Graeme Base has written a fable that reveals the foolishness of judging oneself and others on the basis of appearance. Ngiri, the ugly little warthog, decides to join the “GORGEOUS” jungle animals across the river, but there he meets only paroxysms of laughter.
Nyumbu (a wise old gnu) gives Ngiri magic drums, and Ngiri wishes warthogs had the beauty of the other animals. Imagine, warthogs with “stunning spots and striking stripes, impressive horns and curly trunks, graceful necks and gorgeous plumage“! Worse, all those beautiful features are taken from the other animals, who are now dull! Furthermore, Ngiri did not get any of the beauty, and the other, now drab, animals are furious. How will they show themselves off on the day of the “Grand Parade”? Other attempts by Ngiri follow until a resolution of sorts is achieved.
The author does a great job of showing the pointlessness of the animals’ concern with appearances. Unfortunately he does not provide the animals with a good reason to get along, other than their impending Grand Parade. Ngiri really needs a sense of independence from the group, but young readers are likely to accept that membership in the group (regardless of ‘color’) is the primary value Ngiri needs. The plot does not point the reader to a more rational way of judging character, nor to a sound purpose for their ensuing cooperation and considerate behavior. This cheats an otherwise excellent book of an “Exemplary” ValuedMinds standing.
Graeme Base’s artistry is terrific; his use of bright colors and emphasis of certain features is entertaining without being cartoonish. End-notes provide pronunciations and explanations of Swahili terms, e.g. Ngiri (say “nn-giri”) means warthog. Interestingly he has incorporated subtle variations of Nyumbu’s image into the majority of scenes. Also, close attention to smaller animals show that they too are affected by the magic drums. As literature goes Jungle Drums is a worthy effort, but parents might offer guidance to help their child draw smarter conclusions.