________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 5. . . .September 30, 2011


Dear Baobab.

Cheryl Foggo. Illustrated by Qin Leng.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2011.
24 pp., hardcover, $15.95.
ISBN 978-1-897187-91-3.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Katie Edwards.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.



After that, Maiko would say, "Hello tree, same age as me," on his way out and on his way in. Sometimes, he sat on the step and shared secrets that he told to no one else. He talked of his village and the baobabs, and how he missed his friends at the school where he had gone after his father and mother died. He told of how lonely he felt as the wind blew him across the wide ocean in an airplane, and how strange it was, at first, to sleep in the red brick house.


Dear Baobab is a sweet story about a boy who moves from Africa to North America, and doesn't quite fit in. Maiko sits beside the small spruce tree that grows in front of his house but dreams about the huge baobab that dominated his village in Africa.

     When Maiko discovers that the spruce tree is seven years old, he feels a kinship with it. He greets the tree on his way in and out of the house: "Hello tree, same age as me." But the spruce is in danger its roots are growing too close to the house's foundation. Like the boy, it has been planted where it does not belong. Unaware of his attachment to the spruce, Maiko's aunt and uncle decide to chop it down. In the end, the tree is saved and Maiko begins to feel a sense of belonging in his new home: "You see, we can't always grow where we are planted. But we can still grow somewhere else."

      There is also a storyline about being bullied at school, but the solution to this problem is never shared. Maiko simply sees the bully one day, and "He did not laugh at Maiko's ears." For children who are facing similar problems at school, the ease of this resolution may ring false.

      However, the themes of love, loss and belonging in Dear Baobab are universally appealing. Maiko's homesickness and his pain over the loss of his parents are treated honestly but delicately. Children facing upheaval in their lives will find this book especially engaging, and perhaps even inspiring.

      Foggo's lyrical text is perfect for reading aloud, and certain expressions nearly turn the story into poetry. For instance, the city is "surrounded by low, rolling hills," and the assonance of "low" and "rolling" evoke a sense of round, soft earth. When Maiko discovered that the tree will be chopped down, "his heart felt gray." Foggo clearly has a gift for descriptive writing.

internal art      The illustrations by Qin Leng also help bring the story to life. The layout is occasionally distracting when text is wrapped around illustrations rather than being integrated into the pictures or separated onto a facing page. But the beautiful illustrations, shaded in pencil, are bursting with emotion. The characters' facial expressions are particularly effective in revealing their feelings.

     Dear Baobab deals with serious, even tragic, subject matter with a great deal of grace. Maiko's identification with the spruce tree provides an uplifting metaphor which prevents the story from getting bogged down. Instead, Maiko's story is simple and buoyant and will appeal to a wide range of children.

Highly Recommended.

Katie Edwards is a Customer Service Manager with Calgary Public Library in Calgary, AB.

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

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