Monday, February 19, 2007

The Six Fools

by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Ann Tanksley. HarperCollins, 2006. Zora Neale Hurston is the acclaimed author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. In the 1930s she toured the Gulf States collecting and recording folk stories told by the people she met. The Six Fools was published as part of the anthology Every Tongue got to Confess, her third volume of folklore. It is charmingly retold here by Joyce Carol Thomas, the author of the Coretta Scott King Honor Books Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and I have Heard of a Land.

The story opens with a “dashing young man” in love with a “pretty young woman.” He comes to talk to her parents and they all sit down in the living room. Her mother and father are pleased with him, and send the young woman to the cellar to get some sparkling cider to celebrate. Unfortunately she is a silly girl and forgets the spigot is open as she starts to dream about her future children. In stages her mother and father come down to the cellar to join her and become lost in their own daydreams, thinking of what to name their first grandchild. The cider floods the cellar as they sit making plans. The young man finds them and immediately recognizes the foolishness of the family he is about to join. He says he will go travel the world to see if he can find three people more foolish than them. So we go on his journey with him and find, yes of course, three people even sillier and more foolish. In the end he says “Well, well, w-e-l-l, I have found three folks as foolish as the three fools I left. So I might as well go back and get married.” On the final page the illustration shows a bon voyage party as they go off on a cruise.

The illustrations are brightly colored and humorous in their own right. They add to the story by showing us the details such as a cellar full of cider barrels. How many kids today can visualize that on their own? And in the end, Hurston doesn’t give information about how the wedding is accomplished but Tanksley shows us that they are going off together as bride and groom. Children will be satisfied with that final illustration as it fills in some of the implied ending. Bride and Groom, still in their wedding clothes, are on the deck of a cruise ship as family and friends wave goodbye. The cow is in the picture, in reference to the journey the young man took. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance, placing the celebration in New York’s harbor. The final text is simply “By that time I left”, which the back of the book explains to be a colloquial Caribbean expression meaning “The End”. I think young children will appreciate that as they always like to hear a satisfying, firm ending to a story.

I like that the young man is portrayed as strong, hard working, thoughtful and direct in his conversation. He loves a foolish woman from a foolish family and wisely decides to go see how her foolishness compares to the rest of the world. When he sees how simple others are he realizes that his beloved’s foolishness is something he can live with. I think he values his love and trusts himself to make up for her lack. None of this needs to be said overtly because the poetry of the storytelling communicates the deeper meaning. Children will love the silliness of the adults seen forgetting to turn the spigot off, trying to pull a cow up onto a barn roof and attempting to haul sunshine into the house in a wheelbarrow. They will intuitively understand the precious value of loving people no matter how foolish, as they themselves love adults that often behave in inexplicable ways for unexplainable reasons. I admire Hurston for her ear in hearing this story and her voice in sharing it with us. What a gift she had, to bring us this wisdom!


Shelley said...

So cool, a "new" Zora Hurston (at least to me).

And hey, send me your snailmail (one email option is shelleyq (at) so that I can send you some small creation.

Vivian Mahoney said...

This is a very nice review. Thanks for sharing this one.