retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley
Ever wonder where the stories came from - any story, all stories? And why Ananse, the spider man, seems to be tightly intertwined with all the stories we know today?
Many African stories, whether or not they are about Kwaku Ananse the "spider man", are called "Spider Stories". This book is about how that came to be.
Once, long long ago, all the stories belonged to Nyame, the Sky God, who kept them locked in his golden chest. Ananse wanted the stories. He spun a web up to the skies and bowed before the Sky God and requested for his stories. Amused by this brazen display, the Sky God stipulates a seemingly impossible set of tasks, at the fulfillment of which the stories will be released to Ananse.
Anase, being a clever trickster, manages to accomplish the 3 tasks set by Nyame, the Sky God. And true to his word, the Sky God hands over the golden chest of stories to Ananse.
And as Ananse brought it back down to earth, some stories spilled and scattered, including the one you are now reading.
Having read quite a few Ananse stories, this was an interesting beginning/back-story for the 6 yo; she does have a bit of a dilemma with trickster's tales - how does a small and defenseless creature outwit a powerful adversary against all odds? is that the right thing to do?
However, the 3 yo has no such qualms and requested it for bedtime read several nights in a row, with his own commentary on some of the events.
The woodcut illustrations are unique, bright, and beautiful, with a distinctly African feel to them, and were cut and printed by Miss Haley, who researched African folklore for writing this book.
There are many African words in this story, and sometimes the phrases/words are repeated to show emphasis - for instance to say something is very very teeny tiny, they say "so small, so small, so small"... which resonated with me as this particular language aspect is present in my mother tongue,Tamil, as well, along with liberal use of onomatopoeic words in the vernacular.
Ananse ran along the jungle path - yiridi, yiridi, yiridi - till he came to Osebo the leopard-of-the-terrible-teeth.
It is raining, raining, raining. Should you not fly into my calabash...
The book reminded me of another favorite Why the Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (Verna Aardema/The Dillons) published much later than A Story A Story, which retells another interesting West African tale.
[watch youtube video about this book]
[image source: gailehaley.com]