Anansi is a clever and very tricky spider. In Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, Anansi comes across a moss-covered rock in the forest and quickly discovers that the rock has magical powers. Each time he says the words, “Isn’t this a strange moss-covered rock,” Anansi is knocked out cold. Being as clever and tricky as he is, Anansi decides to use the rock’s magic for nefarious purposes. One by one, the mischievous spider lures his forest friends – Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Giraffe, and Zebra – for a walk into the woods and tricks each one into saying the words that activate the rock’s magical powers. KPOM! Each animal is knocked out, leaving Anansi plenty of time to steal yams, bananas, and other food from each animal’s home. However, Bush Deer sees what Anansi is up to, and she manages to turn the trick around and help the animals get all of their food back. Does Anansi learn his lesson? Being the trickster that he is, I think not!
According to award-winning author Eric Kimmel, Anansi is a regularly occurring character in folklore from West Africa and the Caribbean. Anansi has been known to the take the form of either a spider or a man. Kimmel has retold other Anansi tales, each illustrated by Janet Stevens, such as Anansi and the Magic Stick, Anansi and the Talking Melon, and Anansi Goes Fishing. Many of Kimmel’s books focus on fables, folktales, and myths, much like Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock.
This folktale takes place in a tropical forest where many different types of animals live. It seems likely that each animal represents a different personality type or human characteristic. The animals are illustrated in a realistic manner, but Lion, Elephant, and Bush Deer are shown in anthropomorphic positions several times throughout the story. Anansi is drawn to look like an actual spider without any extra characteristics to make him look particularly bad natured. “Stevens’ complementary, colorful illustrations add detail, humor, and movement to the text. Here, Anansi is portrayed as a large eight-legged arachnid; his expression is in his motion” (Salvadore 1988). Although many folks find spiders to be scary or creepy, it is relatively safe to say that Anansi does not look exceptionally so. This is a potential discussion opportunity to have with children in terms of bad people not always appearing a certain way.
The magical rock is a familiar motif in folktales, such as in my review of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. In this case, it serves as the catalyst for the conflict. Devious Anansi sees only how he can benefit from the moss-covered rock and not how he can use it to help others or even help himself without harming others. This is, in a sense, a tale of good versus evil. Jamaican-born artist Michael Auld shares many stories and interpretations of Anansi at his website, Anansi Stories. According to Auld, Anansi is used frequently in the Jamaican culture as a tool for teaching lessons of morality. “Through Anansi the Spider-man, we children learned that ‘might was not always right ‘. We learned that, although we were small, we could use our brains to solve any problem” (Auld 2007).
For extension activities in the classroom or at a library, have children create a reader’s theater version of Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock. Although props are not needed for reader’s theater, it may have fun for the children to color and cut out animal shapes, glue them to craft sticks, and use them as puppets during the reader’s theater. Using a prop may help bashful children feel braver, and also adds an artistic element to the extension activity.
Auld, Michael. 2007. “About the Anansi Stories artist.” Anansi Stories. http://anansistories.com/About_the_artist.html. Accessed September 19, 2013.
Kimmel, Eric. 2013. “Read About Eric!” Eric A. Kimmel. http://ericakimmel.com/read-about-eric/. Accessed September 18, 2013.
Salvadore, Maria B. Review of Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, Eric Kimmel. School Library Journal, November 1, 1988. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:2125/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|92965|60950&mc=USA#. Accessed September 19, 2013.