The Matatu

The Matatu

by Eric Walters, Eva Campbell

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Kioko has been watching the matatus come and go for as long as he can remember. On his fifth birthday, he gets the chance to climb aboard one with his grandfather. As the matatu pulls away from the market, several village dogs chase after it. Kioko wonders why the dogs always bark and chase after matatus. When he asks his grandfather about it, his grandfather tells


Kioko has been watching the matatus come and go for as long as he can remember. On his fifth birthday, he gets the chance to climb aboard one with his grandfather. As the matatu pulls away from the market, several village dogs chase after it. Kioko wonders why the dogs always bark and chase after matatus. When he asks his grandfather about it, his grandfather tells Kioko an entertaining tale about a dog, a goat and a sheep. Set in East Africa and inspired by a Kamba folktale, The Matatu is a colorful story filled with unexpected twists and turns.

Editorial Reviews

"With a wry mix of realism and folklore, Walters draws on his work in rural Kenya to tell the story of Kioko...Campbell’s bright, mischievous watercolors show the passengers on the crowded seats with the conductor picking his way down the aisle collecting fares, along with close-up images of Kioko as he listens to his beloved grandpa tell a story while they drive through dusty roads past huts, houses, and market stalls. Along with the vivid setting, there is a playful story based on a Kamba folktale...The bond between Kioko and his grandpa will grab kids, and so will the sly twist when the boy tries to fix things and change the old folktale."
Publishers Weekly
Kioko is celebrating his fifth birthday with his grandfather by riding on the matatu, or public bus, in his East African village. Onboard, the boy’s grandfather shares a Kamba folktale about why dogs chase after the matatu, goats run away from it, and the sheep do nothing (riding on the matatu one day, the sheep pays exact fair, the dog overpays and expects change, while the goat skips away without paying). Campbell fills her oil paintings with bright colors and commotion, portraying her animals with trickster-like characteristics. Walters offers tender insight into a grandfather and grandson relationship, while depicting a unique cultural experience. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)
CM Magazine
"Campbell's illustrations effortlessly transport the reader to Kikima, Kenya. She evokes the richness of the Kenyan people and their culture by employing vivid colours and distinctive dress...The Matatu is both a beautiful and a light-hearted glimpse into the lives and stories of the Kenyan people. Walters expertly switches gears on the reader by turning a story of adventure into one of hilarity. However, The Matatu is not merely a folktale. Walters has also crafted a story that exemplifies the grandparent-grandchild relationship."
"Both the folk tale and the love connection between Kioko and his grandfather are very appealing."
Resource Links
"Campbell's oil paintings capture the bright colours and designs on the matatu...[Walters] expands on a Kenyan folktale that is sure to amuse children and adults."
BC Bookworld
"Lively oil paintings illustrate the sunny Kenyan villages and the bustling yellow matatu."
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Walters, who runs an organization that helps Kenyan orphans, does an exemplary job of providing a cultural snapshot of Kioko's world. The affection between Kioko and his grandfather is effectively captured in Campbell's lively oil paintings, which also depict a dynamic, color-filled village and expressive villagers."
"Both the folk tale and the love connection between Kioko and his grandfather are very appealing."
Southwestern Ohio Young Adult Materials Review Group
"This tender story evokes the feeling of a grandfather and his grandson. The illustrations, too, transport the reader to East Africa. Children will love this story and will want to share it with their own grandparents."
Library Media Connection
"Colorful, casual renderings of a village in Kenya surround the story of a boy's first bus ride with his grandfather...The" relaxed and accepting culture of the Kamba people is reflected in the story and in the folktale that Kioko's grandfather tells him on the way...Campbell is a perfect match to paint the setting for this African tale within a tale with the beautiful faces, arms, and hands of the bus riders. Especially for first and second grade story times, this book is recommended for all elementary school libraries."
Canadian Children's Book News
"Jump aboard the Matatu and hear the delightful tale of young Kioko's first journey on this rugged bus that transports villagers across the dirt roads of East Africa...Kioko's excitement and each animal's character come alive in the artwork of Ghanaian-born illustrator Eva Campbell. Her sense of colour and vibrancy authentically evoke the hustle and bustle of the Matatu journey, as well as Kioko’s childlike wonder at this new experience. This picture book stems from a folktale that author Eric Walters was told during a trip to Kenya. His experiences with the people of the Kamba tribe, and his extensive travels in Africa, contribute to making this story an authentic look into the life and stories of an African community."
Sprout's Bookshelf blog
"The illustrations...are as colorful and lively as an African village. There's no shortage of excitement when a matatu rumbles through, and Campbell captures that spirit perfectly. Though the story of the dogs, goats and sheep forms the center of this story, the real heart of the book is Kioko's relationship with his Babu. It's terrific to see the the esteem with which the other villagers treat Babu, and this and his wonderful stories add to Kioko's appreciation of all his grandfather is for him...The genuine respect Walters feels for the Kamba people is evident throughout, and Campbell's illustrations bolster that feeling, which will translate to readers as well. Just don't be surprised if your kiddos want to jump on a matatu themselves!"
The International Educator
"A colorful story filled with many unexpected turns and twists along the way."
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Young Kioko has watched the matatus, or buses, dropping off and picking up passengers in his Kenyan village for years. Now, to celebrate his birthday, his grandfather is taking him for a ride on one. As they drive along and the conductor sells them their tickets, Grandfather tells Kioko to watch for goats and sheep as he tells him the story of why dogs bark and chase the matatu. Based on a Kamba folktale, it concerns a sheep, a goat, and a dog riding to Machakos. When Kioko and his grandfather arrive in Machakos, Kioko asks for five shillings to buy his own birthday present. Impressed by the folktale, he uses it to pay the conductor the debt owed by the goat in the story, so he can give the dog what he owes him and the dog will stop barking and chasing the matatu. Campbell uses a range of oil paints in warm colors to visualize the village and characters of this folktale within a story. There is an overarching humorous quality to grandfather's imagining, told in some double-page scenes that integrate the narrative paragraphs. The views of the village and on the crowded bus are more naturalistic, but still light-hearted. The author adds information about matatus. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 2—In this congenial tale of daily life in Kenya, Kioko celebrates his fifth birthday by taking a special bus ride with his grandfather. The matatu is a colorful, overloaded bus that the child has longed to ride. He wonders why barking dogs always chase it, and his grandfather tells him a simple tale explaining why. Walters adds a closing note for adults about the local practices of the matatu and its driver and conductor. The short story that grandfather tells is an adaptation of a Kamba folktale, and an opening note by the director of the Kenyan organization Creation of Hope explains that the author has been made a Kamba elder, which gives him the right to tell this tribally owned tale. Campbell uses lightly brushed oil paints to sketch the yellow bus, its multitude of passengers and luggage, and the passing terrain. The enjoyable view of life in this faraway country beautifully frames a universal special relationship between a child and a grandparent. Children and adults will smile at Kioko's concluding action in response to his grandfather's tale. With considerable conversation between Kioko and his grandfather, the text is a bit long and detailed for reading aloud to groups, but the book should be widely appealing and useful.—Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
Kirkus Reviews
A modern Kenyan folktale about the colorful vans that carry people, animals and supplies underpins a story about Kioko, an astute but literal-minded boy, and his grandfather. While the pair take a ride on the boy's fifth birthday, Kioko asks why dogs run after matatus. Grandfather uses the opportunity to tell a story about why dogs chase after, sheep ignore and goats run away from the vans. Kioko interrupts his grandfather when confronted with silly ideas like animals talking and riding matatus, but as his grandfather describes a ride during which the dog never got his proper change, a sheep paid his fare exactly and a goat ran off without paying at all, the boy begins to understand both animal and human behavior. The boy asks his grandfather for a cash birthday present and then hands it to the conductor. He maturely tells the man that he is paying for the fare-beating goat, but in return, the conductor must give the dog back his money. Oil paintings provide realistic details of contemporary rural Kenya but include a few spreads in which the animals humorously take on anthropomorphic characteristics. The author's note, drawing upon his Kenyan experiences, will amuse adults, but the full point of the story may elude youngsters, who are likely to be just as literal-minded as Kioko. Nevertheless, the love and respect shown between Kioko and his grandfather is both universal and sweetly evident. (Picture book. 5-7)

