Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears
by Verna Aardema
Pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon

Caldecott Award, 1976

Ages : 5 to 8

This would be an interesting question to ponder on, isn't it? And one that has a very interesting answer too, revealed by this very cute, award winning book!

The story starts with a mosquito telling the iguana who comes to the waterhole, a little something...about a farmer digging yams that were almost as big as the mosquito was!!! The iguana, for his part, is mighty annoyed at being told such tall tales and sticks a couple of sticks in his ears to avoid hearing such nonsense and walks off mek mek mek mek, looking pretty grumpy.

He passes by his friend, python, hardly noticing him and thus ignoring his greeting as well. Python for his part misunderstands Iguana's silence and concludes that his friend is angry with him! (How often does that happen to us? :)). He slithers off wasawusu wasawusu, to go hide in a rabbit hole!

The rabbit panics when she sees the big snake coming and she scurries out the back way, krik krik krik, across a clearing.

A crow sees the rabbit running for her life, and decides to warn the entire forest about the impending danger. Kaa kaa kaa...he cries as he flies off!

A monkey hears the crow, sure that some dangerous beast is nearby. He starts leaping, kili wili kili wili, through the trees to warn the other animals.

As the monkey crashes through the treetops, he lands on a dead limb in one of the trees, and it breaks and falls on an owl's nest, killing one of the owlets. And this is the midpoint of the book.

It is morning and Mother owl is not home yet. When she returns, she learns of what happened and in her grief, refuses to hoot for the sun to come out that morning, as she normally does. The night stretches out longer and longer. All the animals fear that the sun will never come back. And this problem is finally taken up by the King Lion himself. You may wonder how he is going to tackle this. Where will he start investigating the problem?

He begins at the only point he can....with Mother Owl and why does she not hoot to call the sun to come out. And thus the story rewinds once more, through each scene that happened before it, until we once again arrive at the crux of the story. And the starting point once again becomes its end. The mosquito appears before King Lion and all the animals call for his punishment for setting off the chain of events, beginning with a simple tall tale. Mother Owl, satisfied with the justice, hoots and the sun comes out. Order is once again restored to the kingdom, save for the mosquito who hides out of sight and refuses to come out.

Which once again brings us back to the question. Why do mosquitoes buzz in people's ears??? It turns out that she still has a very guilty conscience, and to this day, she goes about whining in people's ears....Zeeee!! Is everyone still angry with me? And when she does that, she gets an honest answer! **Kpao**!!!!

This book is the retelling of a West African legend. The illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon, won them the Caldecott Medal. In it, they have used watercolours, pastels and India ink. The cutout shapes were made by using friskets and vellum cut shapes at different angles. This is the slightly more technical information. From a more personal standpoint, I would say that the illustrations are truly the highlight of this book. The colours are brilliant and dazzling and with visually arresting patterns that convey the nuances of the rich African culture so vibrantly. And it is all done so economically on each page, making ample use of the space and leaving enough for the text to show up boldly. Its just brilliant!

A couple of parting notes....

I love the essence of this story...of the ripple effect that something can have...however small its beginning.


The very cute use of animal phonetics...like the mek mek mek of the iguana, or the wasawusu wasawusu of the python or the krik krik krik of the rabbit or the kili wili of the monkey bounding through the trees! The cute repetitions add the fun factor to the book, while also becoming a graphic experience to a reader.

The humorous ending twist to the story of why mosquitoes do actually buzz in people's ears. Now, everytime I hear and ward off that next pesky moskie, I'll know I am perfectly justified in doing so! ;)

15 comments:

utbtkids said...

We loved this book, the four year old, the three year old and their mommy. The three year old in particular loved the kili wili kili wili, kaa kaa kaa, kirk kirk kirk, mek mek mek and the wasawusu wasawusu.... :)

If teh book has Caldecott, I am sure to check out teh book. How many ways there are to illustrate.....it just awes me :)

Sheela said...

The cover illustration is enough to make me want to grab this book and do art projects with Ana using the techniques! Thanks for another great find, Tharini! Keep 'em coming!

Kodi's Mom said...

LOL!!! What a hoot! We have **got to** check this out!!

B o o said...

Now this is my kinda book! Hope my kids like it too! ;)

meera sriram said...

Hilarious pick T! Reminds me of one such Dr.Suess book we enjoy called "Becasue a little bug went kachoom" , in which a bug's sneeze sets off a chain of ridiculous events, one larger than the previous and it all ends with "all because a little bug went kachoom"..ha ha ha!

Tharini said...

Thanks guys!

Meera...that's exactly the trend in this book too. What fun!

Praba said...

Leo Dillon was the first African-American artist to win the Caldecott. Husband and wife who work collaboratively. They won two consecutive Caldecotts. Amazing, isn't it?

Little actions leading to big consequences, a nice idea to introduce to little ones. Great choice, T!

Also, amazes me how many such domino effect/chain reaction story-telling we've come across - a common thread for story-telling among many cultures! Convinced that human instinct for stories, finding narratives for life and story-telling remain the same irrespective of where we are from -thus, storytelling/sharing stories bear the seeds for peace!

hmm..that was a long one. Will save the rest for the wrap-up post! :-)

ssstoryteller said...

simple story line, what we call as the chain story...i find is always a great hit with smaller kids...this story is a great one for me to adapt into a puppet show...thanks

DDmom said...

WOW!! Wow! Simply wow! Standing ovation to whoever came up with the thought of taking the readers through this multi cultural joy ride around the globe. And to the contributors. Fabulous job. Amazing picks. Thank You.

A request to the Bangalore/India ST members and ST readers from India. Where/how to get access to these books? Pl. to share. For once, I am missing my good old bay area libraries.

Poppins said...

A fun book it sounds like!

ranjani.sathish said...

Tharini, a great find and a wonderful review !! I am sure this book will appeal to both my kids. What a way to introduce animals and the fun sounds they make :-)

wordjunkie said...

Sounds like a lovely book. And for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for a mosquito:)

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

Oh! I remember this story from MY school-days! When I was around 5 or 6 in NY! The pictures stayed with me a long time!

I think that was one of the first stories that got my interested in myths, folktales and legends!

ChoxBox said...

Wow what a winner this book sounds! Love the chain of events theme!

Meera, I also instantly thought of that bug going kachchoo book!

ChoxBox said...

@DDMom: I will put up info on children's libraries in Bangalore next week. All of them have very decent collections - much to my very pleasant surprise, and I have certainly seen at least the Handa books there. Plan to head off soon with a list from the CROCUS reviews, and hope to find some at least!

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