Bernhard, Durga (illus.)
New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co./Gulliver Books, 1997. $15.00,
ISBN 9780152002190 / 0152002197.
Note: In this folktale, an adventurous Eritrean boy is given the responsibility of caring for his family's goats.
KELE'S SECRET and TROUBLE provide a window into the life of
adolescent boys in rural Tanzania and Eritrea. Each author portrays
how adults help their children to develop responsible behavior. In
the task given to them, these two boys grow in wisdom and endurance.
Mollel, a Tanzanian Maasai, has written numerous children's books
about Africa. The ones written about Tanzania such as KELE'S SECRET
are the most successful. This story depicts how Yoanes conquers his
fears about the forest and become resourceful in his use of money.
His grandmother sends him to locate the site where a special chicken
lays her eggs. Yoanes receives cash payment for his services.
In contrast, Kurtz, an American who lived in Ethiopia, retells a
folktale in which she situates it in Eritrea. In TROUBLE, Tekleh
likes adventure. His father gives him a game to play while watching
the goats so that Tekleh will remain with his goats and not wander
into trouble. Unfortunately, Tekleh trades his game board for a
series of items as he wanders along a road. His last trade results in
a game board similar to the one that his father had carved for him
prior to his trip. Consequently, his father attributes the game board
to the goats being content and his son not getting into trouble.
Several structures of the stories contribute to their readability.
Both authors utilize suspense to build interest in the story as each
boy moves away from the security of their home into the unknown. Upon
their return home, each boy has acquired a new sense of dignity and
self-worth because they have accomplished their task in their own
creative way. They have become a contributing member of the his
family and the community. To maintain cultural authenticity, the
authors incorporate words from the Maasai or Tigrinya. They also
provide a context for the stories in a description of the country and
their experience in a similar context. Finally, the illustrators show
a sensitivity to the culture. Catherine Stock camped for two weeks in
the coffee-producing region of Tanzania to paint some of the scenes.
On the other hand, Durga Bernhard, familiar with West African
cultures, studied Eritrean culture prior to illustrating TROUBLE.
Both stories contain universal themes concerning family, community,
and self-respect. These themes fit a multicultural curriculum
characteristic of early elementary social studies classes. Students
can learn more about the coffee agriculture of northern Tanzania and
the herding practices of Eritrea. In addition, students can learn
about the economics of bargaining. By the illustrations, students can
see the different types of clothing worn and then study the reasons
for the differences. Some students might wish to play gebeta -- a
common game in many African countries.
These books are recommended for an elementary collection. However,
the lack of two items detract from what might have been excellent
books. One is the lack of a map in the Mollel book and the other is
the lack of a few citations of other books to help students place the
story in context.
||Grade: P / E
Reviewed by: Patricia S. Kuntz, Madison, Wisconsin
Subject: Fiction / East Africa / Eritrea