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Tololwa M. Mollell. Illustrated by Paul Morin.
Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 1990.
32pp., cloth, $15.95.
ISBN 019-540783-0. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Masai (African people)-Folklore.

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9

Reviewed by Maryleah Otto.

Volume 19 Number 1
1991 January

There is a leitmotif common to many folktales: we are blessed by a power beyond our understanding, we are given a sacred trust, we break that trust, we suffer the consequences. This is the theme of The Orphan Boy, a Maasai tale about the planet Venus. In it we recognize our natural curiosity, our suspicion of events that we cannot explain, the use of our free will, and our awareness of forces in a dimension that is alien to the one we know through our limited powers.

The story tells of an aged tribesman who had always loved the stars, even thinking of them as his children. One night he notices that a familiar star is missing. At the same moment, a young boy appears outside the old man's hut. He says only that he is an orphan and that he is called Kileken. Each day he does the tribesman's chores and looks after his cattle morning and evening. He also saves the herd from a killing drought by what can only be a miracle. Kileken's only request is that the old man must never see him at work. Piqued by curiosity and sensing something supernatural about the strange boy, the tribesman spies on him. Alas, he is discovered. Instantly, Kileken vanishes in a blinding light. The old man's good fortune is ended.

Tololwa Mollel has retold this tale from his homeland in classical, flowing prose that is never overwritten. The language isn't too difficult for children in the middle elementary grades. Adult readers will appreciate it, too, for folktales appeal to all ages.

Very high praise indeed must be given to award-winning artist Paul Morin, whose marvellous illustrations resemble fine paintings done on old linen. These pictures convey every bit as much emotion, atmosphere and action as the text. Even the black-and-white sketches are gems. The lovely page borders depict delicate African bead work and the end papers are like a batik with blue handprints on a black background.

Lucky is the child whose eyes will see and whose ears will hear the story of Kileken, the star that became incarnate and dwelt among us for a while, only to be betrayed by one whom he had come to help. In the heavens, Kileken is the planet Venus, and he can be seen both in the morning and the evening at the very times when the mysterious orphan boy used to tend the cattle of the old Maasai tribesman.

Maryleah Otto, St. Thomas Public Library, St. Thomas, ON.
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