by Gloria Whelan
Yatandou lives in a Mali villiage in Africa. Only eight years old, she must help her family prepare food by pounding millet grain into flour – a task that takes hours each day. She loves her pet goat, but doesn\’t have much time to play with him because she must work. She hears of a machine that might come to the village- a machine that can grind the millet for them. The women are saving their money to buy it. Yatandou, realizing how this can help her village and make their lives easier, sells her goat in the market to help pay for the grinding machine. It is a wonderful thing when the machine finally arrives. Not only does it relieve the women of some of their workload, but it grinds grain so much faster that they can now sell some surplus. A woman comes to the village to teach the women and girls how to write, so they can keep track of how much millet they grind with the machine, and who pays for it. Yatandou wonders at the novelty of writing: How strange it is to see that our words have a face. Her father complains that the women will become idle and cause trouble now that the machine is doing some of their work, but Yatandou\’s mother pacifies him with special bat stew. (I was sad to read of the bats getting eaten, especially when it made me think of this history). At the close of the story, the girl Yatandou carefully writes her name on her pounding stick, so she can one day show it to her own child and explain how the machine has changed her village, that her own future daughters and granddaughters will never have to use it.
I picked this book out at the library because I wanted to see more by illustrator Peter Sylvada. It took me a while to appreciate the pictures this time- their indistinctness makes me squint. But they really do convey a sense of shimmering heat and dusty haze, an atmosphere beaten by the blazing golden sun. I ended up reading Yatandou a few times, even though it was a bit too sophisticated a story to share with my three-year-old. It really grew on me. Not only does it show how hard life is for kids in other parts of the world, but one girl\’s sacrifice to help improve conditions in her village. Throughout the story are details of the culture, the landscape and the weather, mention of traditions and stories told to children, that bring the place alive. I was impressed at how precious and thoughtful Yantandou seemed- an eight-year-old child giving something up for a better life, and also thinking of the importance to teach her future children how things had changed because of that.
Rating: 3/5 32 pages, 2007
Muddy Puddle Musings
Your Friendly Librarian
I am such a nerd: I got chills reading your synopsis of this book. It looks wonderful.