Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Matatu by Eric Walters {The Children's Bookshelf}

Note: The Children's Bookshelf is going on vacation! We're taking the summer off with this linky, so we can all read even more terrific kidlit titles to share with you in the fall. Enjoy today's posts and remember you can always read any of our past posts for The Children's Bookshelf here.

Why read multicultural books to your kids? There are lots of reasons, many of which I've talked about here in the past. First and foremost, it opens up a child's mind to the notion that there are many people the world over who live in ways both different and the same. It helps connect them to their heritage, which is especially important for families who share multiple ethnicities. Multicultural literature develops tolerance and understanding, making kids mindful that we are all global citizens. And it's fun - young readers can travel around the world through litearture, all the while learning about traditions, customs and backgrounds from various countries.

Today's pick is a perfect example of a book that can accomplish all of the above, and that's got a good dose of humor besides. A brief note at the beginning explains that Eric Walters has been accepted as an elder of the Kamba people in Kenya; as such he is a cultural insider with the authority to relate one of the Kamba's stories in the form of his picture book The Matatu. What I love about this book is that Walters just tells the story - he doesn't exoticize the matatus, the buses that carry passengers and goods from village to village. And the traditional Kamba tale is tucked nicely into a story about young Kioko and his grandfather.

Kioko is excited to be celebrating his fifth birthday with a ride on a matatu! He rushes to get on board, then waits impatiently for his Babu, who seems to be taking forever. When the pair is finally settled in their seats, Kioko notices the dogs chasing the bus and asks his grandfather about them. Babu instructs Kioko to first look for sheep and goats, and see how they react when the matatu comes past. Then Babu tells Kioko the story of Dog, Goat, and Sheep, and how these animals took a ride on the matatu together. When it came time to pay, each animal had a different experience - and these encounters are why the various species run from or toward an approaching matatu. (No spoilers here - but if you've ever driven in Africa, you'll know the animal behaviors are spot on!).

An author's note explains the details of matatus and their role in Kenyan daily life, which adds even more authenticity to the tale. Eva Campbell did the illustrations and they are as colorful and lively as an African village. There's no shortage of excitement when a matatu rumbles through, and Campbell captures that spirit perfectly. Though the story of the dogs, goats and sheep forms the center of this story, the real heart of the book is Kioko's relationship with his Babu. It's terrific to see the the esteem with which the other villagers treat Babu, and this and his wonderful stories add to Kioko's appreciation of all his grandfather is for him.

The Matatu is a text-heavy title, which makes it a perfect choice for older preschoolers. Its sly humor is also best received by a slightly older audience (or really, their parents). This is a great addition to any unit about Africa. The genuine respect Walters feels for the Kamba people is evident throughout, and Campbell's illustrations bolster that feeling, which will translate to readers as well. Just don't be surprised if your kiddos want to jump on a matatu themselves!

The Matatu by Eric Walters, published by Orca Book Publishers
Ages 4-8
Source: Library
Sample: "Kioko raced toward the market. He passed huts, houses and stalls, not even glancing at the sweet mandazi for sale. / He ran past people, pushcarts and bicycles. Then he saw it - the matatu. A crowd of passengers waited to board. The roof was heavy with bags of maize, bundles of grass, a bed frame, a mattress and three chairs."

Bonus: check out this clip of a matatu from Eric Walters' website


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5 comments: said...

This book looks really interesting, even to a parent/adult. I love books that can teach us about other parts of the world.

Mud Hut Mama said...

I've never heard of this book but it sounds like a must read for my girls! I'm pinning this and putting it on our wish list. Have a wonderful summer vacation and I'll look forward to hearing about what you've read in the fall. Have you come across any picture books set in Zambia?

Erica MomandKiddo said...

Once again, you've introduced me to a new book! Putting it on hold at the library!

chinese painting said...

great book review! This is the one I was looking for that can share with my boy! He must love it!!

Becky said...

We have read this one!!! Such a great book!