In the Small, Small Night

In the Small, Small Night

by Jane Kurtz

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In the middle of the night the world can seem huge andfrightening, especially when you've just moved far from home. On Abena and Kofi's first night in America, it is late and it is dark and they are up worrying. What if a giant lizard or a slender-snouted crocodile crawled into their suitcases? What if the people in their new school laugh at them? What if they


In the middle of the night the world can seem huge andfrightening, especially when you've just moved far from home. On Abena and Kofi's first night in America, it is late and it is dark and they are up worrying. What if a giant lizard or a slender-snouted crocodile crawled into their suitcases? What if the people in their new school laugh at them? What if they forget Grandmother and their cousins, now that they are an ocean away?

But Abena knows a secret to help them. It is a secret that can make the world and the night seem small again. She reaches for her new flashlight and turns it on. She says to her little brother, Kofi, "Pretend this is the moon. Close your eyes." And then she begins ...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Kurtz's (Fire on the Mountain) reassuring bedtime tale, a girl puts her younger brother at ease in a strange place with stories from their homeland. It's their family's first night in America after emigrating from Ghana, and Abena's little brother, Kofi, won't let her sleep. To reassure Kofi and to regain her own sense of confidence, Abena tells two stories, one about Anansi, the other an Aesop-like fable. With each one, Isadora (Ben's Trumpet) shifts the setting from Abena's bedroom, bathed in the deep blue and lavender hues of night, to sunbaked landscapes of West Africa. The first story finds the trickster Anansi with worries of his own, which he tries to assuage by hoarding the world's wisdom in a pot; in the second, a determined turtle proves that no obstacle is too great when a friend is in need. Kurtz beautifully captures the way an age-old oral tradition emerges in the lilting, playful cadences of Abena's voice. "Don't worry," she says, when Kofi asks whether Anansi is going to play a trick on them. "If he is, we're ready. I'm very tricky, myself." But what really shines through, thanks to Isadora's velvety pastels, is the us-against-the-world bond between the siblings. Their physical ease with one another, and the warmth that passes back and forth between their dark eyes, make the old clich ring true: home is where the heart is. Ages 5-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Abena tries to reassure her little brother Kofi when he cannot sleep for worrying about what may happen to them in America. She recalls for him the stories told by the storyteller back in their village in Ghana. The first tale is of tricky Anansi, who tries to take all the wisdom of the world away in a pot, but is foiled by his wise young son. The next is of how turtle tricks vulture, who has teased him. Finally, as she is carrying him to bed, Kofi turns the tables on her, dispelling her fears of being teased in their new country by reminding her of the lessons in the story and of their family togetherness. For as she falls asleep she knows that the stars she sees walking across the sky will be seen by her family in Ghana as well. Isadora uses her pastels to model characters, to depict the loving sibling relationship as well as the lively Anansi and the rich, warm African setting. The animals, like turtle and vulture, are also full of strong emotional content. Her full-page scenes are loaded with a pulsating sense of vitality, even to the final page of Abena sleeping with a parade of toy animals behind her pillow. In a note, the author explains the source of the stories and the inspiration for the book. 2005, Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers, and Ages 5 to 8.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2-An affecting story about family love and finding the courage to face new situations. Abena wakes to discover her younger brother, Kofi, in her bed. He can't sleep, afraid that a giant mampan lizard has followed him to America from Ghana. He's afraid, too, that he will forget the grandmother and cousins he left behind. Abena comforts him with two Ashanti tales. In the first, Anansi thinks he has collected all of the world's wisdom in a jar, only to learn that it can come from a young child. In the second tale, Vulture learns from slow-moving Turtle that, "When you think you are laughing at somebody else, that somebody turns out to be yourself-." Afterward, Abena confesses that she is worried about her new classmates. Kofi reminds her of Turtle's quiet perseverance, and the girl is impressed with her brother's wisdom, bringing home the stories' messages. Kofi finally falls asleep, comforted by his sister's assurance that they will always be a family, no matter where they live. The pastel illustrations are evocative and vibrant, capturing the warmth of Ghana and the cool darkness of nighttime in America. The juxtaposition of bordered and borderless art keeps the story-within-a-story format clear and easy to follow. A strong addition to any collection, this book is a must-buy for communities with African immigrant families.-Suzanne Myers Harold, Multnomah County Library System, Portland, OR Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Using stories she heard from a friend from Ghana, Kurtz weaves them into a lovely story about wisdom and perseverance. Abena, Kofi, and their family have moved to America from Ghana. Kofi, frightened of the new adventures ahead, turns to his sister: " 'I can't sleep,' Kofi says. 'What if we forget Grandmother and our cousins now that we live in America?' Abena pats his head, 'Don't worry. I'll help us remember.' " So she begins to soothe the fears of her younger brother, using traditional African folktales as her technique. With the sure cadence of a true teller, Abena opens with an Anansi tale that begins with Anansi lying awake worrying like Kofi. A second story, of turtle's determination to stay with his friend eagle, finally does the trick. When Abena confesses that she too is sometimes afraid, Kofi turns the stories' morals back to her. Isadora's vibrant illustrations, drenched in color, capture the African settings, the folkloric animals, and the love between brother and sister-and they complete the enchantment. (Picture book 7-12)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Amistad Series
Edition description:
Ages 5 and up
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
10.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.25(d)
AD560L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Jane Kurtz knows a lot about moving. She was born in Portland, Oregon, but when she was two years old her parents moved their family to Ethiopia to work for the Presbyterian Church there. Jane Kurtz is the author of novels, picture books, and chapter books. After living in North Dakota (where she survived a natural disaster), Colorado, Illinois, and Kansas, she moved back to Portland, Oregon, where she now lives with her husband, the Reverend Leonard L. Goering, H.R.

Many children dream of becoming dancers, musicians, actors, and artists, but few have the opportunity, the skill, and the determination to live out those dreams. Rachel Isadora is the exception. When she was young, she wanted to be a ballerina—and she became one. And now she has firmly established herself in a second career as an artist with an impressive string of picture books, including Ben's Trumpet, a Caldecott Honor Book.

Born and raised in New York City, Rachel studied at the School of American Ballet (associated with the New York City Ballet) as a Ford Foundation scholarship student. She danced with the Boston Ballet until a foot injury forced her to consider another career: book illustration. "I had always drawn for my own entertainment," says Rachel, "but I'd never had any instruction, and I wasn't sure how to proceed. So I just took a collection of sketches-odds and ends on bits of paper-to the first editor who would see me. She suggested I do a book about what I knew best." The result was Max, published in 1976 and named an ALA Notable Book.

Since Max, Rachel has written and illustrated many other books, and has illustrated three books by her editor, Elizabeth Shub. When Rachel begins a new book, she first imagines the story through the pictures. I 'see' each illustration separately," she says. "I write a description of what I envision on each page; then I go over it with my editor and make revisions. Next I do the actual drawing, and finally I write the text."

Rachel Isadora lives in New York City with her two children. When she is not busy with her family, she spends most of her spare time drawing. "Work like this is a dancer's fantasy," she says. "Because ballet is so demanding, dancers' stage careers are short. They can only dream of going on and on forever. With art, I can go on and on, and for me it's the only work that compares in intensity and joy."

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