"In the middle of the night, when the stars are walking, Abena opens her eyes to find a lump beside her in her strange new bed." Abena and her little brother Kofi have moved to America from Ghana, and they each have some fears to overcome. Fortunately Abena knows the stories of Anansi and she tells them to Kofi again, to help them both remember where they came from.
"Anansi was tricky. He was sure he was the wisest person on the whole earth. But sometimes in the small, small night he stayed awake, like you, and worried. He worried about who else was lying awake thinking of tricky things to do. He didn't want anyone to be wiser than he was..."
Abena tells her brother these stories by the light of her flashlight, remembering the moon that shines over her grandmother's house and the fireflies flickering in the night. She can hear the storyteller's call through the village. In the storytelling tradition of her people the storyteller calls the children from around the village by calling out "Anansi is a cheat!" The children run toward the fire, calling "Come and say what you know." She calls again, and they answer and gather around her. At the end of the story Abena repeats the traditional closing phrases, saying "This story I told, if it's nice or if it's not nice, I carry the story to the next teller. Are you asleep yet?" No, Kofi needs another story. Eventually he is tucked back into bed and falls asleep. Abena watches out the window to see the stars, thinking of how they will "keep walking all the way across the sky until her grandmother and cousins halfway across the world will look up and see them, too." She falls asleep comforted.
In the author's note at the back of the book Kurtz tells that a friend of hers from Ghana used to tell these Anansi stories to her children. She learned from him about village life in his childhood home and wove his memories into her story of Abena and his little brother. Kurtz grew up in Ethiopia herself, and has written 22 books for children and adults based largely on her own experiences. She has a wonderful website full of links, stories, and biographical information. I am going to post more on her in my Friday Poetry post, so I will save the rest of my comments for later.
I am bringing home In the Small, Small Night to share with my boys this weekend. Buster is coming home from college for the summer, so Buddy is moving back into sharing a room with Punkin. I think this story will resonate with them as they share a room in the small, small summer nights. The illustrations in this book, done by Rachel Isadora (who also did At the Crossroads, which I reviewed and loved) are beautiful. The cover image of the two children hugging looks so much like my boys it gives me a warm feeling. As Punkin becomes more verbal and actively interactive they are developing a sweet, competitive, supportive brotherhood that I am enjoying. They fight in the backseat, takes each other's food and toys, and show compassion for each others' boo boos. This book is just right for where we are now!