"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Lonely Lioness & the Ostrich Chicks

The Lonely Lioness and the Ostrich Chicks: a Masai Tale retold by Verna Aardema. Illus. by Yumi Heo, 1996.

The original source for Aardema’s tale is “The Story of the Ostrich Chicks” from The Masai: Their Language and Folklore by Claude Hollis, 1905. When a new mother ostrich takes her four chicks for a walk one day, she does not suspect that a lioness longing for children will steal hers. Lioness is nice to the babies and they soon forget that she is not their original mother. Now Mother Ostrich has no choice but to follow the lioness and beg for aid from every creature that they pass. Gazelle and Hyena are too cowardly to help, and Jackal tries and fails, but Mongoose is fearless. Can his bravado and brains return the chicks to Mother Ostrich?

Aardema uses sound effects in the story that would make this a good read aloud. Her Lioness purrs irtil-irtil-irtil, Gazelle bounds yir-id-de, yir-id-de, yir-id-de, and Mongoose skedaddles dik-dak-dilak. She begins her story with the Masai proverb “Even the ostrich, with its long neck and sharp eyes, cannot see what will happen in the future.”

Heo’s illustrations are delightful. The stylized animals are so satisfying. The ostrich and her family are dark brown and black with skinny long legs and necks and tiny heads. The lioness sleeps in a fan shaped tree, her body long and golden, her eyes dark and pupil less, with springy white whiskers. She is in comical contrast to her foster children, who follow her in a neat lineup. When we meet Mongoose he is in the foreground, but there are flying birds and insects in the sky and ants, caterpillars and lizards crawling over the mound beneath him. These background plants and animals make sense in the picture, but also make up patterns that resemble cave paintings. This interesting technique is consistent throughout the book.

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