Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Picture Book Review - Mama Panya's Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin

When we embarked on the process of adopting from Ethiopia, I immediately began scouring the shelves of every library and bookstore for fun picture books about East Africa. There are several Ethiopian ones, and I'll share many of them in the weeks and months to come (if you can't wait, a good place to start is anything by the fabulous Jane Kurtz. Really, you can't go wrong.) But I didn't want to limit myself to just books about Sprout's birth country, so I cast a wider net and found some great titles about other nations on the Horn of Africa.

One such title is Mama Panya's Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya by Mary and Rich Chamberlin. Right from the start, you know you have a fun choice here, with its vibrant and colorful artwork that captures the look of village life. The characters are joyful and it shows, both through Julia Cairns' illustrations and through the spunky, lively text of the story itself. Mama Panya and little Adika are on their way to market to buy ingredients for pancakes. Along the way they run into a lot of friends and neighbors, and Adika just can't help inviting each and every one along for pancakes. Mama Panya is worried: will her flour stretch to make pancakes for everyone? Yet somehow "a little bit and a little bit more" becomes just enough! (Think "stone soup" and you'll get the drift.)

The authors have taken pains to add in aspects of Kenyan life and culture; especially thoughtful is the inclusion of various wildlife common to the Kenyan countryside. The post-story pages include quite a bit of information about language, geography and environment, and even feature a recipe for the titular pancakes (although they sound less like pancakes and more like flatbread similar to Ethiopian injera, but the target audience won't care about the semantics there).

I'm in no way an expert on Kenya, so I can't say for sure how culturally sound this tale is as a whole. Still, if you take it at face value, as a light and playful story about the importance of sharing and making room for others, there's a whole lot to like. The representations of the village and the process of walking to market give texture to the tale. Kids can see traditional homes and garb, from head scarfs to the robes worn by the cattle herders. It's quite nice too that the relationship between Mama Panya and Adika is never fully spelled out -- Mama Panya may in fact be Adika's birth parent, or a relative or neighbor who is caring for the young boy. The distinction isn't important, and that makes this a nice choice to read to an adopted child who may have been raised by a grandmother, aunt or other relative.

Sprout's a little young yet to sit still for this one, though he did have fun looking at the pictures and picking out the doggie who appears on nearly every page. Mama Panya would be a nice choice for storytime and a good jumping-off place to learn more about Kenya's history, culture and daily life.

Mama Panya's Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, published by Barefoot Books
Ages 4-8
Source: Library
Sample quote: "Mama tucked the package into her bag. 'Ai-Yi-Yi! You and I will be lucky to share half a pancake.'
'But Mama, we have a little bit and a little bit more.'"

No comments: