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. Volume VIII Number 14 . . . . March 15, 2002
Every storyteller has a favourite Ananse story. The justly famous eight-legged trickster is clever and foolish in equal measure, often finding the tables turned on him. In an introductory note to the ten stories in The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories, author Adwoa Badoe, a Ghanian physician living in Ontario, sets the stage for the storyteller: "Ananse stories are unbelievable/ Tell them well, tell them believably!" A lover of trickster tales might also add: "And tell them with a good measure of humour!" It is this last element that is unfortunately lacking in Badoe's re-telling of the adventures of the famous spider. Certainly, those who know and love Ananse do not expect him to be anything other than an unprincipled rascal; greedy, selfish, dishonest, attention seeking, envious, foolhardy and, above all, lazy. However, the reader should be inclined to chuckle at Ananse's tricks (so deliciously satisfying when they backfire) rather than feel revulsion at them.
It may be that ten Ananse stories are just too much trickery to stomach at one go, or that the writer strikes too serious a tone in her re-tellings, but, in any case, young listeners will not find much at which to chuckle in The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories. By contrast, re-tellings of Anansi stories in picture book form by Eric Kimmel, with illustrations by Janet Stevens, (Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock or Anansi and the Fisherman) exemplify the type of lively tongue-in-cheek writing which has so long endeared the arrogant arachnid to children (and adults). As well, these picture books provide a more satisfying read-aloud for Kindergarten to Grade Three listeners during a story hour than Badoe's collection.
Colour illustrations by Malian artist Baba Wague Diakite are bold and bright, fashioned from polychromed and glazed earthenware tiles. Charming black and white drawings of Ananse figures enhance the bottom of each page and introduce each story. The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories is a handsome book which some elementary school librarians may wish to add to their library's collection of folklore from around the world. Older children investigating multi-ethnic folktales for a language arts activity might find this collection useful and interesting.
Recommended with reservations.
Valerie Nielsen is a retired teacher-librarian who lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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