows the despair and sadness Mr. and Mrs. Duncan feel when Sylvester is gone. The sense of community is wonderfully portrayed in the illustration showing all the dogs of Oatsdale searching for Sylvester. Cheerful watercolor illustrations relate the happy surroundings of the Duncan Family at the beginning of the book. The subtle changes in color show the passing seasons as Sylvester’s parents miss their only son.
Despite the bright, sunny colors of Spring around them, Steig depicts the sad expressions on the Duncan’s faces when they set off for the picnic. Yet the reader is hopeful that if only Mr. or Mrs. Duncan would pick up the magic pebble, Sylvester will become himself again. As they eat their lunch, Mrs. Duncan says “I have the strangest feeling that our dear Sylvester is still alive and not far away.” Children will delight in the anticipation of Sylvester changing back from the rock into the donkey they love. The bold, bright sun conveys the feelings of happiness everyone feels at the happy event.
The cozy illustration on the final page shows that despite all the things he hoped to wish for, Sylvester already had all he ever truly wanted.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY – “This tale of a donkey who wishes on a magic pebble has charmed a generation of readers and will no doubt go on to attract a new one.”
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW – “Everything Mr. Steig does is magic.”
Caldecott Medal, 1970
ALA Notable Children’s Book
- Pass around a shiny red marble and invite children to share what they would wish for if the marble were indeed Sylvester’s magic pebble. Ask children what advice they would give to someone about to make a wish.
- Discuss with children times that they felt helpless and hopeless like Sylvester did when he was the rock.
- Invite children to share what is really important in their lives.
- Have children draw a picture of a time they felt loved.
- Explore other books by William Steig including The Amazing Bone, Shrek, Solomon The Rusty Nail.