THE KING AND THE TORTOISE
Tololwa M. Mollel
Volume 21 Number 4
This retelling of a traditional Cameroon tale depicts a vain king who issues a challenge to all of his subjects to prove that they are the wisest by making him a robe of smoke. The hare is the first to attempt the task but she soon stumbles away exhausted, as do the sly fox, the fierce leopard and the heavy elephant who follow her.
Finally, the slow-footed tortoise arrives and is granted seven days and all of the necessary supplies. At the end of a week, the amused king and his councillors greet the tortoise and provide him with more thread to complete his task. When he refuses the thread put before him and asks for a thread of fire, the king is speechless, but he happily acknowledges that the tortoise is as clever as the king.
While the ending may confuse younger readers, the characters are so appealing and the tortoise so familiar a trickster in African tales that children will undoubtedly cheer him on. The richly coloured double-page illustrations depict characters in traditional Cameroon costume. Warmth and humour bring the characters to life and the Cameroon designs bordering each page will entice readers to find similar patterns in the clothing, animals and surrounding objects.
Pearl Herscovitch is Instructional Services Librarian at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta.
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