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African Tales , One World, One Planet
Mhlophe, Gcina; Rachel Griffin (illus.) African Tales , One World, One Planet. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books, 2009. $19.99, ISBN 978-1846861185 .

Note: Welcome to Africa! -- Masilo and Masilonyana (Lesotho) -- Nolwandle, girl of the waves (Namibia) -- Makosi and the magic horns (Malawi) -- The great hunter (Swaziland) -- Sea wind (Senegal) -- Ananse and the impossible quest (Ghana) -- The story of the wise mother (Sudan) -- Everything changes, everything passes (Ethiopia).introduction to the country.

African Tales is a collection of eight folktales from eight different African countries: Namibia, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland, Senegal, Ghana, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The volume starts with a four-page introduction to Africa, including a map of the continent (which helps with locating the stories' countries of origin) and a few interesting facts. Each story also is contextualized with a similar two-page introduction to that country. Both the author and the illustrator have added a personal note at the beginning, and a list of sources for the continent and each country appears at the end of the collection.

The stories are typical of African oral traditions with nature and animals appearing as characters, in addition to humans. Familiar themes of jealousy, cleverness, trickery, bravery, and compassion infuse the stories. One of the most well-known tales for Western audiences is "Ananse and the Impossible Quest" from Ghana, a similar story to the retelling by Verna Aardema, Anansi Does the Impossible (1997), which has Nigerian/Ashanti roots. The story of "Masilo and Masilonyana" from Lesotho echoes with Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe's (1987) retelling of a Zimbabwean story about siblings who become rivals and one's evil deeds toward the kind other one are satisfyingly avenged in the end. This volume also compares with Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Tales (2002, originally published in South Africa as Madiba Magic: Nelson Mandela's Favourite Stories for Children), a collection of 32 stories from across the continent, by various authors and retellers, but predominantly from southern Africa. Gcina Mhlophe's retelling of "The Snake with Seven Heads" is included in this book. Mhlophe is a multi-talented South African professional storyteller, writer, and actress of Xhosa and Zulu ethnicity, whose work appears in multiple venues and who contributes to or directs many worthwhile literacy and arts-related projects in South Africa and around the world. (Her Zulu roots are reflected in the traditional ending she adds to every tale in the current collection: "Coso cosi iyaphela," which she explains means, "Here I rest my story.") She describes her writing and the context for Black South African writers for children in a 2003 article in Sankofa called, "The 'Story' Is the Mother of Creativity: My Journey as a Children's Writer." She also contributed two stories to Hazel Rochman's 1988 collection, Somehow the Tenderness Survives, one of which - "The Toilet" recounts how she started writing as a teenager while hidden in a public toilet near where she was illegally staying with her sister, a domestic worker in Johannesburg during the apartheid era.

African Tales offers authentic retellings of African folktales that preserve the oral flavor and language of storytelling from across the continent. I did have to wonder, however, about the omission of any South African tales, given Mhlophe's own national heritage. Perhaps she made that choice because of her other previously published collection, Stories of Africa (2003). (See below.) The present volume is beautifully illustrated with Rachel Griffin's full color collage art. Most double-page spreads contain two pages of text, with illustrations around the borders; some display a full page illustration opposite a page of text. The fabrics, papers, colors, and embedded objects, such as beads or shells, all help to capture the feeling and spirit of Africa. The tan endpapers are covered with black designs of star- and leaf-shapes. A downside might be that the art makes little distinction among the diversity of cultures and artistic styles representative of the whole continent. The list of resources is useful because many are from websites, and therefore easily accessed. The fact that many of the citations are travel guides from the U. S. or U. K. is a concern, as non-Africa sources mediate what readers will learn about the African countries from a traveler's or tourist's viewpoint. On the other hand, Diana Jeater, Professor of African History, University of the West of England, receives credit as an academic expert consultant for the book, lending scholarly credibility to the overall product. As noted, Mhlophe's other writing includes the earlier collection of folktales, Stories of Africa, told to her by her Xhosa grandmother, whom she credits as most influential on her storytelling ability. Her first picture book story, Hi, Zoleka! (1994), was the result of The Little Library workshop, in which she received encouragement and advice from prominent South African author-illustrator Niki Daly. A play, Have You Seen Zandile (1990), is based upon her childhood, and Love Child (2002) is a collection of poems and stories that comprise her memoir. Her Nozincwadi Project, started in 2001, is an effort to bring books to South African communities with no books, to promote the pleasure of reading, and to encourage young people to write their own stories. It is noteworthy that the publisher of the current title, Barefoot Books, pledges to contribute 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of African Tales to Books for Africa, an organization with a similar goal to bring books to African children.

Highly recommended for purchase.

Copyright 2010 Africa Access

Rating: HR Grade: E / M Type: Book

Reviewed by: Barbara Lehman, the Ohio State University, Mansfield

Subject: Africa / Folktales