A retelling of eight traditional Setswana tales from southern Africa. The stories are:
The Great Tug-of-War
Little Animals Should Not Make Fun of Big Animals
Who Shall Drink?
King Lion in Love
The Lion Who Danced With Dinner
The Hare and the Horns
Does One Good Turn Deserve Another?
The central character is Mmutla the hare, a trickster who has a lot in common with Brer Rabbit and, to a lesser extent, Anansi. Motifs such as the tar baby and the briar patch appear here in somewhat different forms. So, more generally, does the theme of the weak, lowly person who must use their wits to survive in a world dominated by the strong, circumstances familiar to most schoolchildren. A note from the author at the end of the book draws wider political parallels: these African stories found a new life across the Atlantic because in retelling them enslaved Africans could keep their minds free even though their bodies were in chains (she also provides a helpful guide to pronouncing the Setswana names).
Which is not to say that these stories are grim political fables. The dominant tone is rollicking farce, reinforced by Piet Grobler's wry illustrations, which will help children to visualise a world that may be very foreign to them. But these are though-provoking tales, not least the final one, the only story to feature a human child and one which raises deep questions: When should we trust strangers? Is it rational to co-operate with others? Does true altruism really exist?
Beverley Naidoo tells these tales well, in a lively, direct style, but with poetic touches that recall traditional storytelling: "Mmutla... took special care to avoid the young boys. Didn't they boast how their arrows were even swifter than Ntsu the eagle?" They read well aloud, and entertained my 4-year-old, but a more confident reader would enjoy reading them alone.