The African Orchestra
Illus. Joan Rankin
Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana Media, 2016. Unpaged.
(Picture book; ages 7–11)
Some picture books sing from their pages, and this one does more because it contains an exaltation, in words and art, of the music of Africa. The author and illustrator, who work as a team, conjure out of these glowing pages, first, the natural sounds of
Cicadas, crickets, beetles and frogs, seedpods, cocoons, hollowed out logs. Crackling fires, the patter of rain, thundering hooves on the African plain.
Then come the musical instruments of Africa: seedpod rattles, the click of fingers, river reed flute, lute, drums, and singers. Until we round off with the “song of the stars.” You can hear the pictures! Essentially, this is a read-aloud book with which eager listeners will clamor to examine every illustration again and again. The African Orchestra is a new classic, a proud and shining light for South African children’s literature to show off to the world.
In the beginning, when all things began, these were the sounds which were music to man.
Jay Heale [End Page 19]
Are You Sitting Comfortably?
London: Bloomsbury, 2016.
(Picture book; ages under 5)
“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…” were words that under-fives during the 1950s in the UK waited excitedly to hear. That question heralded the start of “Listen with Mother,” a radio program that transported young listeners into fantasy worlds. This picture book’s delightful visuals were not available all those years ago, yet they focus on the importance of finding a special place to share a story. On the title page, a young boy perches in his “crocodile” chair, sharing a book with his cat—a special moment, enhanced by warm autumnal colors. As the story unfolds, he searches for a quiet place to sit “just for a bit”; somewhere that is “comfy” but not “buzzy…fuzzy…grimy… slimy,” “not hot” or “too cold.” Each page shows the young protagonist somewhat bemused as he encounters unusual places to read his book: in a dark forest, next to a giant’s foot, near a smelly dustbin, or even up with the stars. He also meets numerous animals—including a crocodile, a fox, a mouse, a frog, a lion, and a polar bear—who become his friends and finally help him realize that “it doesn’t matter where you sit” because “a book is best when you share.”
New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. Unpaged.
(Picture book; ages 4+)
This folktale celebrates the power of storytelling in traditional Morocco and comments on what might happen if society ignores its storytellers. It opens with a double-page map of the Mediterranean and Sahara regions, where the story is set, with Morocco highlighted in red. It follows the conventional opening of folktales, contextualizing the culture as it introduces the conflict—a kingdom that takes for granted its storytelling tradition and the ensuing consequences. This kingdom flourishes when storytelling and storytellers play a significant role in the people’s lives, but it later changes after people became complacent and stopped caring about the storytellers. The kingdom loses its water fountains and gradually converts into a desert until one boy in dire need of water encounters an old storyteller.
This uplifting story cautions about the importance of stories in human lives. Though set in Morocco, its universal theme resonates across cultures, as communities wrestle with the changing landscape of oral storytelling practices in the context of modern technology. The gorgeous illustrations appeal even after the verbal narrative ends. This book highlights one of Africa’s most prized traditions, storytelling, reminding readers of its relevance today and of the necessity of passing on the tradition to the young.
Vivian Yenika-Agbaw [End Page 37]
Every Day is Malala Day
Rosemary McCarney with Plan International
Oxford, UK: New Internationalist, 2016. 32 pp.
(Picture book; ages 3+)
Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai became a symbol of determination and hope when she...