How the Leopard Got His Claws

How the Leopard Got His Claws

by Chinua Achebe, John Iroaganachi, Adrienne Kennaway, John Iroaganachi

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Recounts how the leopard got his claws and teeth and why he rules the forest with terror.  See more details below


Recounts how the leopard got his claws and teeth and why he rules the forest with terror.

Editorial Reviews

Pamela Paul
…a powerful illustrated fable for older picture book readers…
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Despite the innocuous title, Achebe's (Things Fall Apart) explanations for three interwoven mysteries—why animals are enemies, why dogs live among humans, and why the leopard is so fearsomely armed—are grim and sometimes bloody. King Leopard has no claws at first, ruling with kindness, but when the malcontent dog takes over the hall the animals have built together, the animals switch sides without a second thought. "We love his head, we love his jaws,/ We love his feet and all his claws," the toad sings in praise of the dog. King Leopard defeats him in the end, but only with violence. First published in the '70s, this is a child's version of Animal Farm, a closely observed account of the way the manipulation of fear can poison civil society. The characterizations are disturbingly true to life, deriving in all likelihood from Achebe's experience of political upheaval in Nigeria. In GrandPré's warmly lit acrylic paintings, new to this edition, the animals burst forth from the pages; their anguish would be heartbreaking if not for their comically exaggerated features. Used with skill, the story could form the centerpiece of a substantive discussion. Ages. 7–11. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Whether read as a fable with African roots or as an allegory, this is a handsome treatment of a memorable tale.
—Kirkus Reviews
Children's Literature - Beverley Fahey
There was a time when leopard was the king of the forest and because all the animals lived in harmony he had no need of claws and sharp teeth. To prepare for the rainy season leopard had the animals build a great hall for all of the animals but dog, who did have sharp teeth and was jealous of leopard's power and strength, rebelled. Some of the animals followed him as their new leader. When the rains came and the cave flooded dog and his retinue returned to seek shelter in the large house. When he was turned away he attacked leopard and drove him from the forest and the animals made dog their king. Leopard journeyed to a blacksmith who outfitted him with bronze claws and iron teeth. He then made his way back to his home, attacked the dog and "roared like thunder" until all the animals "scattered into the forest." Leopard was once again king and dog ran away and allied himself with the hunter. This may be called an allegory, or fable or pourquoi story but however you wish to identify it, you cannot help but call it engrossing. Originally written in 1976 it is a reflection on the upheaval in Nigeria in the 1960s. For older picture book readers it can be a discussion starter about the effects of fear and intimidation on society, the power of vengeance. Where bullying is an issue, teachers and parents might find this useful. Grandpre' (of Harry Potter fame) uses a rich palette of dark colors to evoke the fear and foreboding that pervade the tale. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Written in 1976, this story has been released with new bold, deep-toned illustrations that aptly fit the dark message. Seemingly more for adults than children, the narrative reveals how a dog's lust for power and the animals' cowardice eventually drive the formerly benevolent leopard, with the help of a blacksmith and Thunder, to revenge and bring havoc to a once peaceful existence in the forest. The end of the story, in which the now-fearful dog makes a vile alliance with a hunter (portrayed as a human), leaves little hope for change. Upper-grade teachers may find that this picture book offers takeoff points to discuss violence, political power, and vindictiveness in today's world, but it is doubtful that young readers will pick it up on their own.—Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA
Kirkus Reviews

When the dog's coup deposed King Leopard, the former ruler of the animal world exiled himself, returning with claws and sharp teeth of his own to govern by terror instead of with his previous gentle kindness.

This literary fable by the internationally eminent Achebe (based on a story by Iroaganachi and including a poem by Christopher Okigbo, killed in Nigeria's civil war), reflects the secession and return of Biafra in the late 1960s. First published here in 1972, it has been beautifully re-illustrated by GrandPré, famed for her Harry Potter covers. These lush acrylic paintings have both texture and depth. Presented full-bleed across two pages or in rough rectangles set on white space, with bits extending beyond the edges, they tend to be dark and crowded with animals, whose expressive faces and bodies support the action. Each spread includes a decorative band of sharp triangles, a tooth-and-claw motif. Halfway through the story, the dog and not-yet-armed King fight fiercely, each glowing with orange battle heat. The conclusion explains the harshness of the jungle and the bond between dog and man, a satisfying ending for young readers unlikely to know or be ready for the political background.

Whether read as a fable with African roots or as an allegory, this is a handsome treatment of a memorable tale. (Picture book. 7-14)

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Product Details

East African Educational Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
60.00(w) x 80.00(h) x 2.50(d)
Age Range:
7 - 11 Years

Meet the Author

Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. An early career in radio ended abruptly in the national upheaval that led to the Biafran war, during which Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and represented Biafra on various diplomatic missions. In 1971, while also serving as editor of the Heinemann African Writers series, he helped to found the immensely influential literary magazine Okike. Achebe is now the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of African Studies at Brown University. He has lectured widely, receiving many honors from around the world, including the Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and honorary doctorates from more than thirty institutions. He is the recipient of Nigeria's highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award. In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. He was also awarded the 2010 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, which recognizes cultural figures for having "an unprecedented impact in their chosen fields."

Mary GrandPré is perhaps best known for her jacket illustrations for the U.S. editions of the Harry Potter series. The illustrator of Phyllis Root's LUCIA AND THE LIGHT and numerous other picture books, she also worked on scenery development for the animated film ANTZ and has done illustrations for top editorial and advertising clients. She lives in Sarasota, Florida.

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