New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. out of print,
Note: As she waits for her baby to be born, a young woman from Mali describes some of the sights and sounds of her homeland as she creates a beautiful b=g=lan cloth for her child.
I highly recommend this book for use as a story book for pre-school
children and to stimulate discussion for children ages 5-8. This is a
well-presented, attractive, un-numbered, hardback picture book. Each page
is fully illustrated with clear, attractive, bordered pictures. The
first-person story of a Malian B=g=lan (mud cloth) artist develops through
the book, which takes us from her childhood to the arrival of her own
baby. The process of B=g=lan cloth painting is described in detail, and
the starkness of the black and white B=g=lan borders contrasts well with
the sumptuous colours of the main pictures. The book draws a nice parallel
between the artistic creation of B=g=lan cloth with the birth of a baby.
The process of B=g=lan painting is portrayed in a way that will catch a
child's imagination and could be used to stimulate project work in a
Nakunte Diarra is the child of a Malian B=g=lan painter. We are told that
black and white B=g=lan cloth is used for special occasions. The first 6
pages describe her childhood as she learns the craft from her mother and
becomes a craftswoman herself. Then we are introduced to the fact that she
has married and is expecting her own baby. She starts work on a special
B=g=lan cloth for her baby. Over the next pages we see the detailed work
that goes into producing one of these cloths. Nakunte tells her unborn
baby about the wonders of her world and symbolically incorporates these
into the cloth including a drum-shaped border, checks that mimic a
leopard's spots, the pattern of a snake, a scorpion's tail, fish bones, an
iguana's tongue, a crocodile's leg, the chameleon's tail, calabash
flowers, footprints of a dove, and stars. The rains come, the B=g=lan
cloth is finished and the baby is born. Finally we see the happy couple
with their baby who is wrapped in the special B=g=lan cloth.
The book is set in Mali in West Africa. Although this is stated, there is
no indication to the reader in the text that Mali is in Africa, apart from
the way the characters are drawn. The setting and the characters are
realistic, in a stylized way, for this part of Africa. The characters are
drawn in a very consistent way which is attractive to a young reader. The
main characters wear the same design of clothes which is good for
identification. However, the clothing that Nakunte wears is not typically
Malian in style for an adult woman, apart from working in a compound, and
her shoulders should be covered. The men's clothes and hats are quite
accurate although men do not normally wear headscarves as Nakunte's
husband does. None of the people in the book wears shoes. This is an
inaccurate portrayal of African life in Mali, where even in a village
people wear "flip-flops." Only young children go without shoes and this
is not encouraged because of possible damage to feet.
The processes described in the book are very accurate and give an
excellent picture of both the artistic and production processes involved
in producing the B=g=lan cloth. The story develops well and is consistent.
The main character is portrayed sympathetically and positively. This book
makes a good contribution to literature about Africa for children.
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Reviewed by: Maggie Canvin , School of Education, University of Reading, England
Subject: Mali / Africa, West / Art