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World Folktales

Africa - Malian

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Africa – West African – Malian


Diakite, Baba Wague. 2003. The magic gourd.  New York: Scholastic Press.


Rating: ♥♥♥♥ (out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Picture taken from


Summary:  “Brother Rabbit and chameleon teach a greedy kind the importance of generosity and friendship” (Diakite, CIP page).


Type:  This is a combination beast and a wonder tale that features a magic bowl and rock.


Characters:  The characters are stereotypes; readers are clear about who is “good” and who is “evil.”  Brother Rabbit (Dogo Zan) is kind, generous, clever, and a loyal friend. Chameleon is grateful, generous, and a true friend.  The king is greedy, tricky, selfish, and vengeful. The audience does learn about some character development in the king after he experiences Dogo Zan’s generosity, but we never see the development translate into action.  


Setting: In his notes, dedication, and illustrations, Diakite clearly sets this book in Mali, which is in Western Africa. Readers have a sense that the story took place long ago, but Diakite never provides that information. However, near the end, he writes, “Today Dogo Zan and his family are masters at going undetected. One could be hiding in your backyard right now”(24).  Because of the contrast between past events and “today,” one concludes that the time frame is the distant past.


Plot: This is a trickster plot with a twist. Brother Rabbit tricks the king and wins back the magic bowl that the king has stolen from him.  The twist is that Brother Rabbit is a kind-hearted, generous person, and he does not take the king’s food supply even when he has the opportunity.


Themes:  The main theme is that true, loyal friendship is precious and more rewarding than an abundance of material items. Another theme is that generosity and kindness are positive qualities that change the people around us.


Other Observations: In his end notes, Diakite provides a glossary and information about the Mali culture, praise songs, and mud cloth patterns. This is useful to readers and teachers planning curriculum.


Rating Considerations: The unique illustrations are memorable and engaging. The strong text is a little wordy. Also, the author seems to “hit the audience over the head" with the moral, which could have been more subtle.


Illustrations: Diakite’s illustrations are pleasing, original, and well-researched. Many of his illustrations are “created from ceramic plates, bowls, and tiles. The chameleon is made from a “hand-built clay sculpture” (Diakite, CIP page). “The borders on the tiles and platters…are taken from traditional…mud cloth…The designs…have meanings associated with them” (31).  Diakite provides a list of what the design on each page means, and readers can spend hours pouring over the mud cloth patterns and the colorful, detailed, two-dimensional ceramic designs. One limitation of using ceramics is that most of the illustrations seem static. Readers get a sense of Brother Rabbit moving in only one illustration.