Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2020
STARRED KIRKUS REVIEW
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
Awarded the Kirkus Star, one of the most
prestigious designations in the book publishing
industry signifying a book of 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)
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.
Review by athurst123: 10 December 2020
Tales of kindness, friendship, wisdom, and honor are
commonly seen in children's books. In her book, The Talking Baobab Tree,
Nelda LaTeef illustrates a friendship like no other between an honorable rabbit
and a wise baobab tree. Like every story, there is a villain. In this case, a
hyena tries to break a bond and reveal a secret out of selfishness. This story
shows what it takes to be a true, honorable friend, even when faced with
The illustrations throughout the book were marvelous and helped capture the story being told. I enjoyed learning more about what a baobab tree is used for before even reading the book. This story is also a great way to teach children about another culture. I loved everything about this book!
The editing team for this book did a wonderful job. The book was well-written, entertaining, and a book I, as an adult, would enjoy reading again. I do not have children, but I know many parents who would love to read an educational story with a beautiful message about friendship and honor.
I am going to rate this book a 4 out of 4. The writing, the illustrations, and the editing were brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and taking the time to look at the illustrations on each page before moving on. The art style is unique and captures the culture in the story very well.
As far as recommendations go, I would highly encourage parents to read this book to their young children. Kids would love the pictures, and the story is one the whole family can love. Teachers could also consider purchasing this book for their elementary-aged students. It could be a wonderful teaching tool for that age group!
Review by Jtjh: 24 December 2020
TheTalking Baobab Tree by Nelda LaTeef is a unique and
charming folk tale about keeping your word. The folk tale itself is a wondrous
blend of whimsical fairytale and cemented Senegal history spun for adults and
children alike to understand and appreciate the wisdom.
The book as a whole is positive; as it ventures to take once orally conveyed traditions, history, and treasured lessons to a new and expansive audience. Children especially will learn a great deal of character building traits; as well as, an almost forgotten past and history with ease.
Review by amahstone: 6 December 2020
The Talking Baobab Tree by Nelda LaTeef is an
exciting fable with a great message and beautiful imagery. The story follows
the rabbit Johari as she gets lost in the desert. She soon comes upon a large
baobab tree and falls asleep under its shade. When she wakes up, the baobab
tree startles her by talking. Having never met a talking tree before, she is
stunned but quickly feels at ease. The baobab offers her fruit and teaches her
about his trunk, which holds treasures left behind by travelers.
He allows her to pick one and she then makes her way back home. However, a formidable opponent awaits. Her neighbor, a hyena, notices her new treasure and wants to know where she found it. She refuses to tell the hyena, so he buries her in her burrow until she does. Will the hyena succeed in stealing the baobab tree’s treasure?
LaTeef opens with a brief lesson on the baobab tree and the Wolof people from whom she first heard the story that inspired this book. We are introduced to two Wolof words, Oubi (open) and Jerry-jef (thank you), which have special importance at the end of the story. The culture and history are very interesting, and I learned quite a bit about the baobab tree and its history in just the short blurb that she included at the beginning.
LaTeef truly has a gift for writing and illustrating. The pictures are stunning and help to create a very unique story. Simple but compelling prose makes this a great book for children starting to become independent readers or for reading aloud to younger children. I am looking forward to seeing what LaTeef writes about next.
Review by VernaVi: 20 Dec 2020
The Talking Baobab Tree by Nelda LaTeef is a children's
story about a rabbit named Johari. When she gets lost in the desert, she makes
an unexpected friend in the form of a talking baobab tree. The tree saves
Johari's life by offering her some of her leaves and fruit. Johari compares the
baobab tree to the Tree of Life and finds out that the baobab tree is called
the Tree of Life by many.
The baobab tree gives Johari a gift by allowing her to know the passwords to go in and out of the tree trunk and see the hidden treasures left behind by others who had not come back for them. After being given a beautiful necklace, Johari leaves. It isn't long before someone notices her new necklace and wants to know where she found it. Her neighbor, the hyena, cannot be trusted. Will Johari tell the secrets of the baobab tree? To find out, you must read the book!
This book is written in a sweet, straightforward writing style that lends itself to children's ears well. I can imagine this book being read aloud to kids. The setting of the animal kingdom is a fantastic place to take children into a storytelling world.
The concepts of friendship, helpfulness, and those of danger and treachery, are essential to the lessons that this book has to offer. The way the author brought the insight of the baobab tree into the narrative is masterful and is what I liked most about this work.
The character development is exceptional in this story. I appreciated the depth of the personality that comes through in this writing. The way the baobab tree cares for the little rabbit is commendable and makes the reader like the tree right away.
The illustrations are bright, colorful, and perfectly illustrate the African desert, where this story is set. Children will love going through this work to look at the pictures. The vivid painting and drawing provide an excellent backdrop for this tale.
It is a story with lessons and teachings about what to expect from others and how to treat others. The theme of nature that runs through the book makes this a pleasant read all the way through. It will appeal to young and old alike. I can't think of anyone who would not like this book. For these reasons, I am rating this book 4 out of 4 stars.
Review by Mikai_HY: 14 December 2020
The Talking Baobab Tree by Nelda Lateef is a book
essentially teaching children the importance of respecting nature and the gifts
it gives using the baobab tree as an example. The story also warns what happens
when one becomes too greedy as shown with the hyena. In the story the baobab tree offers a lost
rabbit the necessities and words of wisdom which eventually helps the rabbit
deal with a hungry/greedy neighbor later in the story.
