CLEVER TORTOISE by Francesca Martin


adapted by & illustrated by
Age Range: 5 - 8
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Martin (The Honey Hunters, 1992, etc.) retells an old, old trickster story from the Ngoni people of southern Tanzania with great good humor and a story-teller style highly appropriate for a tale from the oral tradition: “Listen! / There is a lake in Africa, called Nyasa. / Mmm, it is full of blue cool water.” and “Hm, tch, tch, it started like this . . .” Words in Kiswahili, the language most spoken in Tanzania, are translated immediately in text, thus proving to be no problem for readers, from Chungu (black ant), Chura (frog) and Kobi (tortoise) in the appealing title page to the final line, Kwa heri ya kuonana, wanangu (“so long, children, till we meet again.”) The personal, one-on-one tone expands deliciously in luscious, lavish watercolors depicting what happens when two boastful bullies, Elephant and Hippopotamus, declare their superiority over the small animals. Warthog calls a meeting to find a way to control the two behemoths; big-brained Tortoise comes up with a tricky tug-of-war that pits one against the other unbeknownst to either. The battle is joined in its traditional way: Elephant has one end, Hippopotamus the other. Tortoise ends the tug by cutting the rope, leaving the bullies questioning—but not denigrating—his strength. What makes this version particularly appealing is the panels of illustration, boarders run the length of two pages, the jungle scene takes up three quarters of those pages with the text set out on white space. There’s plenty to look at in the highly detailed vignettes and abundant color helps to set the mood. Utterly charming and a great read-aloud. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7636-0506-9
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Candlewick
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2000


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