Stephen Davies’s first picture book tells the story of old Al Haji Amadu, a man with three wives, seven children and five very naughty goggle-eyed goats. When the wives insist he gets rid of the troublesome goats, his family intervene to ensure this is harder than Al Haji could have imagined. Christopher Corr’s bright and bold illustrations make this a very attractive book; the colours are so intense you have to adjust your eyesight. The pace of the text is just right and the story gives an interesting insight into life in Mali, where the ageing patriarch strives to meet the needs of his young family (the family, of course, has ideas of its own).
The plot, however, seems slightly plain. This is a counting book of sorts, but much more could be made of the counting opportunities. The humour needs a bit more welly too. At the end of the story we find the entire family has followed Al Haji to Mopti market, where he intended to sell the goats. I suddenly realised that the wives and children must have been lurking in the background of the very busy illustrations all along – only going back to try and find them, I found they had not. That seemed like a missed opportunity; this simple alteration would have greatly prolonged the time a child might spend with the book, and give them a reason to return to it time and again.