Reading the Aa (Verna Aardema)

Reading My Library I’ve been working on my own quest to read every book in Eiseley Library since September 5, 2006. I’ve been doing it in a remarkably unsystematic way. But when Carrie at Reading to Know decided to read the picture books in her local library and record it at Reading My Library, I was struck by her system.

Not that I’m ready to give up my haphazard approach to the library entirely. But for the picture book section, Carrie’s approach seems incredibly sensible.

So, I went to my library and got every picture book by the first author in the alphabet–who just happened to be Verna Aardema.

Aardema’s signature is retelling folk stories from different cultures, primarily African cultures but with the occasional Latin American culture thrown in. She includes a lot of onomatopoeia, particularly for the sounds animals make.

I was not universally impressed with Aardema’s writings. While none of the books were bad, per say, few of them were really anything special. While the stories were vaguely amusing, most had little point. Silly things happened, the end. I tend to prefer stories that either have a plot or a moral. The majority of Aardema’s stories had neither.

There were two exceptions, however–and those exceptions were pretty exceptional.

Bringing the rain to Kapiti Plain book cover

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain was featured on Reading Rainbow in one of its earliest episodes–and the book certainly deserves it. Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain tells of a plain suffering from a drought, and a smart young cow-herder who brought the rain to Kapiti Plain. The book is told in a sing-songy manner that builds an additional line with every page. So when one page starts with “This is the cloud all heavy with rain, that shadowed the ground on Kapiti Plain”, the next page builds with “This is the grass, all brown and dead, that needed the rain from the cloud overhead–The big, black cloud, all heavy with rain, that shadowed the ground on Kapiti Plain.” And so on and so forth. This is a well written, enjoyable tale that is a delight to read.

Koi and the Kola Nuts book cover

Koi and the Kola Nuts is a second jewel from Verna Aardema. Koi is the youngest son of an African chieftan. When his father dies, his brothers get all the inheritance. All that’s left for Koi is one Kola tree. So Kola harvests the nuts from his Kola tree and sets off to make his way in the world. He meets a variety of different animals in various predicaments and has compassion on them, offering them his Kola nuts to solve their problems. When Koi finds himself vying for the hand of a neighboring chieftain’s beautiful daughter, the friends he has won for himself certainly come in handy!

Koi and the Kola Nuts is a story reminiscent of Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse” but with fun twists of its own. The story reads like a cross between a traditional fairy tale (where a boy tries to win the hand of a princess) and a fable (where animals teach a moral) with a little Biblical spice added (Koi’s situation at the beginning of the story reminds me of Jacob and Esau receiving a blessing from their father Isaac). Add in Aardema’s characteristic onomatopoeia and you’ve got a winner of a story.

Now, between Aardema and a couple of other authors, I’m done with Aa-Ab. Next up? I don’t know. I guess I’ll just have to see!

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