"...offers reflections on the experience of living in West Africa from the perspective of a young white American boy"
This contemplative picture book offers reflections on the experience of living in West Africa from the perspective of a young white American boy. As noted on the opening page, the boy's teacher has asked her students to keep journals; the narrative is thus a series of journal entries detailing the boy's experiences (such as encountering a disabled boy who sells butterflies, hunting a thief--who turns out to be a monkey, and acquiring a special knife, complete with backstory, from the local blacksmith) and his struggle to appreciate the culture around him. Many of the entries feature Yampabou, a West African friend who assists the boy in understanding the many strange and bewildering encounters he experiences; his quiet wisdom and gentle humor guide the tone of the narrative. The entries stand isolated, each individually titled, and lean toward the abstract, with lessons buried deep within the rich language and subtle undertones of the boy's movement toward understanding. Rather than offering detailed descriptions of occurrences, the vignettes are spare, allowing readers to interpret the meaning for themselves and to feel that they, like the protagonist, are looking out onto an unfamiliar culture from the inside. Painted scratchboard and oil illustrations framed in wide, earth-toned borders face most page of text; compositional details range from hatch and cross-hatch to thick paint strokes, offering an unusual but very effective combination of styles that gains both strength and intricacy from the network of lines. The individual entries would work very well as either discussion starters or writing samples; reflective older readers are also likely to engage with the complex subtlety of the boy's thoughtful observations.