Many people have grown weary of multi-culturalism, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The multi-morality of today is a far different species than the genuine multi-ethnicity which the Gospels taught. We have a faith that has always taught us to look beyond externalities.

In every culture there is something which is noble, and stories both clever and amusing. A good way to find these attributes is through the window of folk tales. Such stories depict themes that are universal, but with imagery unique to each culture.

For African-American History Month (every February), there are a number of excellent folk-tales to be found at the library. Here are a few books my family has especially enjoyed:

  • Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain
  • How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots
  • Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

None of these books is political; each one is a good ol’ fashioned folk tale. Each one is well-written, with a pleasant flow from page to page. If there were no words, each story could still be understood by looking at the imagery. This ability to “speak without words” is what makes a good picture book great.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

Here is a glance at each tale:

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (published 1987) features sumptuous illustrations by author/illustrator John Steptoe. The main characters are rendered in photographic-like realism, amidst a lush tropical setting.

In this fable from Zimbabwe, we find a plot sure to intrigue any girl:

“The Most Worthy and Beautiful Daughters in the Land are invited to appear before the King, and he will choose one to become Queen!”

Two sisters set out for the city, and along the way each one encounters mysterious characters — the way she treats each person ultimately determines who will be queen. Kindness reigns as the attribute making her “Most Worthy”.

Fittingly, the illustrator’s main model was actually his own daughter, Bweela Steptoe.

In the next book, we head to the savannah. How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots (published 1990) is a unique book because of author/illustrator Barbara Knutson’s scratch-board technique. This style accurately depicts the folk art of East Africa, in which geometric designs are often etched into wood or gourds.

We meet two friends, a guinea hen and a milk cow, who look out for one another amidst the perils of the African landscape. In this engaging drama. the stalking lion is cleverly outsmarted.

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (1981) is a fantastic book because it employs the familiar beat of This is the House that Jack Built,  and successfully applies it to an age-old story from Kenya.

This is the great
Kapiti Plain,
All fresh and green
from the African rains..

The verse by Verna Aardema is fun to read, and the repetition always delights little children. The colorful images by Beatriz Vidal, a folk artist from Argentina, are detailed yet not too busy. We see an accurate landscape of acacia trees and a variety of savannah animals.

Kapiti Plain

Kapiti Plain

The protagonist in Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain is a young herdsman named Ki-pat who figures out a way to end the drought, and bring much- needed water to his cattle.

This is Ki-pat / who watched his herd
As he stood on one leg / like a big stork bird;
Ki-pat, whose cows / were so hungry and dry,
They mooed for the rain / to fall from the sky.

The character of Ki-pat is serene and responsible.. and the story has a cute, surprise ending.

Although each of these books is fictional, I believe they play an important role in cultural expression. By sharing our folk-tales, we share a part of ourselves. And that’s where respect really thrives.