No, we’re not headed to Africa, although it does rank pretty high on my list of places I’d like to visit. 🙂 We have been reading about Africa, though, as a part of our history curriculum (in case you missed it, we use Story of the World, and we’re working our way through volume one this year). There is no shortage of West African folktales at our library, so we’ve been enjoying lots of them this week. I thought I’d share our favorites today.
There are a couple of Anansi stories in Story of the World, so reading this picture book with my girls simply added trickster tale to their repertoire. I’ll confess that I don’t always enjoy folktales, but this one did make me laugh. Something about the wily spider, Anansi, tricking all those huge African animals, and then being tricked himself by the little bush deer–it’s the perfect ironic resolution. I think it’s the illustrations that really make this book a winner for me. The two-page spread with the rhino, hippo, giraffe, and zebra, all lying prostrate before the “strange moss-covered rock” elicited audible laughter from me. I’ll be quicker to snatch up Eric Kimmel’s other books (there are quite a few!) now, and when I see that Janet Stevens is the illustrator, I’ll know to expect good things. My girls really enjoyed this one, too–and how could they not, when their mother so obviously did?
Too Much Talk by Angela Shelf Medearis is another funny folktale. This one is about a farmer who is frightened when the yam he is digging begins speaking to him. What follows is a succession of animals and inanimate objects talking. Each time, the person spoken to is frightened and responds with an “Aiyeee!” (This is a lot of fun to say–try it!) The ending is quite humorous. Stefano Vitale’s illustrations add a lot of “flavor” to the story. They were made using oil paints on wood, and to my untrained eye they look very authentically African. They also make this story stand out from the other folktales we read.
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema was a pleasant surprise for me. I like it because it’s written as a cumulative nursery rhyme in the style of “The House That Jack Built.” That’s just fun. Plus, the repetitive nature of this particular rhyme makes it easier to follow this unfamiliar story. Beatriz Vidal‘s illustrations are also worth mentioning. I’m not sure what medium she used for them, but they also evoke the feeling of the African plain. I like them a lot. 🙂
So, there you have it–a trip to western Africa that’s as cheap as a trip to your local library! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention in this post that Sherry of Semicolon is collecting picture books for an orphanage in Zambia. Click over to read about this wonderful ministry opportunity for us book lovers!
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