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Posted October 6, 2012
Azima is a Masai girl, around eleven years old or so, who lives in a small village on the Serengeti plain near the Rift Valley region of present day Kenya and Tanzania, east Africa, during the late 1600s, before the Arab and European colonization. Her father is the local tribal chieftain. Azima loves and respects him very much. One day, her father is going to lead the men and boys of the village on a hunt. Azima wants to go too, but her father says that she must stay in the village to help her mother and the other women in their work. Azima thinks that this will be boring, but her father insists that each person has a role to fill and that Azima must learn her role. She reluctantly agrees. After the men go, Azima and her two best friends, Akila and Beta, try out their new canoes on the river.
As the result of an accident, Azima’s canoe is caught in a swift current, hurtled through rapids for miles down the river, and finally plunged over a waterfall. She becomes unconscious but wakes up on the bank of the river in a strange jungle. She hears voices and finds out that in this jungle the animals can talk. She comes upon a group made up of a lion, a warthog, a monkey, a giraffe, a baboon, a leopard, a hippopotamus, a wildebeest, a gazelle, an antelope, a water buffalo, a rhinoceros, and an elephant who call themselves US, or the University of Society. Their goal is to educate Azima. Counselor Turtillian the turtle takes her to Professor Thaddeus J. Toad to study language and literature, Professor Hoot the owl to study science, Professor Pythonagoras to study math, Professor Two-Faced Toucan to study psychology, Professor Phil Flamingo to study philosophy, and Professor Sarah Silverback to study social studies. However, there are temptations along the way. Will Azima choose to continue with her studies or to go party with Samuel Sloth and his friends? Will she ever be able to find her way home? And if she does, how can she use the lessons that she has learned?
Azima and the Magic Jungle is a fantasy fable about the importance of working hard to get a good education and developing the qualities that will enable a person to become a great leader. One of Samuel Sloth’s friends, Willy the Wolf, tries to tell Azima, “School is for the weak-minded.” How well we do in life greatly depends on whether we listen to these kinds of siren voices or just ignore them and press ahead. Although the tales and lessons of the book are for everyone, they are especially geared toward girls and young women to show them what they can become and do with a good education and a little faith. Some instances of drinking a liquid that causes a stupor-like state similar to alcohol occur, but it is plain that this is bad. Also a couple of characters smoke pipes. There are a few references which might be construed to promote evolution but they could also simply be matters of interpretation. I especially like the way in which Azima is encouraged to search for the knowledge of God in all her learning and the implication that no education is complete without a spiritual component. It is even suggested that she approach religion as she would any other subject by seeking only the facts rather than accepting mere human theories. I found it to be a very interesting book.
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