Just for kids in Africa

THIS is a book of gripping stories of relevance to youngsters in Africa. The young will relish this book, which has adventure, suspense and well-constructed storylines

The characters or protagonists, Bul-boo and Madillo (two girls), are powerless to save their friend Winifred from a terrifying fate, and time is slipping away. In desperation they call on Ifwafwa, the "snake man". But though the old man is wise, he is slow and the girls become impatient.

The book goes on to document the adventures of the duo.

We are afforded glimpses of the characters and mind of the young ones.

Early on, we can see that young Winifred is not her usual self. Her friend Bul-boo notices that her friend is disoriented.

We read: "Winifred didn't put her hand up (in class) today. Not once. She hardly put her head up. I kept looking at her sideways, waiting. But nothing. When the bell rang, she slipped out of the classroom as if she had never been there. Like a shadow. I stayed sitting for a while, wondering..."

Like a typical book for youngsters, we are introduced to the world of animals, which also quite fascinate the girls.

We find ourselves empathising with these creatures. Even Ifwafwa is likened to a snake.

"Ifwafwa. Yes, that's what they call me. The puff adder. Slow and heavy, but fast to strike. The little one, Bul-Boo, she told me about the name. It's a nickname, she said, because you catch all the snakes and because your bicycle makes that noise, fwa-fwa-fwa."

This book intelligently combines a medley of story-telling approaches excellent for African children in particular. The vocabulary is simple and a didactic tone also works well here. Ifwafwa, for example, tells us: ".. That is why I tell stories. When I tell stories, my head is filled with other people who talk to me and know me. When I tell stories, my mother and grandmother come back to me. My grandmother scolds me and sends me off to look for eggs."

Many years ago, the likes of Enid Blyton churned out wonderful interesting books for children to read and enjoy around the world. In recent times, JK Rowling has of course become a phenomenon.

The author of this book shows in this debut work that she can spin a fine tale that would enthral young readers.

Indeed, this is a stirring, lyrical story from the butterfly heart of Africa. It will have appeal to the mainstream young reader and boost literacy in South Africa and in other parts of the continent.

The author, Paula Leyden, was born in Kenya and spent her childhood in Zambia. As a teenager, she moved with her family to South Africa, where she soon became involved in the struggle to end apartheid.

Since 2003 she has lived on a farm in Kilkenny, Ireland, with her partner and five children, where she breeds horses and writes. The Butterfly is her first novel.

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