CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 38 . . . . June 3, 2016
Kabungo is the whimsical friendship story of 10-year-old Beverly and her best friend, Kabungo, who happens to be a cavegirl. The book is comprised of several episodic chapters wherein Beverley follows Kabungo on funny adventures in the fictional town of Star City. Parts of the novel have been previously published in knowonder! magazine and their anthologies.
Beverly recognizes having a cavegirl as a best friend is unusual, but she and her community seem to accept that there is a child living alone in a cave on Main Street. The novel is almost completely concerned with the girls' present adventures. Kabungo's background is a mystery, and, apart from featuring a "cavegirl", the rest of the novel is realistic. Although the reader may have questions about Kabungo's history, the author has no intention of providing clear answers. Instead, readers are asked to accept the mystery and embrace the playful storytelling.
As the narrator, Beverly adds a dry wit to the adventures and plays the role of the comedic "straight man" in the many humorous situations when Kabungo does not behave according to social conventions. Kabungo's cavegirl ways are typically harmless buffoonery. The notable exceptions of this are a brief instance of cruelty to a mouse and a slapstick scene in which Kabungo mistakes Beverly for a raven and tries to hunt her. Kabungo does not attend school and does not understand personal hygiene. While there are multiple instances where Rolli playfully tries to gross-out the reader, such as when Kabungo eats (or wants to eat) insects, ravens, raccoons, and a dead seagull, it is all done with a soft touch. Milan Pavlovic's grayscale comic illustrations add to the whimsy by contrasting the fresh-faced Beverly with the messy Kabungo.
Rolli is a master storyteller for juvenile readers. The highly engaging plot is well-paced with friendship and adventure at the forefront, and the novel has just enough silliness and crude humour to keep children giggling. The lingering questions about Kabungo's missing family add poignancy and emotional depth to the narrative without overpowering the light-hearted mood. Although the content will appeal to young readers, some may find Kabungo's toddler-like speech patterns, with misspelled words and poor grammar, to be challenging. This confusion may be minimized when the book is read aloud or is read by more proficient readers.
Rolli's unique storytelling, the episodic nature of the chapters and the pervasive humour of the novel, are sure to make Kabungo a beloved story and entertaining read-aloud for children.
Beth Wilcox is a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia and is a library learning commons teacher in Prince George, BC.
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