So far this is a short list (any recommendations...?) And do the Babar books count?? Hmmmm... How about Curious George?
Written by Eboni Bynum & Roland Jackson
Illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite
A fascinating folk tale set in a West African village, where a young child named Jamari learns a sacred drum rhythm that keeps his village safe from disaster... When he grows to be a man, though, he forgets about the duty that was passed on to him by one of the village elders, and rather than take up his place as a musical griot, he gets enmeshed in more mundane, "real world" activities, like farming and raising a family. When the earth actually does open up and the skies turn black (volcano), Jamari remembers what old Baba Mdogo had taught him, and he sits down n the town square and beats out the rhythm that makes the mountain calm. The story is nice, evoking nature and hidden mystical powers that surround us, as well as a reverence for "the old ways..." This is matched by the expressive imagery, a brightly colored folk art style that is quite appealing. Although the traditional tribal life depicted here is clearly endangered by modernity and consumer culture, it's still nice to explore the agrarian lifestyle of the villagers. It's distant from the culture of most children's books and a nice breath of fresh air... Also, it's neither exoticized nor overly idealized, so the story has a pureness about it that's kind of nice. Definitely worth checking out, espeically if you have any interest in drumming and percussion... it's a lot of fun reading the drum beats aloud! (B+)
Written by Niki Daly
Illustrated by Niki Daly
(Henry Holt & Co., 2007)
Little Red Riding Hood, as adapted for urban African climes... Here, the innocent child is played by a Ghanaian girl named Salma, who is asked by her granny to run an errand in the marketplace, and told not to talk with strangers. Instead of a wolf, we get Mr. Dog, a particularly sleazy-looking, anthropomorphized character, dressed in a ratty tank top shirt and cut-off shorts, who oozily offers to help Salma carry her basket, then steals both the food and her clothes. Then, dressed in drag, he heads for Granny's house, to do the old lady in. Salma runs to her grandfather, who helps chase Mr. Dog back to "the wild side of town." The visual glimpse into a modern African setting, particularly a vibrant city, is interesting, although the underlaying message of the Riding Hood legend is still pretty creepy, even moreso when taken out of the distant, pastoral, fairytale woods and placed into a more gritty, tangible urban setting. The sense of menace is more literal and more real -- this book would be good to use as a springboard for a "don't talk to strangers" lecture, or for an exploration of African culture, but it may be a little too intense for younger readers. (B-)
"The First Bear In Africa!"
Written by Satomi Ichikawa
Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
This book has a brisk, involving narrative that will draw small kids in, although I do feel a little queasy about the cultural politics, which have more than a slight whiff of colonialism about them... The story is simple -- the narrator is a young boy named Meto who lives on the African savannah, in a small goat-herding village. One day some tourists come by on safari, take a bunch of snapshots and then leave. Meto meets a little girl who is carrying a teddy bear, which piques his curiousity, since he has never seen such an animal and doesn't know what it is called. When the safari packs up and leaves, the bear gets left behind and Meto dashes across the plains, racing to catch up to the little girl before her plane leaves and her bear is forever lost. Along the way he has a series of Jungle Book-ish encounters with various animals (lions, elephants, hippos, giraffes) before making it to the plane where a grateful little girl gives him a hug and a piece of ribbon as thanks. The thing that troubles me about this book is the aptness with which it mirrors the post-colonial relationship of the developed world to Africa: wealthy outsiders come, have their fun and leave when they want to, doing little to improve the lives of the people they gawk at and take pictures of... On top of which, the little boy has to go to great lengths to make the little girl (possibly Asian, possibly European) happy... and god forbid that he should be able to keep or have a fancy, manufactured product like a teddy bear! No, those kids living in mud huts are so happy if you just give them a bit a ribbon, or some shiny beads or something like that. Oh, alright, maybe I'm just being a crabby, too-serious, Berkeley-based killjoy, but that was my initial reaction to this book, and it wasn't eased much by repeat readings. Other than that, it's kind of nice -- cool artwork and an okay text.
(For crankypants Berkeley people: (C)
(For less persnicketty readers: (B)
Written by Flora McDonnell
Illustrated by Flora McDonnell
Not much of a plot -- the animals on the savannah are hot, and they go play in the water hole to cool off -- but the artwork is big, bright and immediately captivating. The gigantic pictures of the elephants, tiger and rhino eat up all the space in this extra-large layouts: they are BIG. The text is so minimal that this book won't have much shelf life beyond the earlier toddler days, but if you get it in at just the right time, wheeeeeeeee!! (B)
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