cover image Misoso: Once Upon a Time Tales from Africa

Misoso: Once Upon a Time Tales from Africa

Verna Aardema. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $19.95 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-679-83430-4

A dozen well-told stories from Africa illustrate the diversity of that continent, highlighting the richness of specific cultures as well as the more general importance of the spoken word. Some stories seem familiar-a pourquoi tale from Sierra Leone of how the leopard got his spots-but the versions here offer new variants (e.g., the pourquoi tale also explains how crying first began-and how it can be stopped). Some are purely amusing, while others have their roots in imperialism and slavery. Aardema (Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears) writes with vigor and wit, sprinkling each entry with words from the country of origin (these are translated in glossaries at the beginning of each story). Individual afterwords set each story in context, and source notes are unusually helpful, explaining that most of the tales are taken from those sub-Saharan coastal regions where European traders, missionaries and anthropologists first established posts and settlements. Illustrations in tropical colors are imbued with movement and energy until the figures seem to be all spiky arms and legs, and Ruffins mirrors Aardema's concern for atmosphere with his use of patterns and geometric details. A zestful and well-researched presentation, delivered via especially clean, inviting book design. Ages 5-10. (Oct.)