Pros: Beautiful illustrations, funny story, good underlying themes and lessons for children.
Poor little Ngiri. Everyone laughs at him because he's the smallest warthog in Africa. Tired of the constant ribbing, Ngiri jumps at a chance to use magic Jungle Drums to change things in the jungle. The outcome is hilarious, but also teaches some lessons in self-image and acceptance of what you are.
Graeme Base, author-illustrator of such gems as Animalia and The Water Hole, produced another beautiful picture book for children ages 4 to 8. With luscious drawings and a funny but poignant story, Jungle Drums is a winner.
Ngiri is equally unhappy with two factions in the jungle. The first is the group of brilliantly-coated animals who live on the far side of the river: the cheetah, bird, giraffe, elephant, zebra, and others. The second is his own community of drab warthogs who have no outward beauty, but love a good mud bath.
When he comes into possession of magic drums, Ngiri uses them to make changes in the appearances of the jungle animals. The colorful stripes, spots, and other patterns of the animals on the far side of the river are transferred to the warthogs. Likewise, the warthogs' run-of-the-mill grays and browns appear on the other animals.
Arguments start, so Ngiri tries to restore the animals to their original appearances by using the magic drums to change the colors and patterns again. He succeeds, but not in the way he imagined. The colors and patterns become mixed up even more, and the animals' shapes get crossed as well. The bird has an elephant's trunk, the cheetah has a warthog's face, a warthog has feathers growing around his head, a zebra has spots, a giraffe has a warthog's head, etc.
Eventually, after much arguing and more magic drums, all returns to normal. When it does, Ngiri learns that it's not so bad to exist as you were created. Being the smallest in the bunch doesn't really mean much at all. And the other creatures learn this too - they never make fun of Ngiri again.
As always, Graeme Base creates incredibly beautiful and richly colorful images. Almost all of the pictures are represented on two-page spreads. Base uses deep reds, orange, greens, browns, and gold as predominant colors. These are blended into images resembling luscious paintings with depth and character. His night scenes are beautifully muted in shades of blue that add a gentle, clam feeling to the mayhem occurring during the daytime.
The drawings of the animals are wonderful. Humor covers the pages when the creatures are first seen in their normal beautiful colors and then stripped "naked" after the effects of the magic drums. The expressions on the animals' faces when they see their colorless bodies are both sad and startled. One poor creature weeps large tears into the river.
As the colors, patterns and shapes shift, the resulting mixed-up images of the animals are hilarious. As a child looks through the pages, he can have a lot of fun trying to figure out which animals have been combined and what body part really belongs to whom.
Base is a masterful illustrator, and his representations in this picture book are further indication of his rich, lush style. Small touches in each of the pictures are fun as well. A ladybug watching the commotion, a caterpillar peering from the sidelines, a lizard hiding in the brush - all add fine details to the forest background.
The story uses a familiar theme to teach a lesson. Children should be able to relate to the poor little guy that others ridicule. But in the end, he learns that wishing to be something else doesn't work, and it's best to accept what you are.
The other lesson learned is for those who did the ridiculing. After all, the little fella used some fairly powerful magic on them. So, the littlest one isn't always the most powerless! After all, it's really okay for someone to look different from everyone else. They learned that first-hand!
Base uses Swahili names for all of the animals (e.g., Ngiri means warthog.) In a one-page pronunciation guide at the end of the book, he not only teaches how to pronounce the words, but also translates the meanings. Each entry is accompanied by a small picture of the animal.
Finally, as is the case with many Graeme Base books, he puts several visual riddles throughout the books. Youngsters have additional fun trying to solve the riddles or find hidden creatures in the pages of the jungle.
This is a picture book worthy of consideration. It is equally as entertaining for 4 year-olds as 8 year-olds. It makes good reading aloud for the younger set, while only slightly challenging those reading on their own. A sampling of the most advanced vocabulary words: plumage, disaster, grapevine, commotion, impressive.
This is a beautiful picture book with funny images and a wonderful underlying message. I like it so much that it's on my list this year as a holiday gift for the young ones in my family!
Many thanks to Pestyside for adding this book to the Epinions database!
Other Graeme Base Gems:
Animalia (see http://www.epinions.com/review/Animalia_by_Graeme_Base/content_280632397444
Enigma (see http://www.epinions.com/review/Book_Enigma_A_Magical_Mystery_Graeme_Base/content_448403967620)