cover image How the Leopard Got His Claws

How the Leopard Got His Claws

Chinua Achebe with John Iroaganachi, illus. by Mary GrandPr%C3%A9. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4805-3

Despite the innocuous title, Achebe's (Things Fall Apart) explanations for three interwoven mysteries%E2%80%94why animals are enemies, why dogs live among humans, and why the leopard is so fearsomely armed%E2%80%94are grim and sometimes bloody. King Leopard has no claws at first, ruling with kindness, but when the malcontent dog takes over the hall the animals have built together, the animals switch sides without a second thought. "We love his head, we love his jaws,/ We love his feet and all his claws," the toad sings in praise of the dog. King Leopard defeats him in the end, but only with violence. First published in the '70s, this is a child's version of Animal Farm, a closely observed account of the way the manipulation of fear can poison civil society. The characterizations are disturbingly true to life, deriving in all likelihood from Achebe's experience of political upheaval in Nigeria. In GrandPr%C3%A9's warmly lit acrylic paintings, new to this edition, the animals burst forth from the pages; their anguish would be heartbreaking if not for their comically exaggerated features. Used with skill, the story could form the centerpiece of a substantive discussion. Ages. 7%E2%80%9311. (Sept.)