Saturday, February 03, 2007

Anansi and the Talking Melon

retold by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Janet Stevens. Holiday House, 1994.

Anansi stories are trickster tales from West Africa and the Caribbean. Anansi won the title of King of the Stories from Nyame, the sky god in A Story, A Story. In Eric A. Kimmel’s version of Anansi and the Talking Melon Anansi crawls inside a round ripe melon and eats until he is too fat to climb back out the hole he made. He hears an elephant coming to the garden patch and decides to have some fun with him. When Elephant hears a voice coming from the melon he is amazed and impressed. He decides to take it to the king. Other animals join in the procession, each one becoming insulted and impressed by the talking melon. The King is surprised and interested, but at his inquiry Anansi becomes silent. After holding out until the king was ready to give up, at last he speaks to insult the king. The king becomes angry and throws the melon all the way back to Elephant’s house, where it bounces into a thorn tree. The melon breaks and Anansi happily crawls out and up a tree to start eating bananas. Pretty soon elephant thinks he is standing near talking bananas.

Buddy boy enjoyed this story very much. He laughed at the foolish animals and was delighted with Anansi’s clever trickery. He wondered why the animals couldn’t see the hole where Anansi was hiding in the melon, since it was clearly visible to us in the illustrations. I think it was a literary device to make sure we understood that it was Anansi inside the melon that was talking and not the melon. Each animal holds the fruit up with the spider hole facing toward the reader and away from the characters in the story. I don’t think Buddy Boy has enough abstract reasoning to realize that the story characters have a different visual point of view than the reader. I tried to explain it to him but I am not sure he got it. He thought it was hilarious that the spider ends up talking for the bananas and Elephant is taken in by the same trick that started the whole story. Circular stories are so satisfying.

I think there is something attractive about Anansi being small and frail compared to Elephant, Rinno, Hippo, Warthog and the Gorilla king. Young children can appreciate the need to use cleverness in getting sweet melons out of the Elephant’s garden, since they themselves are in that daily struggle in their own kitchens. That Anansi ate himself too fat to escape is also a familiar problem that children can relate to; they are often getting stuck in a situation through over-indulgence and lack of planning. I found Janet Stevens’ illustrations to be whimsical and amusing. Elephant leaps up in the air in surprise and dances down the road with Hippo. The facial expressions are well done and add a lot to the story for non-readers. The only difficulty I had with this book was that on some pages the text was printed on top of the patterned illustrations (such as the melon skin itself), which made it difficult to read. On the whole I would recommend this book and I expect it will be one that Buddy regrets returning to the library.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

D and I are also big fans of trickster tales. I think he especially enjoys being "in" on the trick... in "The Leopard's Drum," he frequently chastises the bigger animals for not believing that Achi-cheri the tortoise has a chance. "She sure DOES have a chance, right, Mommy? She has the BEST chance!"