Awarded Kirkus Reviews' Best Indie
Books of 2020
Summary: A rabbit, lost in the desert and saved by a baobab tree, outwits a stronger envious neighbor.
"Guess what! The baobab tree is saving the jewels for you! There they are, the pictures on every page (and the wisdom that comes with them)."
--Dr. Mary Catherine Bateson
Author and Cultural Anthropologist
"A lovely folktale on the importance of wisdom, truth, and keeping your word."
--Marie-Monique Steckel, President
French Institute Alliance Française, New York, NY
The Kirkus Star is one of the most
prestigious designations in the book
industry signifying exceptional merit.
STARRED KIRKUS REVIEW
A rabbit and a tree get the better of a greedy hyena in this beautiful retelling of a Senegalese fable.
Johari, a rabbit, isn't sure how she'll survive lost in the desert until she discovers a lush baobab tree. Startled when the tree speaks to her, Johari quickly adjusts, showing her appreciation for the wise tree. "You deserve to be known as the Tree of Life," Johari tells it. "You provide food, shelter, shade, and so much more." Rewarding Johari for her appreciation and kind spirit, the deciduous giant reveals secret treasures. But after Johari returns home, a greedy hyena demands to know those secrets. As in similar folktales, Johari's cleverness and willingness to give up material treasures give her the ultimate reward, and the hyena's greediness is punished. Like LaTeef's previous Animal Village (2018), this picture book is based on a traditional West African story she learned in her African travels. Her flowing prose seamlessly integrates new vocabulary in English (baobab) and Wolof, the language of the story's origin. The beautiful acrylic, India ink, and collage illustrations capture the setting and the tone of the tale. The design is also inventive; in one delightful two-page spread, Johari slides down a sand dune, requiring readers to turn the book sideways. In another long illustration, a collage of gems fills the inside of the baobab.
A rich, inventive rendering of a familiar folktale.
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
ONLINE BOOK CLUB REVIEW (4 OUT OF 4 RATING)
The Talking Baobab Tree is a children’s book written and illustrated by Nelda LaTeef. The story introduces young readers to Johari, the rabbit, who is lost in the desert and happens to find shelter in the shade of the mighty baobab tree. The tree passes on wisdom and, later in the story, Johari must use her wits to outsmart an adversary who is driven by envious motives.
I did not find it difficult to fall in love with this whimsical tale. It was beautiful to see and experience the story through the vibrant and colorful artwork throughout the book. The quality scrapbook-like illustrations combined with the handwriting-like font added texture and made me want to exchange the PDF version that I reviewed for a physical copy to add to my bookshelf. The pictures also made it fun to laugh at sweet little Johari’s reaction to the first words she heard spoken by the tree and marvel at the secret hidden within the baobab!
The book was also full of educational value despite the simplicity of the story. In the author’s note, LaTeef shares the history of the baobab tree, and she incorporates this information throughout the tale. She further explains visiting a Wolof village in the region of Dakar, Senegal, and hearing the story from which The Talking Baobab was derived. Additional information about the Wolof people was included in the author’s note as well.
I loved the Wolof proverbs woven throughout the text and felt that there were so many thought-provoking lines. LaTeef even included some Wolof words, including oubi, which means open and jerry-jef, which means thank you. When the story concludes, readers will see how the author applied the vocabulary within the context, revealing another profound lesson.
In reflection, I did not find anything to dislike about the book. The pages were well-edited, and I saw no countable errors. Therefore, I gladly reward The Talking Baobab Tree a 4 out of 4. Johari’s adventure is a great tale to be shared with young readers. The language is simple and easy to read aloud, so independent young readers may want to give it a try. Adults may also enjoy reading the simple story with their kids to discuss the outcomes and discover some great teaching moments.