Product Details

Orca Book Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
8.75(w) x 10.75(h) x (d)
Age Range:
Up to 8 Years

Read an Excerpt

The conductor picked his way down the aisle, collecting fares, making change and giving tickets.

    "All the way to Machakos?" he asked Kioko's grandfather.

    "Yes, to the end."

    "Eighteen shillings for two."

    "Eighteen?" his grandfather asked. "He is so small, you should only charge half the fare for him."

    "He is small. If you want a cheaper fare, we can tie his feet together like the chickens and put him on the roof."

For a moment, Kioko thought they were serious, but then the men laughed.

Meet the Author

Recently named a member of the Order of Canada, Eric Walters began writing in 1993 as a way to entice his grade-five students into becoming more interested in reading and writing. Eric has published ninety novels and picture books. He is a tireless presenter, speaking to over 100,000 students per year in schools across the country. One of his most common themes involves the Canadian heroes featured in his novels and helping students to become aware of the greatness of their country. He lives in Guelph, Ontario.For more information, visit

Eva Campbell was born in Ghana and spent her childhood in Barbados and Jamaica. She studied painting at the College of Art in Ghana (BA) and the University of Victoria (MFA). Eva has had numerous art exhibitions in Canada, the United States, Ghana, Barbados and Britain. Currently she is the visual arts teacher at Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia. For more information, visit

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