Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

by William Steig


Sylvester Duncan the donkey loved to collect pebbles. One rainy day, he found a shiny, red pebble and wished it would stop raining. The rain immediately stopped and Sylvester concluded that his pebble must be magic. On his way home to show his parents, Sylvester runs into a lion and accidentally turns himself into a rock. Because he wasn't able to touch the magic pebble, he couldn't wish himself back into a donkey. He remains a rock for a year until his family goes on a picnic, finds the pebble, put it on top of Sylvester the rock (who they're using as a table) and he wishes himself back.

Literary Elements

The illustrations help to develop the story. The style of the illustrations matches the style of the story. The plot is accuratly represented by the illustrations because all the illustrations depict what is happening in the story at that moment. They help the audience to better understand what is happening. Sylvester's character is also better developed through the illustrations. They allow the audience to see what a happy, carefree little donkey he was before turning into a rock. This also ties into the setting because the story when Sylvester has given up hope of being a donkey again and is lonely, the illustrations show Sylvester the rock in a depressing winter scene. The illustrations also allow the audience to see that Sylvester's story is set in a small, peaceful town. The theme, the importance of family, is also accurately represented because the illustrations show how much Sylvester's family misses him, and the joy of them all being reunited.

Physical Features

The book itself is of average shape, very large and hardcover, which makes it easier for young readers to grasp. The front and endpaper is just white, aside from some library stamps, which is good for young readers who might not have the patience to look at things before the story starts. The paper is pretty thick and durable, which is great for kids who can sometimes be a bit rough with books.

Visual Elements

Almost all the illustrations in the book are done in bright, happy colors. The focus is always on the characters and what they're doing, and less on the background. The viewer is always looking at the scenes from the outside. In the rain scene, diagonal lines are used to show the motion of the rain. The illustration on the top left shows Sylvester with his magic pebble.The colors are very vivid and the sun is very bright. This helps to portray the calm, peaceful mood of the scene. The large tree, some indents in the ground, the pebbles, and Sylvester himself are all drawn with thicker, darker black lines, which helps convey their strength and permanence. The flowers are drawn without any black lines at all, which shows how fragile and impermanent that are. The illustration on the bottom right show Sylvester being reunited with his family. His parents are all wearing really loud colors that represent how joyful they are. The dad's jacket is bright yellow and green stripped and he is dancing, which emphasizes his happiness. In addition, the sun is exploding into a bunch of colors to further convey the joy in the illustration. All three of the donkeys were drawn with thicker, black lines and look like they have a fluffy texture. In this scene, the flowers were also drawn with heavy, dark lines which could represent that the joy and beauty in the scene is here to stay. This illustration really represents that family is important.

Artistic Style

The illustrations are very cartoonish. The book was written for children to read, so it makes sense that the illustrations show donkeys and pigs wearing clothes and walking around on two legs. In the real world, animals walk on all fours and we don't have magic pebbles, but having an unrealistic plot and illustrations that match appeals to children.

Artistic Media

William Steig used watercolors for the illustrations. This contributes to the overall meaning because the vivid colors help portray a happy, creative, optimistic view throughout the story.

Elements of Illustration

The illustrations are framed with white. The text is also on the white parts, probably to keep it legible. The book has a fair amount of text, but it's large enough to be good for younger readers. The story and the pictures are both arranged chronologically and the when you turn the pages, you're moving farther into the story. This makes it easy for the audience to read the story and keep up with the plot and helps prevent them from getting lost or confused.

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Interplay of Text and Illustrations

The text and illustration work together because the illustrations depict exactly what is happening in the story. When Sylvester meets a lion and turns into a rock, the audience sees him as a donkey, and then as a rock. When his family is looking for him, the audience sees his parents asking all the neighborhood kids and talking to the police. This makes it easy to follow the plot and understand what is happening.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was always one of my favorite stories as a child and it was really interesting to see how big of a role the illustrations played into the story. My favorite part is still when Sylvester panics and becomes a rock because I still question what made him think of a rock when he got scared, and because that sounds like the kind of mistake I would make :)