A young Swazi girl finds strength and confidence by watching the movements of animals in this debut picture book.
In Swaziland, young girls celebrate the Reed Festival by dancing before the King and the Queen Mother. Nothando, about to dance for the first time, feels very nervous. Her brother, Jabu, who is “older and wiser,” helps her prepare, comforts her, and gives her the choice of how they will walk to the festival: the long familiar way or the short, untried route. Not wanting to be late, Nothando chooses the shorter path. When they encounter a wild dog, she is frightened, but Jabu urges her to watch the animal to see what she can learn from its movements. Casey depicts Nothando’s efforts by showing the dog’s prints and Nothando’s together, where both human and canine have performed the yoga move downward dog. Soon, the children rest on a hill overlooking a watering hole, where many types of creatures gather. Nothando applies her brother’s lesson and mimics these animals as well. Over several illustrated pages, with a single sentence of text on each, Nothando feels the strength of a lion, the calm of the fish eagle, and the courage of the baboon. When the children arrive at the festival, Nothando is no longer afraid: “She is grateful to be Nothando.” Although the themes of seeing oneself reflected in nature and learning from wild beasts and the land are hardly new, Manly’s application of yoga poses and the idea of embodying the movements of animals make this tale unique. The proportion of words to page is uneven, with some text-heavy pages that may frustrate young readers and others with shorter sentences that should be quite approachable. While the book offers a solid story and vocabulary that’s not too difficult for lower elementary readers, the most appealing aspect is the beautiful artwork. Casey uses many textures of collage paper, frequently torn at uneven angles to heighten the sense of landscape. Her colored pencil, pastel, and charcoal details make the animals and children come alive, particularly on the double-page spread where Nothando imitates several creatures at the watering hole. The baobab tree, constructed of twisted cords pressed together, looks as if a reader could touch the scratchy surface.
Picture books about modern African children are uncommon, with superb ones in short supply, making this an excellent choice for libraries seeking diversity.