Book Review: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

1. Bibliography
Steig, William. 1969. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. New York: Windmill Books/Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781416918578.

2. Plot Summary
One day Sylvester Duncan the donkey discovers a magic pebble which will grant the owner any wish made while holding the pebble. On his way home to share his discovery with his friends and family, Sylvester encounters a lion; in his fright, Sylvester thinks, “I wish I were a rock” (7). Because of the magic pebble, Sylvester does indeed turn into a rock and finds himself unable to take hold of the pebble to wish himself back into a donkey. His parents search frantically for him; after a year of unsuccessful searching, Sylvester’s parents take a picnic and use the Sylvester-rock as a table. Mr. Duncan finds the magic pebble and sets it on the rock, thinking to take it home. Back in contact with the magic pebble once more, Sylvester is able to wish himself back into a donkey and is reunited with his family.

3. Critical Analysis
From the outset of Sylvester’s adventure, the rich watercolor illustrations help tell the story. Knowing only the title of the book, the reader can examine the illustrations and follow the plot of the story as Sylvester collects his pebbles, falls into misadventure, and then is returned to his family. The reader can clearly see Sylvester’s wonder at discovering the magic pebble, excitement at the thought of sharing it with his family, and terror at encountering the lion. Each two-page spread illustrating the seasons helps the reader fully grasp the amount of time passing and the loneliness Sylvester must experience as a rock on the hill. When the family reunites, the expression of joy on each donkey’s face moves the reader to share in the excitement of the moment.

The story unpacks the important theme that family is the most important thing one can have. As Sylvester uses the pebble to wish the weather how he desires and to try to make life easier, he finds himself stranded as a rock, unable to communicate or do anything except sleep on the hill. He is separated from his family, which causes distress not only in his family, but also among his friends and community. Once Sylvester is able to transform back into his true form and be reunited with his family, they collectively come to the realization that as long as they have family, there is nothing else they wanted.

4. Review Excerpt
1970 Caldecott Medal

From 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.”

5. Connections
-Read Disney’s Lilo & Stitch (ISBN 9780717266616) in light of the quote, “‘Ohana’ means ‘family’ and family means no one gets left behind,” and brainstorm how children can express their appreciation for their families.
-Use as an example in an art unit about watercolor

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)


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