Aesopic Satire

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Cameron reviews a hilarious collection of fable-ish short stories by David Sedaris and suggests they might be perfect reading for teachers who need a laugh break during a hectic season.

Aesopic Satire

by Cameron Brooks

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The first time I heard David Sedaris on the radio was back in college while making the annual pilgrimage home for the winter break. His signature hyponasal tone wove a wry tale about a temp job at Macy's in New York City during the holiday shopping season, from his acclaimed book, Santaland Diaries. As an elf named Crumpet, his uniform includes "green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles." That winter, David Sedaris found his place atop my list of favorite satirists, where he remains today.

Sedaris' latest book of short stories, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, presents anthropomorphic kinship between unlikely lovers, friends, and acquaintances. In "The Mouse and the Snake," a rodent develops an obsessive relationship with her pet corn snake (a doomed affair). When the proud mouse presents her unusual pet to friends, Sedaris describes her feelings as "exotic, really, which was different from eccentric."

Through the eyes of a widowed bird of prey, the reader gets an objective view of avian family dysfunction. In "The Grieving Owl," the protagonist frankly describes his family's ignorance, when he says, "It's not just that they're stupid, my family -- that I could forgive. It's that they're actively against knowledge -- opposed to it the way that cats, say, are opposed to swimming, or turtles have taken a stand against mountain climbing." Faunal perspectives make excruciatingly awkward and taboo situations normal.

Each fable begins with a whimsical, yet stirring illustration by celebrated author and illustrator Ian Falconer, known for the Oliva children's book series. Falconer's emotional, simple black, white, and orange illustrations introduce Sedaris's animal world, where nothing is sacred.

During the homestretch before winter break, David Sedaris's Aesopic satire offers hilarious respite from the chaos. For teachers who appreciate dry wit, the 16 fables (each under 15 pages) are perfect when time is in short supply.