In this little paperback, Ifeoma Onyefulu, creator of such vibrant and original picture books as My Grandfather is a Magician and A is for Africa, retells ten tales heard in her Eastern Nigeria childhood home. Each has a moral and is illustrated with simple pencil drawings. Seven of the stories concern the familiar quarrels and power-struggles of our greedy and duplicitous animal ancestors, set in a world in which Tortoise fills the trickster role occupied in other places by Anansi or Brer Rabbit.
More intriguing are the three stories in which humans feature. In all of these, intensities of passion bring people into confrontations with the spirit world: a childless couple’s terrible grief is assuaged, for a while, by the arrival of Apunanwu, a magical little girl made of palm oil, who must never be allowed to play with other children in the sunshine; Ojadili, an unconquerable wrestler, is granted his wish to try his strength against that of a ghost; Ogalisa, too proudly beautiful to marry any living man, ends up betrothed to a mash-up of dead ones. The power of these traditional stories is in the eerie relevance of their oddness, and as if to emphasise this, Onyefulu gives a contemporary setting and voice to them. This is an unusual and very enjoyable book.