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Just So Stories    by Rudyard Kipling order for
Just So Stories
by Rudyard Kipling
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)
Audio, CD

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories roll sonorously off Boris Karloff's tongue as he recounts them with the vigor and enthusiasm of a bard of olden days - How the Whale Got His Throat, How the Camel Got His Hump, How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin, The Elephant's Child, The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo, The Beginning of the Armadillos, and How the Leopard Got His Spots.

We hear that the Whale 'ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the mackereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel'. He ate all but the small Stute Fish, who sent him to swallow a ship-wrecked Mariner, who (Kipling tells us repeatedly) 'is a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.' Kipling doesn't talk down to kids but does use repetition and context to familiarize complex language. Another delightful device, that builds suspense, is the author's repeated advice to 'particularly remember' the Mariner's suspenders (they come in handy later in the story).

I felt a little sorry for the rebellious Camel, who kept saying 'Humph!' and refused to work, even 'with the world so new-and-all', though he probably did deserve the hump the 'Djinn in charge of All Deserts' gave him for saying 'Humph!' once too often. But I felt no sympathy at all for the Rhinoceros who 'had no manners then, and he has no manners now, and he never will have any manners'. After he stole and ate a Parsee's cake, his wrinkled skin resulted from the Parsee's cake crumb revenge. We learn that the Leopard got his spots, on the Ethiopian's advice, after the Zebra acquired his stripes for camouflage, and Kipling's account of the origin of Armadillos reminds me of Brer Rabbit.

But my favorite along with the Whale has to be the Elephant's Child, who 'was full of 'satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions'. His curiosity got him continual spankings from all his animal relatives, especially when he asked them 'what the Crocodile has for dinner!' Since they wouldn't answer, he went to 'the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River' and asked the crocodile in person. That's how the elephant's 'blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot' was stretched into a much more useful trunk, that elephants have to this day. Rudyard Kipling's timeless Just So Stories will be appreciated in different ways by all ages, and this audio version allows young and old to listen together.

Note: This review refers to an unabridged (70 mins) audiobook narrated by Boris Karloff, available from HarperChildrensAudio in CD or cassette versions. Boris Karloff does Kipling's remarkable use of language full justice, my only quibble being that his wide voice range is not ideal for listening in the car, as it's hard to hear at the low end.

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