This is a book I remember reading and enjoying when I was a child, and I recently had the pleasure of reading it to my own children. It is a collection of short stories, all about the devil and his antics, and it made for a very entertaining read-aloud. My husband walked through the room while we were reading, and he ended up sitting down and listening, too - and laughing. That's how good these stories are!
My very favorite is called "Ashes," and it is the entire reason I put this book on hold to read to my kids. Whenever anyone talks about cremation, and keeping people's ashes in an urn, I think of this story and try to hide my smile ('cause, you know, I don't want to look insensitive or anything). It's about a not-very-nice man who dies, and (of course) ends up in hell. Meanwhile, up in the World, the urn with the man's ashes gets knocked into the fireplace, spilling and getting mixed up with the pork ashes from the dog's bone. Suddenly, down in hell, the man finds himself accompanied everywhere he goes by a pig that constantly gazes at him in adoration. It drives him crazy, and he needs to figure out how to get rid of the pig.
There are other funny tales, my second favorite being about Walpurgis the goat (and if I ever get a goat, that will definitely be his name), a beautiful goat that the Devil covets, and the clever old woman determined not to let the devil have him. And there are others that give food for thought, such as "The Imp in a Basket," in which a very kind clergyman discovers an imp in a basket outside the church, and while at first he is horrified, upon reflection he decides that even though an imp is a creature of hell, it is still a baby, and all babies deserve a chance. Maybe if it's treated kindly, he thinks, it will develop some goodness. The villagers, however, don't see eye to eye with him at all.
These stories have the flavor of folktales and the ingenuity, creativity and humor that are uniquely Natalie Babbitt. The book is an excellent read-aloud, and would also be a fun book for a children's book club - beneath the humor there is a lot of substance to spark an interesting discussion. Now I need to hunt through my bookshelves for The Devil's Other Storybook, which I seem to remember buying at the library's book sale a few years ago. Apparently Babbitt had so much fun with the first book that she decided to write another.
The Devil's Storybook by Natalie Babbitt (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984 - reprint)
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