Natalie Portman’s Fables by Natalie Portman, Ill. by Janna Mattia

Natalie Portman's Fables Cover


Goodreads: Natalie Portman’s Fables
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020


Natalie Portman retells three classic tales, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.”

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Natalie Portman’s Fables is a welcome update to three classic stories: “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.” Portman writes these fables for a new generation not only by adding more female characters, but also by inserting some more contemporary morals, such as eating healthy and being good to the environment. However, despite good intentions and charming illustrations, Natalie Portman’s Fables ultimately falls flat due to the sometimes almost unreadable verse.

Rhyming couplets are difficult for anyone to write with skill, and, sadly, Portman does not show herself equal to the task in this book. She encounters common difficulties with the medium almost from the start, forcing rhymes by writing nonsense or adding in lines that do not flow naturally from the current information and plot points given to the reader. She also fails abysmally to keep any sense of meter for the entire book.

These fatal flaws are evident in the very opening of the first tale, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” where Portman begins by referring to a number of collected animals as “townsimals,” but then, two lines later, seems to refer to all the animals as “apes” as in, “They cheered to find out who was the greatest great ape,” for the sole purpose of rhyming with “grapes.” The verse does not improve from there, with the fable containing lines that vary erratically from 10 to 11 to 12 syllables.

Even when Portman keeps her syllable count consistent, however, the meter is sometimes off. Readers who hoped to have this book as a read-aloud for young children will be stymied by verses such as:

“Tortoise took her sweet time, but enjoyed every step.

When she passed the finish line, the townsimals wept.

‘We never thought a poor, burdened, old reptile

Could outpace a winner, mile after mile.””

“The Tortoise and the Hare” in Natalie Portman’s Fables

The sense of rhythm in lines such as these is so completely lacking, that one wonders how an editor could not have begged Portman to do some revision.

Aside from the excruciating verse, the book is charming enough. Readers will likely be delighted to see that Portman worked to make the fables more equal in gender representation. She also adds some morals of her own to the tales, showing the three little pigs to be poor homeowners, not only because they are too lazy to build a good home, but also because they are slovenly, addicted to junk food, and wasteful. Ultimately, however, the best part of the book may be the illustrations, which have a pleasing, old-fashioned feeling appropriate for the subject matter.

Natalie Portman’s Fables has a sound premise and could have been a defining book for today’s young readers, whose parents undoubtedly would have welcomed some more inclusive tales. Unfortunately, however, the verse is so poorly written that most probably will not want to read this book a second time.

3 Stars