Because the little crocodiles believe Golo the gossiping, vengeful monkey, who has it in for their mother Dia, and don't listen to her stories of old-time wars, don't heed her ""crazy talk"" (as Golo calls it) of a new war approaching, they are almost killed by bullet-fire . . . a lesson, says elderly Uncle Amadou at the close of this long, intricate, quite adult tale, ""that when little crocodiles close their ears, their skins may someday cost them dear."" The last refers back to the victorious soldiers' talk of taking crocodile-skin purses home to their wives--one of the many heterogeneous elements that make this a rather strong story (a convincingly updated fable, that is) but for an older than picture-book audience. The Steptoe illustrations, too, are more than decorative complements--they do, that is suggest some of the psychological interplay between the animals, some of their terror at the soldiers' arrival--but like the text they carry perhaps too much dramatic weight for the young-looking picture-book format. It's suggested on the jacket that the story can be read also ""as a symbolic retelling of the history of Africa""; and certainly that interpretation, if a considerable oversimplification, might commend the book to some classroom teachers.