MABELA THE CLEVER by Margaret Read MacDonald


adapted by & illustrated by
Age Range: 4 - 8
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“In the early times, some were clever and some were foolish. The Cat was one of the clever ones. The mice were mostly foolish.” So begins MacDonald’s latest folktale retelling, this one from the Limba people of Sierra Leone. When the Cat invites the mice to join the secret Cat Society, they are only too pleased and cheerfully line themselves up for the “initiation march” while the Cat scoops them up and puts them in her sack. Luckily for the mice, there is one clever one, Mabela, who remembers her father’s sage advice and escapes from the Cat just in time, rescuing the other mice as the Cat languishes in a thorn bush. The energetic text is trademark MacDonald (Pickin’ Peas, 1998, etc.), written purely to be read aloud, and punctuated by a chant that invites children to join in. Coffey’s (Red Berry Wool, 1999) saturated acrylics depict a vaguely African anthropomorphized world where animals live in grass huts. Bright borders set off the text blocks, and occasionally frame a detail, such as a tiny tongue sneaking out to lick a delicate chop when the cat greets the eager mice: “ ‘Oh, my, you have ALL arrived!’ said the Cat. ‘How delicious . . . I mean, how delightful.’ ” The Cat is orange, and her pointy green eyes protrude from the plane of her face, giving her a truly shifty-eyed (and somewhat disconcerting) look. Mabela herself is a little red mouse, whose enormous eyes dominate her bucktoothed face. The tale is somewhat moralizing at the end—“Limba grandparents say, ‘If a person is clever, it is because someone has taught them their cleverness’ ”—but children will respond nevertheless to this plucky little heroine who saves herself by her wits. (Picture book/folktale. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8075-4902-9
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Whitman
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2001


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