When does an ostrich come into his own?
Ostrich and Lark, two bosom buddies, travel through the Kalahari Desert, interacting with the birds, insects and animals of the southern African veld. Each one makes its individual sound, together singing “their rain-shower jazz.” That is, everyone except Ostrich. But as the minimal story ends, Ostrich finally booms out a “TWOO-WOO-WOOOT.” It is a sound “part lion’s roar, / part foghorn, / part old man trumpeting into his handkerchief.” The language is spare, like the land it describes. It has the flavor of folklore, but this is an original story that Nelson has created to complement the paintings made by !Kung San people participating in the Kuru Art Project of Botswana. The San people were traditional hunter-gatherers, but development has forced them into the modern economy. The author’s royalties will go to the Project, part of an income-generating group of programs. The cause is worthy, and the vibrantly colored, naive oil paintings, bordered uniformly with a broad stripe with a zigzag line in a contrasting hue, are bold and attractive. The message is clear: Ostrich finds “his voice at last, / his own beauty, / his big, terrific self.” However, there is no precipitating reason for this change. Does his voice come to him as a matter of maturity? While the story is not fully satisfying, the book deserves an audience for its successful portrayal of the natural world of the Kalahari.
Eye-catching and lyrical. (Picture book. 4-8)