We all know what kind of animals Old McDonald had on his farm, and how they went oink, oink here and moo, moo there, quack, quack here and baa, baa there. But have you ever heard of Old McDonald’s very distant cousin, Old Mikamba, and all the animals he has on his farm in Africa? Well, he’s got elephants and cheetahs, giraffes and lizards, springboks and ostriches all yammering away in their very different languages. In fact, with that baraa-baraa-ing, trill-trill-ing, snort-snort-ing, squawk-squawk-ing, roar-roar-ing, it’s hard to imagine Old Mikamba every gets a little peace and quiet. Illustrated with gorgeous scenes of African animals and countryside and set to the familiar children’s tune, Old MiKamba Had a Farm is sure to entertain children while simultaneously expanding their cultural horizons.
There is so, so, so much to love about this book! Let’s talk about the text first. My husband gets all bent out of shape whenever a picture book author hijacks an old story or a song and uses it for a new theme. He just thinks it is cheating. Normally, I am all for originality, but I think this is a special case. Old Mikamba Had a Farm is taking something universally familiar and comfortable to western culture kids (the song), as well as a theme that pretty much all kids everywhere are enthusiastic about (animals), and using them as tools to expose kids to a culture- clothes, people, houses, landscapes- that are new and foreign. Expanding kids’ cultural horizons can be fun and easy and completely non-threatening and picture books are an amazing vehicle for the job. Plus, using a song like Old McDonald Had a Farm, that is so integrated into our collective knowledge, creates the sense that this other people I’m learning about really aren’t that much different from me at all. There are some great end pages about endangered animals and efforts to save them, as well as fun facts about all the animals mentioned in the book. My one beef with the text is that I totally lost my voice trying to make the elephant, hippo and warthog noises. It’s a tall order to snort and grrr that close to bedtime on some days. But my kids loved it, and what wouldn’t I do to entertain them, right?
The art in this book makes me wish I had an art degree so I could talk about it with any degree of knowledgeability (yep, that’s totally a word- looked it up just now). Simple put, it’s gorgeous. There is nothing more beautiful than an African landscape with those amazing thorn trees, I think. And then she uses such a variety of textures and materials that the overall effect is like some fabulously artistic patchwork quilt. I must admit, my girls were a little thrown off that the elephant and rhinoceros looked like they were made out of newsprint collages, but it was a great opportunity to talk about different types of art and beauty. Overall, great book, great time, we’ll read it again at bedtime tonight.
To find out if this book is at your public library, go to World Cat.