Author: Innocent Emechete
Publisher: Authorhouse

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A collection of 16 stories featuring animals as the main characters.  It is advertised as a children’s book, but I have a few reservations about that.

The author has explained in the introduction to the book that these are traditional African animal stories told to him by his father, and they contain moral messages in the hope of preparing children for the ‘real world’.
The sixteen stories contain various animals as lead characters, but the main character Mazi Mbe (Mr. Tortoise) seems to have a role in most of the stories.  Mazi Mbe is an odd character.  He is often described by the narrator as a character who is not well liked by the other animals in the kingdom, and is known for his deception and trickery; yet the animals seem to almost revere him at times.  Many of the other animals believe what he says without question, trusting him easily, which doesn’t really add up.

The author has explained that this ‘ambiguity’ in Mazi Mbe’s character teaches children that there are some people like that in the world, i.e. they will appear to be trustworthy but will be deceptive.  Personally, I found Mazi Mbe’s character a bit confusing, and would worry that this type of character could send mixed messages to children as to what is right and what is wrong.
In my opinion, there is too much violent imagery in this book for it to be classified as a children’s book.  Granted these stories may have been told to children traditionally, and it is interesting as an adult to learn about different cultures and how storytelling evolved, but I would not personally recommend this book as a gift for children.

I think the book would be of interest to students of literature and to people who are interested in learning about the history of storytelling in different cultures.  

The thing that really lets this book down is the lack of editing.  The sentences are longwinded, often making parts of the stories confusing.  There are quite a few instances where the author has used ‘his’ instead of ‘her’ and ‘he’ instead of ‘she’ and vice versa.  The book is on the whole too wordy; the author could have cut the word count of most of the stories by half and still said what he wanted to say.  Another thing that might have improved the book would have been to have more of an order to the storytelling.  For example, Mazi Mbe dies in one of the stories, but then appears again in some of the following stories.  Also, in one story we are told that Mazi Mbe has lost both of his parents, then in a story following that we are told that his father is dead but his mother is still alive.  Furthermore, in the first story, when we are introduced to Mazi Mbe for the first time, he doesn’t come across as a particularly unlikeable character.  It may have been better to start the collection with a story where Mazi Mbe showed his true colours, so that the reader would then know what sort of character he is and be able to sympathise with the other animals more easily when they plot against him.

The moral messages in the book are difficult to follow, even as an adult.  I am not sure how a child would understand them.  For example, Mazi Mbe cuts off a lizard’s tail in one story as revenge for the lizard stealing some salt from him, and the story seems to be saying that this equates to the character ‘getting even’ with him.  I’m not sure that physical injury and theft are really the same thing.
To conclude, this is a great book if you’re an adult interested in learning about popular stories in different cultures.  I would not recommend it for children as it might give them nightmares!

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