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Aesop's Fables by Fable

     Aesop's fables are excellent for exercises on comparing two versions of the same basic text. This page collects those assignments, and also MS Word documents from my workshop where several versions are collected, often analyzed, but not all are used. You are free to use anything from them.

The Hare and the Tortoise
     These versions were collected in an MS Word document, where many of them were analyzed. Some of these appear below; some do not. You are welcome to use what is in that document.

The Hare and the Tortoise (Ernest Rhys' Version) AK IG1 ToC
Doc Doc-AK
The Hare and the Tortoise (Edward Detmold's Version) AK IG1 ToC
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Oliver Herford's Verse Version AK IG1 ToC
Doc Doc-AK

Writing Assignments for "The Hare and the Tortoise"

1. You've read the play by Augusta Stevenson and three versions of the fable. Now, without looking at any of them, write your own version of "The Hare and the Tortoise."

2. Write a comparison of the four versions--the play, the poem, and the two prose versions. (You can look at the texts and take notes as you do this.) In it try to answer the following questions. 

a.) In addition to the Hare and the Tortoise, each version includes one or more other animal characters. The play is really different here. Why might Stevenson have made such a change?
b.) In each version, what gender (male or female) is the Hare? The Tortoise? Quoting specific words, what evidence do you have for the gender of each? Can you think of any reason why the writers would make them different genders?
c.) Two versions include a "Moral" at the end. Why don't the other two,? What differences are there in the two that have a moral.
d.) Which version do you like the best? Why? Which do you like the least? Why? (Give at least one specific reason for each.)
Notes for Teachers on
Four Versions of Aesop’s “The Hare and the Tortoise”

     How you use this material is, of course, up to you. I would suggest that at a minimum you use either Rhys' or Detmold's version because they both put speaker tags in parentheses and even though they will not be responsible for this in first grade, it is something new for them. At this point in the course, each of these analytical exercises should take students five minutes or less. You'll note that I did not set Herford's version up as an analytical exercise. In part, that is because I could not simplify the sentence structure of the poem. You may, however, want to use that version for a discussion of rhyme and meter.
     You also may want to have the students perform the play and draw their own illustrations for any of the versions. (Stevenson probably used "birdies" instead of the fox so that all the class members who are not the other characters can be the birdies in the play.) Stevenson, by the way, emphasizes the importance of oral work in class, and I strongly agree. You might want to have students read the other three versions aloud as well. In their first (silent) reading, make sure that the students know the meanings of all the words. 

The Ass in the Lion's Skin
The Ass in the Lion's Skin (Townsend) AK ToC - Style
The Ass in the Lion's Skin (Caldecott) AK ToC - Style

Writing Assignment on
Two Versions of Aesop's "The Ass in the Lion's Skin"

     Identify as many differences as you can between Caldecott's  translation and Townsend's translation of "The Ass in the Lion's Skin." To support your comparison, you should include vocabulary -- are there any words that students younger than you might not understand? If so, what are they? How many of them are there? Quote important words from each version. Be sure to put these words in quotation marks.
     Also explain differences in sentence structure:

1. What is the difference in words per main clause in each selection?
2. Which version uses more subordinate clauses? Verbals? Appositives? Post-Positioned Adjectives? Noun Absolutes?
3. Which version uses more passive voice?
Are there any differences in what happens in each version, or in how the animals are portrayed? (Are they active or passive?) Does each version have a moral? Are the morals the same?
     Based on what you have found, which version might be better for younger students to read?

Notes for Teachers on
Two Versions of Aesop’s “The Ass in the Lion's Skin”

     The basic objective of this assignment is to get the students to see and explain differences in the text – in content as well as in grammar. The following suggests what some older students might be able to write. Much less, of course, would be expected of younger students.

Should Young Students Read Caldecott’s or Townsend’s
Version of Aesop’s “The Ass in the Lion’s Skin”?

