ANANSI AND THE MAGIC STICK retold by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Janet Stevens


Anansi is a lazy spider who does not want to clean his yard and his house like the other animals do. They pester him until he goes to rest elsewhere. Anansi comes across Hyena’s house, which is neat and tidy even though Hyena doesn’t seem to do much work. Anansi hides to discover Hyena’s secret, a magic stick that keeps everything tidy with the use of some magic words. Anansi steals the stick, but his magic soon goes awry, first making a mess of everyone else’s yards and then flooding the whole area. Anansi is finally able to make the magic stick stop, and Hyena takes it back. All the other animals enjoy swimming in their new lake.


Anansi is the archetypal trickster. The other animals are undeveloped characters that only exist to be victimized by Anansi. All the characters are animals, and the only specified gender is male.

The plot is simple and predictable, except that there are never any repercussions for Anansi’s actions. At the end of the book, he is just as content as in the beginning. In a way, that is a satisfying resolution. Anansi’s mischief is never so heinous that the reader wants to see him punished.

The setting could be any rural place where animals are keeping house. The huts alone are reminiscent of foreign places. The animals are African, so most readers would likely assume that the story takes place in Africa. There is a crushed Tropicana juice carton trashing up Anansi’s yard in one scene. It is unclear whether Tropicana distributes internationally, but its presence, along with the lawn chairs, tires, and water wings, does indicate a modern setting.

Good does not necessarily triumph over evil in this tale. At best, good has a new swimming hole and was able to reclaim lost property. Evil, in this retelling, is more mischievous than malicious, and pays no price.

Magic is a major motif in the story. It is Anansi’s unsanctioned use of the magic stick that drives the plot. The magic words provide a nice repetition and rhyme through the story.

The illustrations are colorful and interesting and reveal more about the setting than the text does. The illustrations do not add much to characterization or plot, besides the quirky additions of bathing caps and sunglasses on animals, which is always entertaining. The animals’ facial features are less anthropomorphized in these illustrations than in other animal stories, which might be the reason that the illustrations seem to contribute so little to characterization. There is nothing about the illustration that indicates Liberia as the country of origin for this story.


Janet Stevens’s “comic creatures with their surprised expressions add kid appeal” (Publishers Weekly 2001).

The slapstick humor that is created when the trickster becomes a victim of his own trick “is a lot of fun, and preschoolers will want to join in the rhythmic chant” (Rochman 2001).

Related Books




PIG-BOY by Gerald McDermott

(Other ANANSI books retold by Eric A. Kimmel)


Make a simple spider web! (Don’t teach the spider any magic words!)



Dotson, Chazley. “Craft Ideas for Children’s Librarians.” Accessed September 1, 2015.

Kimmel, Eric A., and Janet Stevens. 2001. ANANSI AND THE MAGIC STICK. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 978-0823417636

Publishers Weekly. 2001.

Rochman, Hazel. 2001. Booklist as qtd. on Amazon.


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