Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (Picture Books 1/6)

I've been a bit busy this summer, with the classes I've been taking.  One of which is a Literary Criticism course, focusing on Children's Lit.  So, I've still been reading, but it's been all juvenile lit instead of for pure pleasure, though I have to stay I'm loving it and the books.  I worked hard on these six "reading responses", so I thought I might as well share them; got a perfect score for them, by the way. :)

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions
Margaret Musgrove, author
Diane and Leo Dillon, illustrators
Reading level: Ages 4-8*
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Puffin; P edition (July 15, 1992)
Winner: Randolph Caldecott Medal, 1977.
Category: Non fiction concept book.
Style: Realism/traditional/folk art
Media: Pastel, watercolor, acrylic, ink
5/5 stars

Musgrove uses the alphabet book concept to showcase 26 traditional African cultures. For each one, she explains a custom about that culture in one paragraph. Each entry emphasize the variety in the cultures she has chosen. There is no particular rhythm to the prose, she does not use rhyme or repetition, and for that reason it is not an exciting book to read aloud.

For each culture represented, the Dillons illustrated a detailed, realistic family or community scene. Each scene is framed with the same knot design, and each contains a male, female, and child of that particular people, as well a depiction of their home and fauna native to their part of Africa. Despite this planned similarity, each scene is unique. The Dillons depict each tribe with varying skin tones and facial features, use a wide variety of colors and patterns and apparently did extensive research to make each scene accurate. Though they have attempted to be realistic, their style is also traditional, reminiscent of a fairy tale book, with soft lines, gentle shading and muted colors. In addition, the perspective is somewhat stylized, adding a folk art feel. Their illustrations combine well with Musgrove’s writing, as they both work together to bring out the beauty and mystique of a culture foreign to most readers.

It is intended for the standard picture book age*, and may not be appropriate. Preschoolers may not be mature enough to understand or be interested in other cultures yet, though these illustrations could be enticing enough to make them want the book read aloud. Many of the terms will be too advanced for early readers, making this one that will need to be read with an adult for the majority of those in the intended age range. A teacher could use this when discussing African history, and it could certainly spark discussion about the difference in cultures and traditions.

*note: I have since found out that Amazon has this rated for the wrong age group; according to the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database it is intended for grades 4-5.

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