In a small, impoverished Mali village in a world far from our own, an eight-year-old named Yatandou wields a pounding stick to help the adult women crush millet kernels into corn. She does this exhausting work every day for three hours because that is what must be done to bring food into the village. Without this corn meal, there is no food.

In the picture book called Yatandou by Gloria Whelan, little Yatandou dreams of the very same things American girls dream of: earrings, school, and learning to write her name.

But for Yatandou, such daydreams must be put on the back burner. If she and the women are ever to ease the hours of pounding, they will need to purchase a contraption that can suck in the kernels and spit out the meal in no time. The problem is, the machine is very expensive and the villagers are very poor. They will have to work hard, save, and sell what they can in order to purchase it.

Little Yatandou has nothing of value to sell — except her beloved goat that she has nursed from birth. The thought of selling Sunjata the goat is almost too much to bear, but the other women are selling their possessions, so it is only right that she do her share.

Yatandou is a quiet story about a world far-removed from our own. It is the story of community, hope in the face of abject poverty, and tireless workers who give their all to keep their village alive.

The first-person prose is lively, authentic, and age-appropriate. Several Mali words are introduced and defined for burgeoning readers, like pagne for skirt, and griot for wandering singer, which makes for a neat little adventure in vocabulary. Unfortunately though, this book is extremely wordy for a picture book. Every page is filled with wordy paragraphs, resulting in a storyline that may be a bit overwhelming for younger children.

Artist Peter Sylvada’s illustrations are dream-like in presentation, and are done in warm and rich earth-tones that make the reader feel she’s really in Africa.

This book would be a great addition to any early social studies library, but younger children will need parental assistance to manage the text.

Best wishes and happy reading,
Rita Lorraine


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