First Review in of The Sleeping Baobab Tree
The indefatigable Mary Esther Judy over at Fallen Star Stories (and Dubray Books Galway) has just written (on a public holiday – dedication beyond compare) a beautiful review of The Sleeping Baobab Tree.
Thank you Mary Esther – I am so pleased it spoke to you in this way!
THE SLEEPING BAOBAB TREE
Author: Paula Leyden
Sister Leonisa is always telling her students grim and gruesome stories. One day, she tells them all about Ng’ombe Ilede… the place of the sleeping cow; the place of death. As Bul-boo and Madillo arrive home filled with her horror stories, next-door neighbour Fred (himself always full of tales of woe) informs them he is to go to that very spot with his fearsome witch great-granny, Nokokulu. Also, that night they learn that patients from their mothers’ AIDS clinic are mysteriously vanishing; one of the vanished just happens to be Freds’ wonderful Aunt Kiki. Is all of this a strange coincidence or fate? With Bul-boo and Madillo stowing away in the boot of the car, Nokokulu drives a doom-laden Fred out into the Zambian wilds for an encounter with mystery and magic the three will never forget. At the sleeping baobab tree, anything could happen.
It is such a joy to return to the lives of Bul-boo and her twin Madillo in the butterfly heart of Africa. Leyden’s descriptive text gives full texture to the place, the people and the beliefs of Zambia with a strength that allows the reader to believe they are there. While Bul-boo and Madillo again provide a sense of the duality of human nature; the pragmatic meeting the superstitious; this story primarily belongs to Fred, who struggles with his inbuilt sense of impending disaster at every turn. The relationship between the three friends provides a strong, yet easy dialogue with the aspects of loyalty, mystery, common sense and confusion that make up their emerging world-view. Add to this the frightening and yet stabilising character of Nokokulu, a symbol of roots and tradition as strong as the ancient Sleeping Baobab Tree, and we have an impressive dialogue with a social structure in conflict with itself; which of the old way to keep and which to throw away; how to move fully into the contemporary world and remain who we truly are; a quality that allows the story to easily relate wherever the reader may live.
It may seem that these are heavy, burdensome concepts for young readers to take on, but not at all. The story is not weighed down by messages or agendas. It is adventurous, mysterious and humourous. The friendships are tangible. The characters are identifiable and become easily lodged in the readers’ hearts and memories. The situations in which the friends find themselves are believable and are depicted from a child’s-eye view that never speaks down to the reader, but leads them through a wondrous and heart-felt journey. As with Leyden’s first book; ‘The Sleeping Baobab Tree’ is simply beautiful, and an absolute joy; a rare and wonderful gift.
(Note: There are teaching notes available for both of Paula Leyden’s books, making them ideal novels for class use.)
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