I saw this picture book last fall on a “best illustrated” list, and the title and cover intrigued me. Thankfully, my local library has a copy, and I’m able to share it with you.
Title: Ayobami and the Names of the Animals
Written By: Pilar López Ávila
Illustrated By: Mar Azabal
Translated By: Jon Brokenbrow
Publisher/Date: Cento de Luz SL/2017
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: education; literacy; overcoming danger; persistence; war; jungle animals
When the war finally came to an end, the teacher went from house to house, telling everyone that the children could go back to school the next day.
Brief Synopsis: When a young African girl, Ayobami, becomes lost on her way to school, she promises the animals she meets in the jungle that she will write their names for them, if they let her pass.
Links to Resources:
- Ayobami meets several jungle animals on her walk to school. Learn about African jungle animals;
- What jungle animal do you resemble most? Take this fun quiz to find out;
- Ayobami was happy to return to school to learn to read and write. What makes you happy at school? What subject do you most want to learn?
- Compare your journey to school with Ayobami’s journey. How are they the same? How are they different?
Why I Like this Book:
In fable-like prose, complete with talking animals who long to learn their names, Ayobami and the Names of the Animals features a determined young girl who convinces the dangerous jungle animals she encounters that she will write down their names for them if they allow her to pass. Not only will young children learn the names of several African jungle animals, such as crocodile, snake, and mosquito, but I think they will appreciate Ayobami’s tenacity as she negotiates with each animal in turn to reach her goal of learning to read and write. Even young children will be able to follow along as they identify different animals and search the illustrations for the many hidden letters.
I love that Ayobami kept her promises and shared the literacy she gained with the animals by naming them – a sign of dignity or perhaps order that indicates the power of education to bring peace and stability to the world. I especially love López Ávila’s description of how Ayobami learned to read and write by learning “the letters of the alphabet”, learning “how to put them together to make sounds”, joining “the sounds to make words”, and mixing “the words together to make sentences.” The result? “And she heard the music that comes from making words.”
Azabal’s colorful illustrations include letters sprinkled throughout most of the illustrations. And don’t miss the lined yellow endpapers that include the cursive alphabets that many of us might remember from our school days.
A Note about Craft:
You’ll note from the Opening above that the main character does not appear in the first lines. In fact, she doesn’t appear until page three. I think López Ávila does this to give context to Ayobami’s story, to show how the education of one girl can restore order after the cessation of war.
Per the publisher’s website, López Ávila is a Spanish author and doctor of veterinary medicine.
Visit Azabal’s website to see more of her work. Ayobami and the Names of the Animals was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2018.
Cuento de Luz is an independent publisher based in Spain that “publishes stories that take the imagination on a journey, help care for our planet, respect differences and promote peace.” It’s a certified B corporation, which means that it uses its business as a source for good, including by printing its books using special “stone paper”.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!
Your review of this book has me hoping my library owns a copy. I have to say that the cover and title intrigued me, too.
Fingers crossed that you can find it!
I took the quiz and I’m a Toco Toucan! I haven’t seen this book – thanks for sharing!
Hope you can find it! And I’m so happy you enjoyed the quiz!
What a smart way to include literacy as a main element of the fable. And that line “music that comes form making words.” How lyrical! I’ve just put it on hold at the library. Thanks!
I’ve been reading many Leo Lionni titles the past few days, another writer who wrote fable-like stories. This one reminds me of INCH BY INCH, the story of an inch worm that measures its way out of trouble, and identifies several birds with a “long” characteristic (neck, beak, legs, tail) before measuring an entire hummingbird in the process. In the end, a nightingale demands that the inch worm measure its song or be eaten for breakfast. So while the nightingale sings, the inch worm inches away to safety.
I know several of Lionni’s stories, but I haven’t seen Inch by Inch. I’ll have to find it! Thanks for the recommendation.
Pat, now I am intrigued. I can’t wait to find this book and closely examine both the opening and the illustrations. Thank you so much for highlighting this book.
You are most welcome! I found it at our very small local library, so hopefully your library will have it, too.
You really know how to pick such good books. There are several important themes running through this one. It helps children understand how war impacts a community — and attending school. But it is hopeful!
I agree – there are so many important themes here for children and adults to understand.