Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spreading the News: The Jungle Grapevine by Alex Beard

Turtle and Bird walked under the African sun.

"The watering hole is always good for a laugh," said Turtle. "But lately the humor has been drying up."

Bird took off. As he flew, he wondered. "What did Turtle say?"

Bird saw Elephant. Bird said, "I just saw Turtle. He told me the watering hold is drying up!"

Alex Beard's newest, The Jungle Grapevine (Abrams, 2009), recounts European folklore's Chicken Little with a delightful African setting and attractive faux naif black-line and watercolor illustrations that are both pleasing to the eye and especially effective in bringing this venerable tale to life. The big news spreads from Bird to Elephant to Snake, who slithers off to see for himself and pass on his opinion to Crocodile:

"The watering hole issss not too dry. It'ssss too high! If anything, it will flood!"

Crocodile, fearing that a flood will wash away the banks of the watering hole where he sleeps and waits for his prey, splashes into the water in fear, shouting, "My gracious! It has begun!" His warning sets off a chain reaction in Flamingo, Gazelle, Lion, and Wildebeest, all of whom believe that Crocodile is proclaiming "The migration has come!" setting off the annual movement by the vast herds on the African plain.

Of course, it's all a big mistake, compounded by multiple misunderstandings. Hippo finally figures out the cause of all the ruckus and grumbles aloud,

"Don't believe everything you hear!"

Beard's wry text and creative and unique artistic style, with his African animals bouncing, flying, and slithering right out of his page frames, finds a new way to tell this old story with a brand-new setting and style that kids will relish. And, as the School Library Journal reviewer points out, "This offering is ripe for lessons on idiomatic expressions, rumors, gossip, the age-old game of telephone, and life at an African watering hole." And that's a lot for one tale that deserves to be re-told!

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