Animals & Africa
Charlotte Zolotow Award in 2004
Rumford, J. (2003). Calabash Cat, and his amazing journey . Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Click on picture to hear a short clip from the book!
How to use it in the classroom!
Master storyteller James Rumford combines his love for art and history in his picture books. Each of his books is vastly different in its content, design, and illustrations but one aspect remains constant throughout his work: his passion about his subjects. Rumford, a resident of Hawaii, has studied more than a dozen languages and worked in the Peace Corps, where he traveled to Africa, Asia, and Afghanistan. He draws from these experiences and the history of his subject when he is working on a book. His book Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing was a 2005 Sibert Honor winner.
Cultural theme: In West Africa traditions, values, and customs are important. When it comes to Calabash Cat, including animals in story telling and morals iis extremely common in West Africa. This book specifically highlights the landscape of Chad and the many animals around the area you can see and meet as you go.
...On the interpretations behind Calabash Cat....
Since its publication, I have been amazed at the reaction it has caused in readers. Several reviewers thought that the book was about friendship, since each animal helps the cat reach his goal. When the book won a Zolotow Honor Award, one of the members of the award committee told me how moved he had been when the eagle came and showed the cat the truth. A friend of mine, Wally "Famous Amos" of cookie renown, reads this book at seminars he gives and commencement talks he is invited to. Often he will call me up to give me his new take on the story. It's about perseverance, he says. A few weeks later: I have it! The eagle is God!
But by far, the best reaction comes from children. They often do not express themselves in words, but in pictures, drawing their own animals with other animals inside. Most memorable was a boy from Samoa, who drew a turtle with geometric shapes covering its shell. Each shape, he told me, was a member of his family!
It is gratifying to hear these comments. What author doesn't want his or her book to be open-ended and a point of departure for thinking? But there is more . . . . not about the words but about the pictures. I don't know why on the original gourd there is a lizard and a fish inside the cat. Perhaps the gourd tells a story. So when I put the snake in the camel and the gazelle in the whale in the book I created, I had this in mind: perhaps one day a reader will make up a story about the snake and the camel or the gazelle and the whale and tell it to me. So far, no one has thought to make up stories about the animals in the book, but I am hopeful that one day, children, who are geniuses at storytelling, will come up with some fanciful tale.
Illustrations: The illustrations for this book are created with ink on bristol board. Bristol board is an uncoated machine finished paper board used for many iitems such as folders, envelopes and as we see it illustrations! The use of bristol board and ink to create the illustrations enhanced the story experience because it tied back to the culture and their artwork with ink, shapes, and animals.
Diverse Language: Although I cannot read Arabic, I did read about Rumford's journey and experiences that led him to write this book in Arabic. I like that Rumford actually had the opportunity through the Peace Corp to experience the culture he was writing about, and I think that it is a unique book I could use in my future classroom. In addition, if I ever had a child who spoke Arabic I would be able to provide a book for that students specifially, but also for the whole classroom. I think this book would be a great way for the other studnets to understand the diverse languages from all over the world, especially if we had a friend that could read it to us in their native language!