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SENSE PASS KING: A Story from Cameroon

Katrin Tchana, Retold by, Trina Schart Hyman, Illustrator, Katrin Tchana, Author , illus. by Trina Schart Hyman. Holiday $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-1577-9

The mother-daughter collaborators behind The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women team up for another successful retelling, this time substituting a gifted girl for the customary boy who outwits his royal ruler. Ma'antah could "speak the languages of all seven villages and communicate with animals" by age two, and soon poses a threat to the king's ego. Tchana hits just the right notes as a storyteller; she gives enough details to set the scene, and her smooth pacing will keep readers on the edge of their seats, wondering how the heroine will outsmart the king next. Hyman's artwork suggests the African heat—layers of gold silhouettes of trees and straw-colored huts on stilts with palm-frond rooftops are artfully set off by geometrically patterned fabrics in citrus tones. The paintings add another layer to the narrative; for instance, when the king first attempts to kill Ma'antah, he tells his soldiers to leave her in the heart of the forest where "the panthers and the snakes will take care of her." Tchana explains that the girl fills a sack with ashes and pokes a hole in it so she can find her way home, and Hyman's illustration picks up on her ability to talk to the animals, depicting Ma'antah astride a panther, with the snakes accompanying her safely out of the woods. Lots of action and smart thinking make this a winner for children, and adults will find here a welcome alternative to trickster tales, where intelligence is often associated with deviousness. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 07/22/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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