Allison's Book Bag

The Matatu by Eric Walters

Posted on: April 2, 2013

Set in East Africa and inspired by a Kamba folktale, The Matatu is a fun and educational picture book by author Eric Walters. For his fifth birthday, Kioko takes his first ride on a matatu (privately-owned bus transportation in East Africa) with his grandfather. Soon his grandfather is telling him to watch for goats, sheep, and dogs. As Kioko obediently looks out the window, his grandfather shares a folktale about why the dogs chase the mini-bus, the goats run away, and the sheep stand still. Eva Campbell delightfully complements the congenial story with bright and colorful watercolors.

Even if readers skip the Forward from the Director of the Creation of Hope and the author’s note, most American children will soon realize that The Matatu is about a different culture. Women carrying baskets on their heads isn’t the norm in the United States. The marketplace with its huts, houses, and stalls isn’t a common sight. Mandazi (fried bread or East African doughnuts) might be an unknown term. And then there’s the matatu, which attracts the attention of two dogs, and for which one deposits shillings to ride.

The forward reveals that a Kamba folktale exists about matatus and animals. One day the Director of the Creation of Hope in Kenya shared a brief version of it with author Eric Walters. Finding the story hilarious, Walters decided to capture it in picture book format. Before Walters was allowed to do this, however, the Kamba people needed to designate Walters as one of their elders with the right to tell their stories. The author’s note further reveals that drivers of the matatu “barrel along at whatever speed the road will allow” and drive on “whichever side of the road is least potholed”.

Although reading the two informational notes provides insight into The Matatu, the story can also stand on its own as a shared moment between a grandfather and a grandson. The bus ride contains twists and turns, as does the charming tale told by Kioko’s grandfather. After reading The Matatu, young readers might become more curious about the stories their own grandparents have to share. They might also want to jump aboard an African bus for a ride with a dog, a goat, and a sheep!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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