retold by Eric Maddern
illus.by Frané Lessac
Frances Lincoln/UK General/Canada Dial/USA
Letterbox Library/UK Sjostrands/Sweden Klematis/Denmark Carlsen/Norway
ISBN: 9780711207837 Hardback 9781845075149 Paperback 9780711221888 Big Book
The first man and woman are lonely. What to do? They decide to fashion children out of clay. As they are baking the little figures in their fire, they’re constantly interrupted by visits from the sky-god, Nyame. As a result, some of the children are pale and underdone, some are left in so long that they come out very dark, and the rest are every shade between. Frané Lessac’s gorgeous gouache paintings, inspired by West African masks and pottery, and Eric Maddern’s vivid text make this one of the most compelling of creation myths for young readers.
Elegantly told, gorgeously illustrated and conveying a timely but unforced message, this rendering of a West African folktale is one of the more satisfying creation stories to come down the pike. The great sky-god Nyame fills a basket with soil, trees, flowers, insects and birds, then hangs it in the sky–thus forming the earth. Nyame cuts a trapdoor in the sky (the moon) so he can visit earth, and he punches holes (stars) so light can shine through. Then two “spirit people” dwelling inside Nyame climb up to his mouth to look outside; a sudden sneeze carries them to the earth. Once there, the spirit people, eager for children, fashion clay figures: “We could bake the shapes in the fire and then breathe life into them.” They bake some much longer than others, so that their children – all cherished equally – range in hue from “cinnamon red” to “honey yellow” and “shell pink” to plain white. Maddern’s direct, evocative text and Lessac’s vibrant, primitive paintings conjure forth a world of wonder, whimsy and genuine sweetness. Antelopes gambol while leopards sleep peacefully nearby; the spirit people radiate sheer delight in their unspoiled paradise.
The brilliant green foliage, purple distant mountains and pure blue sky testify to the infant world’s freshness, while the terra-cotta of the earth and hills generates an enveloping warmth.
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