The Ancestor Tree

The Ancestor Tree

by T. Obinkaram Echewa, Christy Hale

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nigerian-born Echewa, author of such novels as I Saw the Sky Catch Fire , makes his children's book debut with an upbeat ``contemporary folktale.'' Nna-nna, the wise, benevolent elder of an African village, possesses an uncanny ability to ``see'' despite his blindness. He entertains the local children with jokes and stories, including oft-repeated tales of their births and infancies, thereby imparting to his listeners a sense of personal history. Nna-nna's death creates a conflict within the village, for the tree planted at his birth in the Forest of the Living must, according to custom, be cut down, but, because he has no living descendants, no tree may be planted for him in the Forest of the Ancestors. The children successfully challenge the wisdom of the tradition, persuading the Village Council that Nna-nna ``has left something of himself in all of you, which, after all, is what it means to be an ancestor.'' Hale's ( Juan Bobo and the Pig ) linocut illustrations, accentuated with earth-toned watercolors, combine primitive-style artwork with stylish design. Imaginative compositions extend the storytelling from verbal to pictorial, while shifting perspectives create swift visual rhythms. A lively book with a universal message. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Nna-nna is revered by all the children in his village. He regales them from dawn to dusk with stories, jokes, and his special way of seeing. Facing his death, he worries that he will not be remembered and wishes for an ancestor tree to be planted, but tradition forbids this as he does not leave any children behind. The devoted children courageously teach the adults to change custom to honor a noble man in this loving story with a strong folk tale flavor.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-Echewa's tale tells of children in an African village who have a close relationship with an elderly blind man. When Nna-nna grows seriously ill, he tells his young friends that he is afraid no one will remember him-that there will be no tree for him in the Forest of the Ancestors, because he has no living children to plant it. After he dies, the youngsters gather the courage to approach the Village Council meeting and explain that they consider themselves Nna-nna's children and grandchildren. After a week, the elders conclude that they have learned a lesson-customs begin and change and end. They will plant a tree for Nna-nna, and from this day onward will plant them only for people who have lived honorable lives. This intergenerational story shows young people acting on something they believe in and a community working to make itself a better place. The full-page illustrations are linocuts enhanced with watercolors and colored pencils. The faces seem a little grotesque, but the pictures do contribute to the warm sense of community.-Marilyn Iarusso, New York Public Library
Hazel Rochman
This original Nigerian folktale is eloquently told with rhythm and style. Adult novelist Echewa says in an introductory note that Africans of his generation can't just retell the traditional folktales, they must add to them and produce newer stories. And adaptation of tradition is what this story is about. The village children love the old man Nna-nna, who tells them stories and jokes and remembers how they have grown up. He has no family of his own, so when he dies, the custom says that he cannot have an Ancestor Tree planted for him. But the grief-stricken children feel that Nna-nna is their ancestor. They persuade the adult council to change the custom and to plant trees, not only for those who have living children, but also for those who have led honorable lives. Unfortunately, the linocut illustrations aren't as good as the story. They have depth and energy and a warm brown palette, but some of the faces and gestures are exaggerated and overstylized. Still, the beautiful story shows why this old man is a beloved ancestor who has left something of himself in all who knew him.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
9.40(w) x 11.37(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

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