THE AFRICAN MASK by Janet E. Rupert


Age Range: 10 - 14
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 Rupert's first book features a talented 12-year-old Yoruban in a vivid re-creation of 11th-century Africa, with the mysterious sabotaging of a ceremonial mask that her grandmother is making adding interest to a plot skillfully devised to portray both village and city life. Layo loves working with clay, even such unskilled labor as grinding potsherds, to which tradition limits her until she has fulfilled the roles of wife and mother. Still, she secretly tries forming a pot, with startling success; she can only hope that pottery will be the customary craft in the family of the husband chosen for her. Meanwhile, Layo seizes a chance to go to the city of Ife to assist her grandmother, a gifted potter. The author, who includes an exemplary note on her sources and depiction of preliterate Africa (``I used the latest accepted information, but in the end, I imitated the Yoruba. I chose what worked to create a new story''), portrays a stable, tightly structured society that discourages individual glory as divisive (though fine work is valued) but has a flexibility that allows Layo's mother and grandmother to help her realize her talent. Names derived from relationships (e.g., Layo's grandmother is known as Olade's mama) may be confusing even with the help of the identity guide provided; however, since they express the importance of kinship and its organization, they're worth puzzling through. An attractive window into the past, with strong female characters and nicely integrated cultural details. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1994
ISBN: 0-395-67295-3
Page count: 130pp
Publisher: Clarion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1994