Basic Plot Summary: During the summer, while the ants are busy gathering food and preparing for winter, the grasshopper spends his time playing his fiddle and singing. When winter comes, the grasshopper is hungry and cold and asks the ants for food and shelter. The ants refuse, telling him that he wasted the time he should have spent on preparing for winter so he is on his own now.
Originally presented as one of Aesop’s fables, this morality tale was controversial even in its own time, with some people supporting the ants’ diligent work ethic and others criticizing them for not showing charity and compassion. The story has been adapted for paintings, animated short films, opera and television. It has been used in different political campaigns as well, which makes sense when you consider that the fundamental conflict here can be boiled down to a conservative versus liberal viewpoint. I like the Disney version, in which the grasshopper learns that he has some responsibility to provide for himself and others, while the ants show kindness to him and appreciate the music he plays for them. It provides some nice balance to the story.
The Ant and the Grasshopper – Author/illustrator Amy Lowry Poole sets the story in China, where she lived for four years. The ant and grasshopper live on the grounds of the Emperor’s Summer Palace and the grasshopper spends his time watching the royal family’s activities and playing music. At the end of the story, the Emperor’s family leaves for the Winter Palace, the ants go into their home and Grasshopper is left alone to think about his choices. A note in the back of the book explains more about the Chinese customs described in the story as well as how the beautiful artwork was made with ink and gouache with Chinese brushes on rice paper. It’s a unique and very lovely version of the story. (Holiday House, 2000)
The Grasshopper’s Song – In a truly interesting take, Nikki Giovanni takes these characters to court, where we get to hear both sides of their story. The Grasshopper feels that he is owed respect for his art and the Ants feel they owe him nothing, as there was no contract in place. Chris Raschka has never been a big favorite of mine, but I love his watercolor illustrations here, which illustrate the courtroom drama in a palette of warm autumn colors. This one will make you rethink the original fable. (Candlewick Press, 2008)
Ant and Grasshopper – In a similar vein, Luli Gray sympathizes with the grasshopper here, too, making Ant a Scrooge-like miser who spends all his time counting his riches instead of enjoying life, as Grasshopper does. In the end, Ant shares his riches with Grasshopper, who has shared his music and happiness with him. The watercolor and colored pencil illustrations from Giuliano Ferri play up the changing of the seasons, especially as winter comes in. I really like the way the story is presented here. (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2011)
Who’s Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? – Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison teamed up with her son, Slade Morrison, to write the Who’s Got Game? series of books, which explored Aesop’s fables from a new angle. This one sets the story in urban New York and christens them Kid A and Foxy G. The story is told in a loose rhyme that bounces around and never really settles on a strict meter, which is a little awkward to read, but seems to suit these characters brilliantly and the illustrations are in panels, with artwork from Pascal Lemaitre. The ending here is left entirely ambiguous so determining who was in the right is all up to you. Definitely a compelling take on the story. (Scribner, 2003)
And what did we learn? What I take away from The Ant and the Grasshopper is that hard work is valuable and important, but so is taking the time to enjoy life and create joy for others.