Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions
Margaret Musgrove ~ pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon
The Dial Press, 1976

Continuing to highlight African American artists, Leo Dillon and his wife Diane have collaborated for more than fifty years and won two Caldecott Medals, one for Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears written by Verna Aardema and another for this one. As an interracial couple, they've worked together and broken all sorts of cultural barriers through their work, creating books that both uplift and inform the hearts of children.

Before the my son was born, my husband and I took a short mid-life retirement and went around the world for seven months. On that trip, we spent time in Tanzania camping with both the Chagga and Masai tribes, and of course, got more than an eyeful of animals. We often talk to our son about how wonderful the country was and have solemnly promised we'll take him there when he turns 11. Naturally, he loves this book. Particularly the fact that a bird is featured prominently on almost every page... and not just any birds, African birds... his favorite. When he was a toddler, he would watch the James Earl Jones narrated film Africa the Serengeti over and over again to see the flamingos fly. This Christmas the number one thing on his Santa list was a "real, live secretary bird", and he even altered the words to the holiday favorite "I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas" from hippo to secretary bird... even calling it a "snakatarian". But that's going all the way around my arm to get to my elbow. Simply put, this is a gorgeous book...

C/ Chagga (chah-guh) children grow up in groups with other children of the same age and sex. Often a group takes a name that sounds brave or proud. The children work, play, and go to school together. In a special initiation ceremony they all become adults at the same time. Chagga priests perform this ceremony in traditional costumes, and sometimes the children's faces are painted. After a big celebration the children are considered adults.

Each letter of the alphabet covers one African tribe with the Dillons representing in each painting a man, woman and child from the tribe as well as their living quarters, an artifact, and a local animal. There's so much to see and take in on every page. The only disappointment I have is that in our copy and library copies I have seen, some of the paintings seems to be blurry and out of focus, and for a book as large as it is, it's a shame that the pictures are so small and traditionally bordered. Not to say that the A to Z story isn't wonderful, as the definitions and histories give a great insight into elements of different African cultures.... but, I'd love to see a reprint where the paintings are brought forward, bolder and brighter, allowing the artwork to stand on it's own. (Is the paperback any better?) Maybe what I really want is to see an art show of the original works. How cool would that be!?!

Also by:
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears


Chandra said...

This is a gorgeous book - one of my all time faves!

Swati said...

Such beautiful illustrations.

Unknown said...

This looks lovely!

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