     Read, read, read. There is too much to read, especially when there are two or more translations of the same basic texts. Both Alfred Caldecott and George Tyler Townsend have translated Aesop’s fables, but the translations differ significantly in both style and content. If we want to give just one version to primary school students, perhaps it should be Caldecott’s.
     Caldecott may have used more words that primary school students might not know, words such as “whisked,” “cudgel,” and “drubbing.” In Townsend’s version, “wanderings” and “bray” might be new to a few students, but none of the words in either text should be too troublesome to young students, and all would be good additions to their vocabularies.
     Although the vocabulary in the two versions is almost equal in difficulty, the sentence structure of Townsend’s version is much more complex, and thus probably more appropriate for middle school students. Both texts consist of two sentences, but Caldecott breaks these into five main clauses. With 63 words in the text, these main clauses average 12.6 words per main clause. Townsend’s 67-word text consists of three main clauses that average 22.3 words per main clause. At almost twice the length of Caldecott’s main clauses, Townsend’s may be more difficult for young students to read.
     The length of Townsend’s main clauses results from the subordinate clauses which may add to the confusion of some primary school students. Caldecott’s version has only one subordinate clause—“who had dressed himself up in a Lion’s skin.” Although this clause does separate the main subject (“Ass”) from its verb (“was mistaken”), most primary school schools can probably process it fairly easily. In Townsend’s text, on the other hand, an adjectival clause appears at the end of the first sentence, but in this position it is easily processed. But the other three subordinate clauses create a triple embedding -- the final “if” clause is embedded in the “I might” clause that is the direct object of “exclaimed,” and the “he exclaimed” is in a “than” clause. Even more difficult, these three clauses are embedded in a 27-word main clause that is itself the second main clause in its sentence. In that last main clause, in other words, students have to process four subject/verb patterns. That is a lot, even for professional writing.
     Verbals also complicate Townsend’s text. There are no verbals in Caldecott’s text; there are four in Townsend’s. The gerund (“frightening”) that functions as the object of a preposition should not cause a problem. Neither will the infinitive (“to frighten”) that functions as the direct object of “tried.” But there are two gerundive phrases—“having put on the Lion’s skin” and “At last coming upon a Fox.” Gerundives are, in effect, shortened clauses – “An Ass, who had put on the Lion’s skin” and “At last he came upon a Fox.” Some researchers have suggested that many younger students need the full S/V/C pattern. They point to the fact that most middle school students, and even many high school students, do not use gerundives in their own writing. These gerundives, combined with the complex clause structure, almost certainly make Townsend’s text more difficult for many primary school students.
     The two texts also differ significantly in their use of passive voice, and the differences raise questions of who is responsible for what. Both translations use seven finite verb phrases. Of his seven, Townsend used only one passive verb. The fox exclaimed “I might have been frightened.” “Might haven been,” however, indicates he was not. In Townsend’s text, nothing and no one is passive—people (animals) are responsible for what they do.
     The three passive verbs in Caldecott’s version help imply that people may be subject to external (moral?) forces. Thus, in Caldecott’s version, the Ass actively dressed himself in a Lion’s skin, but he does not try to scare anyone. The passive (“was mistaken by people.”) implies that the Ass did not try to deceive, nor did the “people” actively “mistake” him. Something else is the cause here. (Townsend, on the other hand, has the Ass not only trying to frighten people, but amusing himself in so doing.) According to Caldecott, the Lion’s skin “was [passively] whisked off by a gust of wind,” thereby exposing the Ass. In Townsend’s text the Fox recognizes the Ass by the “sound of his voice.” The Ass’s own nature, and not some external force, exposes him such that “the Ass stood exposed.”
     Do Caldecott’s passive verbs suggest that his Ass, as compared to Townsend’s, is not seriously guilty of any offence? Or do they focus attention on one specific offence—pretending to be someone different than who one is? The only active voice verb associated with Caldecott’s Ass is “had dressed.” In Townsend, however, the Ass is the subject of the gerundive “having put on.” He is then the subject of the finite verbs “roamed” and “amused” (“himself”), and then of the gerund “frightening.” He also “tried to frighten” the Fox. Townsend’s Ass actively does bad things.
     How psychologically or morally serious one should be about these differences is a matter of debate, but readers, and especially many young readers, do subconsciously take moral and psychological ideas from what they read. Interestingly, Caldecott’s Ass, although he would seem to be less guilty than Townsend’s, receives physical punishment—a “sound drubbing,” by a group of men with “sticks and cudgels.” Townsend’s Ass, on the other hand, is simply recognized by the Fox for what he is—apparently with no one else around. Although they are supposedly translating the same fable, Caldecott and Townsend give reader two significantly different morals—“Pretend to be what you are not, and you can be (physically) punished,” and “Be a bully and try to scare people, and you may be exposed.”
     Currently, physical punishment of children is not approved of, but primary school children could probably read Caldecott’s version, with its easy sentence structure, without suffering psychological harm. They would also probably get the main lesson—do not pretend to be someone you are not. Townsend’s version, with its more complex sentence structure, would probably be more appropriate for middle school students. After all, middle school students would probably consider the threat of physical punishment to be a joke; they would be much more concerned about being exposed for what they are.