Misoso: Once Upon a Time Tales from Africa
. Scholastic Inc. . NY ,
PZ8.1.M665 1996 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
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I first found this book in its 1994 hardbound form from Alfred Knopf. I was disappointed then because two of the stories labeled fables were torn out of the book! I went online and found this paperback copy waiting for me. Let me include my comments from there and add a word about the fables. There are twelve stories in this almost square (10¼ x 9¾) book of some viii plus 88 pages. Three of them are called fables. Eight of the rest are called tales, while one is labeled A Swahili Narrative Poem. At the beginning one finds a foreword and an introduction including a map, and at the end a bibliography. The foreword describes these Once upon a time stories as mostly for entertainment. If the stories collected here teach a lesson, or illuminate the culture of a people, that is a plus (iv). In the introduction, Aardema points out that she has retold tales from early sources, e.g., from the 1850's and 1860's. The stories are taken from the perimeter of sub-Saharan Africa, beginning on the West Coast and travelling southward, then moving up the East Coast, and finally moving across the continent from East to West. The book's first tale, Leelee Goro, is an aetiological tale that gives the reason for eight different things, including the leopard's spots. It is unusual in explaining the origin of tears and the remedy for them, which is that people stop crying when they are hugged. The third tale, The Boogey Man's Wife, has a delightful ending. Just when the Boogey Man has had enough of his new wife and commands her to go back to her father, she obeys him! As he says, That was foolish of me. I let her go just when she started to obey me! (22). The Hen and the Dove (33-34) is an effective Ashanti fable. Each goes off to find food. The hen goes to the village, is caught and tied to a tree. When the dove visits her and tells how hard it is to find food in the grass country, the hen speaks proudly that she is a person of some importance (34). The dove returns as planned at dusk to see how important the hen is, but learns that she has been put into a pot. It is better to be free! The comment on this fable mentions that the fable was recorded during British colonial times. For the Ashanti, the hen was a metaphor for themselves under British rule. The Cock and the Jackal (47-8) is a good Khoikhoi fable. The cock, having been caught by the jackal, is about to be eaten. He advises the jackal to do what men do before eating: to pray. After the jackal's first attempt, the cock chides him for not closing his eyes. The comment notes that this European fable may have seen the substitution of jackal for Reynard the fox. The basic trick is the same as in the Chanticleer story. In the third fable, Toad's Trick: A Kanuri Fable (59), a toad shows a rat that there is something he can do that the rat cannot: walk through a group of men. The men allow it because the toad eats bugs. When the rat tries to do the same, he is attacked and beaten. The fable ends with the stock closing That is it. Put it on top of the granary (60). That is, add this to your store of stories. The exciting illustrations, strong in warm African colors, are done in pencil and acrylic paints. A good sample is the full page village scene on 26 of Fly carrying a sleeping-mat into a village for his then-friend, Leopard. Another good example on 51 shows a family in a king's palace.