cover image The Ancestor Tree: 9

The Ancestor Tree: 9

T. Obinkaram Echewa, O. T. Echewa. Dutton Books, $13.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-525-67467-2

Nigerian-born Echewa, author of such novels as I Saw the Sky Catch Fire , makes his children's book debut with an upbeat ``contemporary folktale.'' Nna-nna, the wise, benevolent elder of an African village, possesses an uncanny ability to ``see'' despite his blindness. He entertains the local children with jokes and stories, including oft-repeated tales of their births and infancies, thereby imparting to his listeners a sense of personal history. Nna-nna's death creates a conflict within the village, for the tree planted at his birth in the Forest of the Living must, according to custom, be cut down, but, because he has no living descendants, no tree may be planted for him in the Forest of the Ancestors. The children successfully challenge the wisdom of the tradition, persuading the Village Council that Nna-nna ``has left something of himself in all of you, which, after all, is what it means to be an ancestor.'' Hale's ( Juan Bobo and the Pig ) linocut illustrations, accentuated with earth-toned watercolors, combine primitive-style artwork with stylish design. Imaginative compositions extend the storytelling from verbal to pictorial, while shifting perspectives create swift visual rhythms. A lively book with a universal message. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)