cover image The Night Has Ears: African Proverbs

The Night Has Ears: African Proverbs

Ashley Bryan. Atheneum Books, $17.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82427-2

In Bryan's (Aneesa Lee and the Weaver's Gift, reviewed below) thoughtful introduction to this eclectic collection of 26 African proverbs from various traditions (Yoruba, Gola, Maasi, etc.), he reflects on the ""household of proverbs"" in which he was raised. He suggests that ""proverbs seek to raise meaning out of our daily experiences,"" and accompanies each saying with a gouache and watercolor illustration above the text. Like the interlocking shapes of stained glass windows, the paintings combine human and animal representations with complex, light-filled designs. At first glance, the artwork may seem repetitious, but close inspection reveals the intricacy and diversity of the compositions. Illustrating the Swahili proverb ""Do not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself,"" for example, Bryan balances seriousness and humor. He pairs a childlike face with a lion's nose and mane next to a more menacing, mask-like lion's face; both faces feature teeth queued across their mouths like the bars of a cage in a child's crayon drawing. Accompanying the stunning Ashanti proverb, ""No one knows the story of tomorrow's dawn,"" the splintered sun hovers over stars and a sky-blue moon while a pair of roosters wait to crow. Though some proverbs seem directed more to adults than children, this is a book with words and art to ponder. All ages. (Oct.)