A modern Kenyan folktale about the colorful vans that carry people, animals and supplies underpins a story about Kioko, an astute but literal-minded boy, and his grandfather.
While the pair take a ride on the boy’s fifth birthday, Kioko asks why dogs run after matatus. Grandfather uses the opportunity to tell a story about why dogs chase after, sheep ignore and goats run away from the vans. Kioko interrupts his grandfather when confronted with silly ideas like animals talking and riding matatus, but as his grandfather describes a ride during which the dog never got his proper change, a sheep paid his fare exactly and a goat ran off without paying at all, the boy begins to understand both animal and human behavior. The boy asks his grandfather for a cash birthday present and then hands it to the conductor. He maturely tells the man that he is paying for the fare-beating goat, but in return, the conductor must give the dog back his money. Oil paintings provide realistic details of contemporary rural Kenya but include a few spreads in which the animals humorously take on anthropomorphic characteristics. The author’s note, drawing upon his Kenyan experiences, will amuse adults, but the full point of the story may elude youngsters, who are likely to be just as literal-minded as Kioko.
Nevertheless, the love and respect shown between Kioko and his grandfather is both universal and sweetly evident. (Picture book. 5-7)