Baba Wague Diakite,
The Hatseller & the Monkeys
(Scholastic, 1999)

BaMusa is a hatseller and very happy in his livelihood. He has made wide-brimmed dibiri hats woven from rice stalks and intricately embroidered fugulan caps ever since he was a child, taught by his parents and grandparents. One day, he is on the way to a neighboring village with a stack of his hats on his head, intending to sell them at the festival to take place there. But he neglects to eat breakfast, and on the way, he becomes tired and falls asleep under a mango tree.

Unfortunately, his snoring attracts some monkeys, who creep around BaMusa, take all of his hats except the one covering his face, and perch in the mango tree. When he awakes, he sees what has happened to his hats and tries every way he can think of to retrieve them. He yells at the monkeys, and they yell back. He throws a branch at them, and they throw leaves. Then he throws a stone, and they retaliate with mangoes. BaMusa takes the opportunity to eat some of the mangoes, and once his stomach is full, he thinks of a solution. He takes off his remaining hat, waves it at the monkeys and throws it to the ground. As he expects, the monkeys follow suit, and he is able to gather his hats and proceed to the festival, coming to the conclusion that it is best to think on a full stomach.

Many readers will recognize the elements of the story from Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, but according to the detailed author's note, there are many variants of this tale from countries all over the world. Baba Wague Diakite's version is set in Mali in West Africa, where he grew up.

Diakite's text reads smoothly and makes a great read-aloud, incorporating words in his native language and some onomatopoeic words -- most of which can be figured out. A note at the back assists with some of the more difficult pronunciation. Finally, Diakite's illustrations, painted on ceramic tiles in soft colors, capture the fanciful tone of the story, including the border of mischievous monkeys circling the pages. This title is perfect for one-on-one reading or presenting to any kind of class or gathering of children of any age.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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