Book Review: Sikulu & Harambe By the Zambezi River

Sikulu and HarambeSikulu & Harabe by the Zambezi River;
An African Version of the Good Samaritan Story
written by Kunle Oguneye
Illustrated by Bruce McCorkindale
Published by Blue Brush Media, 2008
Audience (Reading Level): 3 to 8 (3.8 Flesch Kincaid)

Late Saturday afternoon, I stopped by the Mom’s Choice Awards booth at Book Expo America to see who was around. There were a few authors milling about, including Kunle Oguneye, who had been signing books earlier in the afternoon. We started talking about children’s books and reading meaningful stories. Near the end of our conversation, he reached in his bag, pulled out a book, signed it, and gave it to me. Kunle told me earlier in the conversation that he had signed all of his books and had none to give away. Yet, he generously shared his last copy. When I closed the book after reading it, I realized Kunle was demonstrating the story itself.

Sikulu (see coo lu) is a spider; Harambe (ha ram bay) is a hippo. They are best friends. While playing hide and seek in the savanna, they get thirsty. Just as they are reaching the river bank, they see an old woman slip into the Zambezi River. Her basket of clothes land in the water and are flowing downstream.

Sikulu and Harambe yell saying they will help, but they are too far away for her to hear them. While they are making their way toward her, the woman approaches Lubinda the fish, because she and her friends are the closest. They aren’t swimming in the right direction; they cannot help her. Then she approaches Imasiku (E ma see coo) the stork; he is too busy trying to find his lunch. Mundia the elephant can’t help either – it isn’t his bath day, and he doesn’t want to get wet.

The woman gives up hope … until she sees Sikulu and Harambe wade into the water. Like all spiders, Sikulu is afraid of water, and this was a terrifying experience. He relied solely on Harambe to protect him.  In exchange for their help, the old woman let them select gifts from a pot she had with her (think purse). Although both tried to return the treasures – Sikulu selected emerald and gold bracelets for all of his legs; and Harambe pulled out a chitenge cloth fit for kings – the woman insisted they keep them.

When Mundia, Imasiku, and Lubinda saw the gifts, they were jealous.  They remembered how they had behaved and were ashamed. They vowed to make a different choice the next time someone asked for help.

This is a beautifully told, wonderfully illustrated story. Kunle ( a native Nigerian) has set this story in Zambia and the language – which is a collection of words from various African dialects – is exquisite. Each of the words’ origins is included in a glossary at the back of the book.

The story celebrates the themes of selflessness, compassion, and community that are both universal and timeless.  For me, the story blended the traditional good Samaritan story and The Little Red Hen. Although some may see this as “religious,” there is nothing to suggest a Creator or specific religion.

Bruce MacCorkindale did a wonderful job with the illustrations. The colors are bright and the level of detail and busy-ness is just right for a young audience. The Lozi people and the animals are unique and expressive. A minor point:  Sikulu is a bit over-the-top and more comic than the other characters. That may be of necessity, since normally a spider doesn’t take up half of a Hippo’s back.

I highly recommend Sikulu & Harambe by the Zambezi River.  It is storytelling at its best, with the lessons build into the story but still completely evident. The crayon-styled illustrations might lead you to think this is a book for only the youngest audiences. Preschoolers and Kindergartners will love this book, but so will kids up to third grade. The story itself and the lessons it offers will engage newly independent readers and offer a wonderful complement to the study of folklore and culture.  The last spread int he book includes information about each of the animals and facts about Zambia.

Other reviews
Curled Up with a Good Kid’s Book, undated
Parent Reviewers, March 2009

Right Reads, January 2009
Testimonials by Children on the Website

Book-related Information and Activities online
Book Bites for Kids (Global Talk Radio) August 2008
Kunle talks abut Sikulu and Harambe

This is our contribution to two wonderful events celebrating diversity and authors of color. This is our seventh book for the Diversity Rocks Book Challenge.  We are also happy to participate in the August: Color Me Brown Book Challenge at Color Online.  The goal is to collect 100 titles in August … When I checked this morning, there were 96 links! Even if you don’t have a book to offer, you now have a ready-made list and there is sure to be a book there you’ll enjoy.

5 responses to “Book Review: Sikulu & Harambe By the Zambezi River

  1. Pingback: Terry Doherty
  2. I get excited when I hear of picture books which combine culture, morals, fiction, and nonfiction in a fun way. If I were reading it aloud, I would be sure to have a world map or globe handy, as well as other books related to Zambia. I’m sure there’s an art project and some music that would go along with it perfectly as well. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. Thanks, Terry!

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