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Only a Pigeon
Kurtz, Jane and Christopher / E. B. Lewis (illus.) ; E. B. Lewis (illus.) Only a Pigeon. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. $16.00, ISBN 0-689-80077-0.

Note: This is a warm and wonderful picture book about Ondu-ahlem, a young boy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who makes raising pigeons the centerpiece of his life. Winner of the 1998 African Studies Association's Children's Book Award for Younger Children.

Jane Kurtz is the author of several fine picture books about the Horn of Africa including FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN, PULLING THE LION'S TALE and TROUBLE. ONLY A PIGEON, co-authored with her brother Christopher, is another winner. It is a warm and wonderful story about Ondu-ahlem, a young Ethiopian boy who makes raising pigeons the centerpiece of his life. Ondu-ahlem is a resourceful boy who lives in the poorer section of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city. The absence of toys appears to have stimulated rather than hampered Ondu-ahlem's creativity. He builds a comfortable environment for his pigeons and trains them to head for home when released. Ever vigilant, he protects them from creatures such as cats and mongeese that view a fat pigeon as simply a good meal. His love for pigeons helps him transcend his physical surroundings and the long hours he works after school as a shoe shine boy.The unique aspect of this story is the wealth of information on domesticated pigeons. According to Alfred Goodwein, a pigeon fancier who has raised these birds for over forty years, the text and pictures accurately depict various aspects of pigeon behavior and care. The competitive yet bonding relationship shown between Ondu-ahlem and his friends who raise pigeons also struck a familiar chord. However, Goodwein issues a word of caution about a practice shown in the story. The book depicts Ondu-ahlem using his own mouth to feed grain to an orphaned baby pigeon. This practice can lead to the transmission of moniliasis or candidiasis, a yeast infection pigeons can transmit to humans. Goodwein recommends the use of an eye-dropper and hand-feeding to accomplish the task instead. Aside from this, the authors have done a good job of imparting pigeon lore. The depiction of urban life in Ethiopia is outstanding. Their experience in Ethiopia (they spent their childhoods in the country) gives their work a level of authenticity rarely seen in picture books on Africa. The illustrator, E.B. Lewis, who beautifully illustrated Jane Kurtz's FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN has done an excellent job with this book as well. Dr. Messay Kebede, an Ethiopian, describes Lewis' muted watercolor paintings as "familiar and very characteristic" of life in Addis Ababa. In sum, this is an accurate and touching snapshot of life in Ethiopia. Educators and parents can use it to balance the pictures of famine and war that have dominated Western images of Ethiopia. A glossary of the Amharic terms used in the story is included. (Brenda Randolph, Director of Africa Access and Alfred Goodwein)

Rating: HR Grade: P Type: Book

Reviewed by: Brenda Randolph, Africa Access

Subject: Ethiopia / Fiction / East Africa / CABA Winner / Urban setting / City and town life