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Africa - West African

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AfricaWest Africa (Asante)


Souhami, Jessica. 1995. The leopard’s drum: An Asante tale from West Africa. Illustrated by Paul McAlinden. Boston: Little Brown and Company.


Rating: ♥♥♥♥1/2 (out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Picture from


Summary: Osebo, the leopard, will not share his splendid drum with anyone, not even Nyame, the Sky-God. Nyame offers a reward to whichever animal brings the drum to him. Many animals try unsuccessfully, but the small tortoise succeeds through intelligence, trickery, and hard-work.


Type: This pourquoi tale tells how tortoise came to have a hard shell. While this is predominantly a pourqoui tale, one sees elements of the beast tale such as talking animals and a trickster resolution.


Characters:  The characters are one-dimensional. Conceited and boastful, Osebo is selfish with his “magnificent” drum. While Osebo is somewhat clever, tortoise is able to outwit him because Osebo has a huge ego. Nyame is the Sky-God who covets the drum, demands respect, and possesses magical powers.  The tortoise is a good judge of character, intelligent, and persistent.


Setting: The subtitle tells readers that the tale is set in West Africa, and the illustrations depict a jungle setting. Because the text is written in the past tense, readers get a sense of “long ago,” although the words are never stated. The Sky-God with magical powers presents a sense of the otherworldly.


Plot: Readers have seen this plot in many similar forms. A king (or Sky-God) wants something that is difficult to obtain, and he offers a reward for it. Three animals (or people) attempt the quest and fail. A fourth, unlikely candidate succeeds through cleverness and hard work.


Themes: With the right combination of brains and effort, “small ones” (including children) can be more successful than those who are larger. In addition, if a person is ungenerous, others are likely to feel resentment and to take his/her prized possession. Finally, a large, boastful ego is an invitation for others to engage in trickery.


Rating Considerations:  The words are simple but effective. The illustrations are warm and memorable. However, “McAlinden sometimes uses too much white space” (Corsaro, Booklist, 1995).


Illustrations: The colorful, paper-collage illustrations match the text well. One particularly notes the eye-catching patterns of certain animals, the Sky-God’s robe, and the endpapers.  The illustrator has done his research - “African-inspired masks and garments lend authenticity to the book” (SLJ, 1995). Generally, the eight double-page spreads work well in terms of design elements such as line and space. On one spread, McAlinden leaves too much empty space between the leopard and snake, and one loses the sense of the “fierce” leopard (unpaged).