________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009


The Orphan Boy. Rev. ed.

Tololwa M. Mollel. Illustrated by Paul Morin.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009.
40 pp., hardcover, $21.95.
ISBN 978-1-55005-082-0.

Subject Headings:
Masai (African people)-Folklore.
Tales-Africa, East.

Grades 1-6 / Ages 6-11.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

**** /4

Reviewed from f&g's.



By and by, the rains fell and the land turned a glistening green. The old man's heart was full of joy. His face became brighter and his step more youthful.

Kileken continued to amaze the old man with his strange deeds. But though he was curious, the old man asked no questions. In time he regarded Kileken as the son he'd never had.


Tololwa M. Mollel and Paul Morin's book, The Orphan Boy, won a swag of awards when it was first published in 1990, including the prestigious 1990 Governor General's Literary Award for Illustration. As such, it is a delight to see the book re-issued by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in what is, if anything, a bigger and better version of the same wonderful book.

internal art     Oxford University Press first published The Orphan Boy in 1990. The original publication received critical acclaim, including a favourable review by CM. Fitzhenry & Whiteside's 2009 edition includes several additional new illustrations. Whereas the original version of the book included a number of black and white outline sketches, in the new edition these sketches have been replaced by full-colour paintings. For instance, in the original edition, the illustration included with this review of the hands cradling the bowl was merely a sketch. Although the sketches have been replaced, and other additional artwork has been included, all of the other illustrations have been retained, except the original front and back cover paintings. This is an unfortunate loss. I much prefer the new cover image, but, rather than excluding the old cover artwork completely, it would have been nice to see the old front and back cover paintings included among the endpapers.

     In addition to extra artwork, a double page "about the author" and "about the illustrator" spread has been added, as has a publisher's note about the Masai and the challenges faced by the Masai in preserving their traditional way of life. A few minor editorial changes have been made to the story text, and the decorative page borders have been removed. The removal of the borders and the wider book dimensions permit a fractionally larger text font size, which facilitates easy reading. Additionally, the painting reproductions are slightly larger.

internal art      The Orphan Boy is a retelling of a Masai legend involving the planet Venus, or Kileken, the orphan boy. The story is essentially a "curiosity killed the cat" tale in which an aged, childless African farmer's fortunes are reversed with the arrival of a young boy, Kileken, who tends to the man's herd of cows, fattening them up when all around is in the deathly grip of drought.

      The Orphan Boy was Paul Morin's first picture book. He has since produced a number of books, all featuring his exquisite, detailed artwork. The heavily textured and intricate illustrations in The Orphan Boy are a delight. Morin travelled to Africa and collected sand and sticks to include in the illustrations, literally including a part of Africa in his depictions of the desert African landscape. Priced at just $21.95, the book is highly affordable. The retail price is, of course, significantly less than an airfare to Africa, yet the parched, gritty landscape paintings are so evocative that readers will feel as if they are in Africa.

      There is much about the book that cannot better be described than with the word, "beautiful." Morin captures the beauty of traditional African dress and, although written in prose, Mollel's writing has a beautifully poetic, lyrical quality to it. The writing is descriptive and engaging. The sentences are generally short and direct, yet Mollel is able to say a lot with relatively few words.

      Morin's use of light and shadows, as well as the texture of the artwork, adds depth to the illustrations. The illustrations alternate between depictions of the cool of night (with the heavy use of dark blues) and the stifling heat of the day (featuring dry, dusty yellows). This artistic use of such elements as light, colour and texture, make the artwork for this book timeless. Morin's artwork here is of the very highest order.

      The Orphan Boy is a treat to the senses and has wide appeal. Children and their parents will be spellbound by Mollel and Morin's work.

Highly Recommended.

Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education and children's literature classes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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