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Ananse and the Lizard: A West African Tale


Can the legendary trickster be out-tricked?

All the young men had gathered in the village courtyard to hear the Chief’s pronouncement: Whoever guesses his daughter’s name will have her hand in marriage, inherit half his riches, and become the next Chief. No one outside the palace had ever heard the royal daughter’s name.

In a stroke of luck ...

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Can the legendary trickster be out-tricked?

All the young men had gathered in the village courtyard to hear the Chief’s pronouncement: Whoever guesses his daughter’s name will have her hand in marriage, inherit half his riches, and become the next Chief. No one outside the palace had ever heard the royal daughter’s name.

In a stroke of luck Ananse the spider discovers the secret.

“I, Ananse the most wise . . . the most clever . . . I alone know the name of the Chief’s daughter! . . .”

But clever Lizard has plans of his own.

Pat Cumming’s lively retelling and vibrant illustrations capture all the mischief and humor of Ananse, one of the most popular characters of West African lore.

Ananse the spider thinks he will marry the daughter of the village chief, but instead he is outsmarted by Lizard.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The avaricious arachnid returns in this trickster-gets-tricked tale from Ghana. Ananse the Spider and scheming Lizard both aim to marry the chief's daughter and thus acquire half his kingdom. Potential husbands, however, must correctly guess the daughter's name; anyone who guesses incorrectly will have his head "chopped off and fed to the buzzards!" Cummings (Angel Boy) sets the scene with ample descriptions and asides, and dialogue helps expedite the lengthy narrative. "I, Ananse the most wise... the most clever... I alone know the name of the Chief's daughter!... And soon, I will be so-o-o rich!" the greedy Ananse announces after fortuitously overhearing the princess addressed as Ahoaf . Mixed-media paintings energize the retelling with dramatic use of color and detail. (Even Ananse, a stylized spider with human expressions, is arrayed in distinctive, multicolored West African garb.) The vantage shifts easily from an elevated spider's-eye view of a bustling village scene to a close-up of the villagers' expressive faces. In an especially reptilian-feeling illustration, Lizard's thick green neck extends across a spread, his half-lidded eyes bulging and thin lips slyly smirking, as he procures Ahoaf 's name from Ananse and claims her for himself. With Ananse vowing revenge, the concluding lines explain "why a lizard stretches its neck"-because Lizard is still on the lookout. This dynamic book will keep readers on their toes, too. Ages 4-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 2-In this delightful new tale about the old West African trickster, children learn why lizards stretch their necks. Ananse arrives in a busy Ghanaian village to join the many young men who hope to win the hand of the Chief's daughter by guessing her name. The crowd thins out when the penalty for error is announced, but Ananse is confident. In fact, he overhears the servants talking and immediately fancies himself a Chief. Lizard now steps forward and a-s-s-s-ks to be the messenger of Ananse's news to the palace. In fact, of course, Lizard becomes the bridegroom and the spider storms away threatening to tear him to pieces. That is why, to this day, Lizard looks every which way. Cummings's retelling of this "Rumpelstiltskin" variant is humorous and folksy while her gouache-and-watercolor paintings capture the brightly colored array of Ashanti patterns and the bustling activities of the village streets. The insects, especially Grasshopper, move their many appendages humorously. Cummings credits her version to a story found in a bookshop in Ghana where she has traveled extensively. A vivacious retelling, vibrantly illustrated.-Susan Pine, New York Public Library Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ananse is the tricked rather than the trickster in this addition to the pantheon of tales featuring the sneaky spider. When Ananse sees a notice announcing a contest to win the Chief's daughter's hand in marriage by guessing her name, he suspects she might be "a scrawny little thing," but is tempted by the offer of half the Chief's land and the prospect of becoming a chief himself. Off he goes to the village, where he meets up with Grasshopper, Cricket, and their other friends, including one even sneakier than Ananse himself: Lizard. Lizard plays to Ananse's ego, offering to go to the Chief as Ananse's messenger. Alert readers will know Lizard is up to no good; his hissing speech and the sneaky look in his half-lidded eyes are dead giveaways, except to self-centered Ananse. Lizard even convinces Ananse to tell him the Chief's daughter's name, lest the palace guards not admit him without it. Soon wedding preparations are in full swing; the Chief, unhappy as he is to marry his daughter to a lizard, is fair and awards him her hand, half his land, and the title of Chief. Incensed, Ananse vows to get back at Lizard someday; that is why to this day lizards appear to be nervous, constantly looking this way and that. The busy village, including villagers, Chief, insects, and animals all clad in bright, traditional African garb is portrayed in vibrant watercolor, gouache, and color pencil illustrations. Sleekly round, shiny black Ananse appears the perfect unctuous schemer, and those familiar with the legends surrounding him will enjoy his comeuppance. (Picture book. 6-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805064766
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 1,368,918
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.08 (w) x 10.66 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Pat Cummings, the creator of almost thirty books for children, has received the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, the Horn Book–Boston Globe Award and the National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction. Ms. Cummings, her husband, Chuku Lee, and their cat, Cash, live in beautiful downtown Brooklyn, New York.

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