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Rationale - Re-telling - Translation - Activities - Reflection

Language: German  (also published in English, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedsh & Faeroe).
Title:Aufstand der Tiere oder Die neuen Stadmusikanten (The Animals Rebellion)
Author: Müller J. & Steiner J.
Publisher: Saltzberg (1989)
ISBN: 3-7941-3103-7
Chosen by: Denise von Stockar
Research Assistant, Institut Suisse de Littérature pour la Jeunesse, Foundation Johanna Spyri, Antenne Romande: 1095, Lutry, Cret-de-Plan 39, Zurich, Switzerland.

Rationale for choosing the book:
This graphically remarkable picture book in black and cool, aggressive neon colours (reminding us of a 'TV' clip) goes far beyond the traditional pre-school universe of its genre, addressing itself to school children, adolescents and adults. 'The Animals Rebellion' is of great interest for a European picture book collection because it reflects, in an original way, a dominant contemporary state of mind throughout European culture.
Presenting itself as a telecast, the book develops a very complex play of different publicity and media impregnated levels of perception, needs and dreams of modern (human) beings. Based on a traditional tale 'The Travelling Musicians' of the Brothers Grimm, this brilliant parable tells about the relativity of human experiences in our multimedia and consumers' society. It stages, in the hyper-realistic scenery of a big Western city, an individual's rebellion and resistance against exploitation and betrayal. The innovative classical adventure thus turns out to be a story about escaping, breaking cherished illusions and yet disintegrating any concept of reality and freedom. 'The Travelling Musicians' offers, therefore, an unusual platform for critical reflections and questions about our society, stimulating young readers to become more conscious about the influence of publicity and electronic media.

Four discontented advertising animals - the WWF panda, sportswear crocodile, refrigerator penguin and sun glasses owl - decide one night to leave their very unsatisfactory publicity life in the hope of realising, in Disneyland, their personal dreams of becoming famous solo artists of classical, popular, rock or dance music. On their way they break through the window into a big TV studio, where they cause considerable trouble, not so much because of their actual presence, but simply for disturbing the ongoing tele-programme...
The director of the studio talks the popular animals into a show contract with the Television company, promising them immediate success and fame. Only the panda, however, decides against this media career; he wants to look for real life. He disappears behind the tele-scenery onto the dark road. In the last picture, the lonely independent artist watches his three friends playing and singing on three flickering tele-screens, through the window of a TV shop ... But is not he, himself on screen, too?

Translation (Pages 1-6):
For many years, hard-working, thoughtful Owl had helped to spread the name of Lucas Tute Glasses throughout the world, but now the firm was diversifying and wanted her to advertise books as well. This was just too much for Owl, who felt that she was already overworked and underpaid. Her feathers were completely ruffled.enough was enough. 'It's time to look after Number One' she thought. 'I'm going to leave advertising and find some other employment.' She knew just how to do this. She would follow the route taken by The Bremen Town Musicians but, just to make sure that she was right, she decided to read Grimm's fairy tale again.

When Owl had finished reading, she realised that she would need some help. 'If I could find some friends, we could run away together and make a better life. I can't be the only one who is fed up with being a trade mark'. So she looked round her office, took a deep breath and shouted ' Friends! Animals! Trademarks! Lend me your ears! I've got an idea that might help you to improve your lives.'

From the bottom drawer of a desk came a yawning, sleepy voice. 'Hey, what are you doing? Don't you know that the best sleep you can get is before mid-night? Sometimes it's a pity that certain animals can talk', complained the Save the World panda.
'Quite the reverse', retorted Owl, 'You must have command of speech to be master of your own destiny. You've been Save the World's emblem for so long that you've probably forgotten how to save yourself. Why don't you try to stand on your own two feet and come with me?'
'To tell you the truth,' sighed Panda, 'my life's been a bit miserable lately. Only yesterday, I heard the director tell her secretary that she was getting fed up with that mangey panda', and his big eyes began to fill with tears.
'The solution is obvious', whispered Owl. 'We can't keep pretending that our lives are wonderful, it's time to seek our fortune elsewhere.

'Hey', said a loud voice. 'If we're talking about escape, count me in!'
A pair of crocodile jaws rose up from the drafting table.
'My company's trying to get rid of me and I think they're going to sell me as soon as they get the chance. I've been advertising shirts for 20 years but they have no respect for all the work I have done for them.'
'There's no gratitude in the world' agreed Owl. ' So let's stick together.'

'Yes, but what is this Dizzyland?' Panda asked nervously. 'Isn't it just another advertising gimmick?' 'Poppycock' said Owl. 'Disneyland is a wonderful place and we'll feel really at home there. At last we'll be appreciated.'
The others agreed, so they made plans to escape that very night.

'That's easier said than done', worried Panda. 'What will happen to us in a strange place where nobody knows us? How will we find food and somewhere to live?' 'It's all here in this book,' answered Owl confidently. 'Naturally, I'll have to change the story a little bit . Why don't we move to Disneyland to become musicians?' 'What a brilliant idea', squeaked the Coolit Refrigerator penguin, from a poster on the wall. 'Freezers leave me cold, I think that I was born for better things'.

NB This is a working translation for educational purpose only.

Activities for use in school:
1) A Comparative Study
Read 'The Animals Rebellion' and Grimm's 'The Travelling Musicians' with the children and help them compare the traditional folk tale with its very modern revision. Similarities and differences in content and style should be worked out in order to define and discuss the difference of the messages in the two versions of the same story.

2) A 'philosophical' unit about the concepts of dream and reality (The level, of course, depends on the age of the children)
Consider the following questions:
What is the 'reality' of the advertising animals? What are their dreams?
How real are the dreams they realise, thanks to the contract with the TV company?
What is the difference between the reality of the three animals becoming TV stars and the Panda who leaves this mass media world intentionally?
What is the 'real life' for which the Panda searches?
Has the Panda found his real life?
What is real life for you? What is reality, what is virtual reality for you?

3) Creative Dramatics
Get the children to dress up as one of the four advertising animals and ask them to act out the adventure they live in Müller/Steiner's picture book, while looking for 'real life' and trying to realise their dreams.
Ask the children to represent a figure of their own choice and to act out the quest for their own personal dream.

Reflection: Can fantasy reflect reality?

NB Further literature and language-based activities can be found in
Picture Books sans Frontières
available from or

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ncrcl November 2004