cover image Song Bird

Song Bird

Tololwa M. Mollel. Clarion Books, $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-82908-0

In Mollel's (Ananse's Feast) meandering retelling of a traditional African tale, an enchanted bird transports a girl to the land of Makucha, the giant monster who has stolen away her family's herd of cattle, so that she can lead them home. While the author relies on some pat descriptions (Makucha's ""milk-white eyes rolled in his head, and his sword-nails gleamed in the moonlight""), and wordy passages (e.g., ""The night resounded with the baying of jackals, the bird's taunting squawks, Mariamu's terrified shrieks, and Makucha's furious pursuit of the bird from bush to bush""), he studs his narrative with rhythmic Swahili chants which readers will likely want to sing out loud. (Mollel provides a translation and pronunciation key for the phrases, plus a melody, in a concluding note.) But the main attraction here is Litzinger's stylized artwork. Dreamy shades of teal, peach and pink conjure a fittingly magical world for little Mariamu as she hitches a ride with the enchanted bird or hides among the leaves in evil Makucha's land. One close-up of the villain resembles an African mask, with intense eyes and a cavernous mouth that have the quality of carved wood. Litzinger's watercolors will likely carry readers as gently as the song bird through any prolonged passages in the text. Ages 5-8. (Jan.)