Nyame the Sky God owns all the stories in the world. Ananse the Spider man, spins a web up into the sky to buy them for his people. He strikes a deal with Nyame: in exchange for the stories he will bring him Osebo, the leopard of terrible teeth, and Mmboro, the hornet who stings like fire, and mmoatia, the fairy whom no man sees.
All three are impossible, impossible tasks for a man, but not for Ananse the Spider.
This Ashanti tale is one of the classic "trickster" stories, in some ways the African counterpart to the Greek Prometheus. Unlike the Greek or Native American heroes who steal fire from the gods, however, the hero Ananse wants stories, and he's willing to pay for them. How he goes about doing it is where the trickery and deceit comes in.
Gail Haley's woodcuts are as bright, cheerful, and vibrant as the story itself. The sound effects she sprinkles throughout the story make it fun to read aloud. She also uses the African storytelling device of repetition for emphasis. Older readers could benefit from explaining why she repeats certain words and what that means to the story.
Like all trickster stories, deceit is used but shown to have a positive end. Does it justify the means? It may be worth discussing with any young readers of this otherwise enjoyable Caldecott medalist.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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