Every page of the book is filled with colorful enough illustrations to keep the reader engaged which is helpful for those who have not seen the subjects in the story such as the baobab tree, desert, or a hyena. The illustrations of the baobab’s hidden treasures are as vibrant and colorful as gems. The author’s notes, before the story begins, is helpful background information for those who are not familiar with the tree, culture, or the region. The story subtly shows readers one can stand up to someone or something much ‘bigger’ than oneself in that the meek, weak, smaller rabbit can best the bigger, stronger hyena.
The only complaint I have about this book would be the orientation of the text in some of the pages which might not be a problem for those who have a physical copy of the book, but for those who read on a screen they will have some trouble.
I would give this book a four out of four star rating. The story was easy to read, minus the orientation of some of the pages, and understand with no errors. The illustrations range from simple to detailed; the main subjects are more detailed than the background images. The story has multiple lessons embedded and also gives a small vibe of the Arabian Nights with the use of the Wolof words as the ‘magic words’ to open and close the trunk of the baobab tree.
The book is good for children or for those who are learning English as a second language, considering there are illustrations to match with the words, or anyone who enjoys picture books.
Review by Chikari: 7 December 2020
Talking Baobab Tree
by Nelda LaTeef was a great read. It was also illustrated by the author, which
I find to be extremely impressive! This
is a children's book that was published this year (2020). It includes an author's note at the
beginning that explains the importance of the baobab tree to Senegal.
The story itself is about a rabbit named Johari. She is lost in the desert and is helped by a baobab tree. And it just so happens that this tree can talk! The baobab tree and Johari have a nice conversation which highlights the way the Senegal people see the baobab tree. After parting ways with the tree, Johari has some challenges to face.
This story is excellently told and does a great job bringing life to the characters. I like most how different sayings and advice are sprinkled throughout the story. These wise adages make it clear the lessons you ought to learn from reading this book. It stresses the importance of wisdom, truth, and keeping your word.
Review by megan25006: 8 December 2020
The Talking Baobab Tree is a children's book about a
rabbit named Johari, a baobab tree and a hyena. This story begins with Johari
having traveled too far from her home and lost in the desert. Just as fatigue,
hunger and thirst start to overwhelm Johari she finds the strength to climb one
more towering mountain of sand and sees the baobab tree. Exhausted she tumbles
down the mountain of sand towards the tree and is startled when the tree speaks
to her. This tree gives life to many species in the barren desert and Johari is
no exception. The tree provides her with not only food and shade, but also
kindness and a gift before sending Johari home with a warning to never seek the
tree out again. When Johari returns home she is ambushed by her nosy neighbor
the hyena who traps Johari in her home to extort information regarding Johari’s
new necklace. Again, plagued by thirst and hunger, Johari eventually gives in
and begrudgingly agrees to show the hyena where the generous baobab tree
resides. But, Johari does not tell the hyena everything about the tree.
I rate The Talking Baobab Tree by Nelda LaTeef 3 out of 4 stars. I highly suggest reading this story not only for the heartwarming tale, but also for the life lessons woven into the storyline. The author did a wonderful job of integrating fairly adult concepts such as respect, greed, trust and generosity into an engaging story easily followed by children without watering down the messages at all. The author is also able to expertly expose children to a new environment and culture even including two words from the local language. I wish the author had included the country the desert is part of and the name of the local language in the story. It is present in the author’s note, but most children are unlikely to read the authors note. Had this story included the country it takes place in, the name of the local language and one or two elements of the local culture in the story itself I would have given this story 4 out of 4 stars. I did not feel the book deserved a rating as low as 2 out of 4 stars because the story is well written, engaging and feels professionally edited. The graphics along with the story also add to the reading experience in a very positive manner by helping the characters and setting come to life.
Johari did not want to return to the baobab tree because she respected the tree and was not tempted by the greed displayed by the hyena. The hyena displays other less than desirable traits like manipulation and bullying when forcing Johari to return to the baobab tree. Children are able to see the repercussions of both positive and negative character traits in this story. This will help them decide how to treat those they come in contact with their entire lives.
My favorite element of this book is how resourceful and pure hearted Johari is. My least favorite element of this book the lack of explanation of geography and language. I wish the author had expressly defined the local words the baobab tree uses when speaking to Johari. The definitions of these two words are implied by the trees actions to Johari's dialogue, but children may benefit from an explicit translation written into the story or a glossary at the end of the story.
I believe all children will enjoy this cute and engaging story. I also believe it is a story parents and grandparents will enjoy reading to their children and grandchildren. I feel middle and high school aged children may be bored by this book as it is at the reading level of younger children. This book could also be a good fit for elementary school teachers to use in the classroom to start discussions about life lessons and different cultures.
Review by rtyson: 24 December 2020
The Talking Baobab Tree, written by Nelda LaTeef, is a story of how Johari, the rabbit, with the help of her wits and her friend, the talking Baobab tree, survives the dangers posed by a hungry hyena. This clever tale demonstrates the importance of wisdom and the hazard of greed.
The book began with a page on the history of the Baobab tree. The story’s plot developed at a steady pace, which made it an easy read. The characters were vibrant, and their choices stood out as good object lessons, similar to fables. There was an overall serious tone to the story, but it had a fun twist at the end, which made it very satisfying. The artwork was good, though not as lively as some children’s books. The rabbit and hyena were small in most pictures, which made them less eye-catching.
I liked the speed of the plot and the interplay between the characters. What I liked most about this book was the charming ending that drives in the moral points. It gave me a little thrill of excitement and left me feeling good about the book. For this reason, I give this book 4 out of 4 stars.