CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 36. . . .May 18, 2018
Princess Abema and the Magic Plant.
Vivian Amanor. Illustrated by Joan Raskin.
Winnipeg, MB: OSU Children’s Library Fund (188 Montrose St., Winnipeg, MB R3M 3M7), 2018.
32 pp., hardcover, $15.00.
Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.
Review by Ellen Heaney.
The two kingdoms of Wusah and Paanya exist side by side. They are neither particularly hostile nor especially cordial to one another, although one is described as powerful and one as friendly. When the son of King Berima of Paanya falls ill, there seems to no cure anywhere.
The king’s heart ached as he grieved for his ailing son.
Lila, a Paanyan maid who comes from Wusah, tells King Berima of a magical plant belonging to Princess Abena of Wusah that might provide a cure. Lila is dispatched to obtain the plant. It is generously given, and an effective medicine for Prince Katey is obtained by boiling its leaves.
Tears were his only food.
The next day, King Berima travelled to the Wusah Kingdom.
When he arrived, he declared, “Oh, great King Alini, my son
has recovered. I am most grateful to you and Princess Abena for
giving us her magical plant.
He then presents Abena with a gold necklace in thanks.
Life goes on smoothly until King Alini of Wusah dies and his weak son Adimeh succeeds him. Adimeh, who has proven himself to be greedy and wicked, is jealous of Abena who is popular with the people. He decides that he can claim more power in the kingdom if he reclaims the special Kuna plant from Paanya. The problem with this scheme is that the healing plant has grown to the size of a mighty tree and cannot be moved. However the request to take the plant back creates a rift between the two peoples, and the young Paanyan king Katey is counselled to send a message demanding the return of Abena’s golden necklace.
King Adimeh ignores the pleas of his advisors who have reminded him of Abena’s good works since acquiring the necklace. Apparently he is bent on getting the Kuna plant back to Wusah.
The day arrived for the necklace to be removed and returned.
In true folkloric style (although the story is not based on a traditional tale), blind Adimeh repents his bad ways and Abena becomes queen. Then she and King Katey wed and unite their kingdoms.
King Adimeh and his elders were waiting for Princess Abena.
As she entered the palace courtyard, clouds suddenly started to form.
It was as if a great darkness was swallowing the entire Wusah Kingdom.
The moment the king touched the Princess Abena’s necklace, a piercing
stream of light appeared and struck his eyes. The king shouted in pain.
His elders fled to save their souls and left their blinded king.
Some of the text passages are long for a picture book, and there are a number of confusing plot twists. For example, at the end it is difficult to determine why only King Adimeh is punished for wanting to remove the necklace, not Katey for wanting it returned. I had a hard time keeping all the characters sorted out, in part because of the similarity of several of the names, and I believe young readers would have the same problem.
The illustrations for the story are of a primitivist style, with some awkward figure drawing. The plant and animal forms add some eye-catching detail to the backdrop, and the most interesting feature of the pictures is the inclusion of a variety of colourful Ghanaian kente cloth as clothing.
Osu Children’s Library Fund which has published this story is a non-profit organization founded by Canadian Kathy Knowles to promote literacy and access to books for Ghanaian children. It now supports libraries in several African countries as well as in the Philippines. The fund has an extensive catalogue of publications in English (Where is the Star? A Book of Shapes from Ghana; My Blue Book; My Yellow Book), a number of which have previously been favorably reviewed in CM. Many of the titles feature colour photographs of African children and scenes that offer a window into African life. There are also other storybooks as well as books in several African languages on their list.
Vivian Amanor and Joan Rankin have contributed to a worthy enterprise. In the end, Princess Abena and the Magic Plant could be an additional resource for a collection aimed at teaching about African culture.
Recommended with Reservations.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.
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