Children's LiteratureWhen Ikeanna's great-grandmother dies, her funeral celebration in the Nkwelle village of eastern Nigeria lasts for several days. Agnes Uso Ikwensi, called Mama Nkwelle by her loved ones, was a renowned traditional dancer and was revered by everyone in her village. In this heartwarming and tender story, Ikeanna (who appears to be about five years old) describes the funeral customs practiced by the villagers of this region. These customs include the preparation of a special rice meal, the making of white clothes for the immediate family, singing and dancing at the ceremony, and the presentation of gifts (cows, chickens, cloth, money, and beverages) to the immediate family. Over the next few days, Ikeanna is able to reflect on how special Mama Nkwelle was to him and to others. Relatives help him to focus on the good memories that he has of Mama Nkwelle. The akwu (palm kernels) that Mama Nkwelle once gave him, are planted by Ikeanna as a special tribute to his great-grandmother. He feels that when the plants grow, Mama Nkwelle will always be there in the midst. Several stunning photographs illustrate the social customs of a rural village in Nigeria. These photographs, as much as Ikeanna's touching descriptions, make this a wonderful book to help children understand and deal with loss. Also, they will learn the value of cultural traditions in dealing with life issues. 2001, Millbrook Press, $21.90. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Jeanette Lambert
School Library JournalGr 1-3-This deeply personal story looks at the stately Nigerian funeral for the author's grandmother, said to be "the greatest traditional dancer of her generation," as told by Onyefulu's young son. "When Mama Nkwelle died, everyone came to say good-bye. Uncle Asika said it was a special good-bye. It took more days than I can count on my fingers. No wonder everybody worked so hard getting ready for it!" Through the brief text and beautiful full-color photographs, readers are given a window into the grieving and the many ceremonies involved in such a rite. It is only from reading the small print on the commemorative cups and bowls that readers learn that Mama Nkwelle was 102 years old. Like the author's A Is for Africa (1993), Chidi Only Likes Blue (1997, both Cobblehill), and Emeka's Gift (Puffin, 1999), this book's design is bold and appealing. The first page contains an author's note and a small map of Africa with Nigeria outlined and labeled. This book could be used in the study of other cultures or funeral customs, or it could be used on its own as a sweet intergenerational story.-Genevieve Ceraldi, New York Public Library Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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