A sequel to Daly’s (2006) Welcome to Zanzibar Road, this title features essentially the same cast of characters (a diverse group of animals shown on the book’s endpapers), setting (an African community called Zanzibar Road), and format (five brief chapters). The story revolves around Mama Jumbo’s trip to market and back and how she deals with the challenges she encounters along the way: hurrying to get ready (without the aid of a mirror) to leave in time to catch the taxi, not having enough money left after buying the fruit and vegetables she needs to buy a mirror, making several shrewd trades to obtain the mirror, helping to fix the taxi’s flat tire on the way home, making Little Chico (who lives with her) feel special, and finally being reassured by him that her mirrored reflection is the “most beautiful mama in the whole of Africa!”
A clear sense of African (and more particularly, South African) identity is depicted through many touches, including illustrations and themes. A lion is shown getting his mane braided; many of the animals carry burdens on their heads or use bicycles to transport heavy loads; Mr. Motiki, the mini-bus taxi driver, sits on the right side of his vehicle and picks up passengers at many stops along the way; a roadside stand advertises MTN (an African telecommunications company) cell phones; the characters wear African print clothing; the house styles are small with corrugated roofs; the rabbit’s name “Kwela” means “get moving”; and the double-spread of a busy market shows vendors selling beaded jewelry, carvings, bongos, food, clothing, and sunglasses, a storytelling area, musicians, and other performers. When Mama Jumbo runs out of money, she is able to bargain and trade to get what she needs. This spirit of resourcefulness embodies one of the main themes: devising creative solutions such as this or using a piece of gum to fix the taxi’s flat tire and inflating it with Mama Jumbo’s trunk as an air pump on the way home. There is always a way to “make a plan,” as they say in South Africa. Achieving successes like these also often involves cooperation and working together. The story’s light-hearted narrative may seem slight, but it underscores an important fundamental South African concept: Ubuntu, or interconnectedness, which views individuals as only fully realized through their community and its greater good. Finally, the diverse animal characters (some of which are natural enemies, such as Bro Vusi, a lion, that babysits Little Chico, a chicken, while Mama Jumbo goes to market) exemplify the ideal of a multi-ethnic, harmonious community.
Several of Niki Daly’s signature touches characterize both the illustrations and text: a fez-wearing crocodile (here the saxophone player Baba Jive) that has appeared in other Daly titles, Daly’s love of creative costumes such as Mama Jumbo’s hat, and the playful language used to describe her hat (“flippy-floppy, flappy-slippy, this-way-that-way pompom hat”), Little Chico’s ”tutti-frutti shirt,” and how he looks in the shirt (“super-doops,” “sharp-sharp,” “snazzy,”and “jazzy”). There also is the clever pun of Mama Jumbo’s address: Number 7-Up (because a sign for the drink hangs above her doorway). The choice of media for the pictures–watercolor, pen, and digital media–has typified several other of Daly’s recent publications, such as The Herd Boy (2012), A Song for Jamela (2009), and Welcome to Zanzibar Road.
Certainly, readers of this title will want to acquaint themselves with its prequel, if they haven’t already done so. Its themes also will resonate with other stories by Daly, especially the sense of a vibrant community looking out for each other as depicted in Jamela’s Dress (1999) and others in the Jamela series. After more than thirty years since the publication of his first picture book, The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Road (1978), Niki Daly shows no signs of slacking off or losing his creative edge. Recommended
Published in Africa Access Review (March 1, 2013)
Copyright 2013 Africa Access
Reviewed by: Barbara A. Lehman (The Ohio State University, Mansfield)