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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain book review for Saffron TreeBringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain: A Nandi Tale
by Verna Aardema
Illustrations by Beatriz Vidal
Ages 4-8

I was about the age my toddler is now when my dad held my attention with his inimitable recitation:
This is the house that Jack built
This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built
This is the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built
This is the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built...

Well, we all know how that one goes.

When it is my turn, it seems so easy to amuse the kids with the progressively complex tale of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, along with the House That Jack Built:
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly,
I don't know why she swallowed a fly...

Cumulative stories with rhythm that make it impossible not to tap one's feet while reading/singing have a special appeal. The predictability of the familiar verse compounded by the intrigue of what the new one brings to the story makes it quite challenging and entertaining.

Based on a Kenyan folktale, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain is one such cumulative story about how a cow-herd Ki-pat brought much-needed rain to the drought-stricken plain one year.

The book starts off with an unassuming:
But one year the rains were so very belated,
That all of the big wild creatures migrated.
Then Ki-pat helped to end that terrible drought-
And this story tells how it all came about!

Just setting this up gets our curiosity and attention. How did he do it?

Sir Claud Hollis, a noted anthropologist, published the story in his book The Nandi: Their Language and Folklore in 1909, now retold in this book in a child-friendly way by Verna Aardema.

In its fundamental form, the story has it that the young lad, torn by the plight of his dying cattle, found a dropped eagle feather, made it into an arrow, and shot it at the fat and heavy rain cloud, piercing it to loosen the rain.

And this simple story, starts simply as:
This is the cloud, all heavy with rain,
That shadowed the ground on Kapiti Plain.

The illustrations are simple, bright, and soothing. The green grass, with a few acacia trees, a few giraffes grazing on the juicy top leaves, a couple of cows napping, a few birds in flight on the title page sets the tone for the rest of the story. The graceful gazelles, giraffes, zebras, and leopards all walking away on the second page beautifully hints at the feeling of emptiness that would be left behind with the migration due to drought. The page depicting the arrow piercing the rain cloud, with the promise of thundering downpour, is electrifying. The last couple of pages are very uplifting: we see Ki-pat with his family (wife and little Ki-pat), a few cows napping, with a calf nursing, cozy hut and goats... and when we flip the page, little Ki-pat is not so little anymore - he stands on one foot, tending the cows, fully capable of shooting down the fat and heavy black cloud that refuses to loosen the rain. Promising. Peaceful.

At the first read, the kids sat spell-bound till the end, except to chime in The big, black cloud, all heavy with rain, That shadowed the ground on Kapiti Plain when I pause at the right place, after the first few pages.

As always, the impromptu questions thrown at me make reading such books rewarding. Why was there no rain? Why do the animals go away (migrate)? Why are the cows wrinkly and dry? What is Ki-pat wearing? Why does he carry a bow? Why is he standing on one leg? Why don't they live in a house? Why can Ki-pat shoot an arrow and make it rain? Can we shoot an arrow and make it rain? How will he stop the rain?

I naturally didn't have convincing answers for some of the questions, but, this certainly made learning about Africa, co-existence of animals and humans, how nature affects our lives, how we influence the weather and such rather interesting, even if highly simplified and maybe even idealized. It's a start.

Thanks to CROCUS 2009, I was introduced to Verna Aardema, Storyteller Supreme, through her Caldecott-winning Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (illustrated by the Dillons). And, usually, just to bask in the magic, when we find an author/illustrator we like, we tend to explore other works by them. That's how we came upon this book. And, incidentally, Behind the Back of the Mountain, also was beautiful, another Aardema-Dillon collaboration.

[This post written for Saffron Tree]

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At 12:03 AM, Blogger Playing by the book said...

Sounds like a fabulous book, and see that Aardema has written a lot of books based in Africa. And joy of joys there are quite a few in our library system - so I've just reserved Bringing the Rain, and also one other. Thanks for the suggestion!

At 12:23 AM, Blogger Playing by the book said...

Just wanted to let you know that we got hold of Bimwili & the Zimwi also by Verna Aardema through the library yesterday and my eldest loves it! I thought it was a great book if your child loved Handa's surprise/Handa's Hen and your kids are now a bit older and can listen to a longer story.


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