Gezani and the Tricky Baboon by Valanga Khoza
Ill. by Sally Rippin. Ford Street, 2014. ISBN 9781925000740
(Age: Preschool - Yr 3) Gezani lives somewhere in the middle of Africa with his mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, and his twelve brothers and sisters. One day his grandfather asks him to take a bunch of bananas to his cousins on the hill. Feeling very grown up, Gezani sets off but it is not long before he meets Baboon. Baboon is hungry and le loves bananas, but Gezani will not let him carry them. He is on an important, trusted mission. But Baboon is wily and he tricks Gezani into fetching him some water. When Gezani comes back Baboon has eaten all the bananas. Gezani is laughed at and humiliated by the villagers when he returns and confesses to his grandfather, so he determines to get Baboon back by playing a trick on him.
This is a multi-layered book that could spark lots of investigations such as cautionary tales, stories from other countries, comparing and contrasting lifestyles and so on. But its outstanding feature for me is the characterisation of Gezani. In just 32 pages, Valanga Khoza takes us on a journey through Gezani's emotions that really bring him alive. Using guide questions such as 'How is Gezani feeling?' and 'What do you think he is thinking now?' students can get to know him and empathise with his situation. Follow-up questions such as 'How would you be feeling?' and 'What would you do?' might also help them understand the universality of the story. This sort of thing happens to kids everywhere, even though it probably isn't a baboon and bananas causing the angst. Mapping his feelings and actions could also help them understand the setup of a story - setting, task, complication and resolution - as each signals a distinct change in his thoughts and feelings.
Sally Rippin's bold illustrations also offer insight - is the baboon tricky or scary - and the double page spread where Grandfather learns that Gezani has been tricked is an excellent illustration of perspective depicting power.
All in all, this is so much more than a story about an African boy, a baboon and some bananas. A Year 4 boy who selected it for a read-and-respond task was engrossed in it for almost an hour!