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Phillis Gershator




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Only one cowry jacket

O
NLY ONE COWRY
A DAHOMEAN TALE


illustrated by David Soman

Orchard, 2000


*Junior Library Guild Selection
*Bank Street's Best Children's Books, 2001
*Boxed review, Booklist
*Children's Literature Choice List, 2001
*Notable Social Studies Trade Book, 2001

From the book jacket:
    
Dada Segbo, the first king of Dahomey, wants a bride. He can afford the finest gifts to bestow upon her family, but he prefers not to part with any of his wealth. So he offers a single cowry shell. How could anyone find a bride for such a pittance?
     "I will find the king a wife for only one cowry," promises a smart young fellow named Yo. And, trade by trade, he does. But Yo isn't the only clever bargainer in the kingdom.
     Freely based on African folkore and strikingly illustrated with multi-textured collage art, this witty tale features an appealing pair of perfectly matched deal makers.

A little about the book:
    
My father, who studied and collected African art, suggested I retell an African cumulative tale for children. My experience as a children's librarian and storyteller taught me there is nothing more fun than joining in to help tell the story. So I found an African tale that had not yet become a picture book, perhaps because the trickster hero was just too mean. I transformed him into a nicer fellow, though he is still very much a trickster, still clever and wily. But I didn't stray far from the character Yo was to become. As it happened, according to the original Dahomean storyteller, the king, who was completely happy with the lovely and clever wife Yo found for him, forbid anyone to complain about Yo's trickery. And that is why Yo, the nasty trickster, became a more likable trickster in future funny tales.

From the reviews:

“Soman’s handsome collage art is as strong and distinctive as Gershator’s text, deftly capturing the humor of the story in postures and facial expressions. The effective combination of rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay in the tale’s refrain (‘Well, well, I’m doing well, thanks to Dada Segbo’s shell’), preceded each time by the cumulative list of items traded, is just one example of Gershator’s thoughtful attention to the story’s oral roots.” Horn Book

“...good-humored cumulative picture book.... [Soman] brilliantly captures the story’s light tone with scenes of smiling figures posed gracefully against simplified, evocative backgrounds. Young readers and listeners will laugh along with Yo and his beautiful co-conspiritor as the two slyly prize a lavish bride price from the smug sovereign.” Booklist, boxed review