A British and South African Perspective on Our Books – Part 4
“Mimi and the Buffalo” has an Indian setting yet I think children in Britain will enjoy it just as much those in India. The whole book is written in rhyme, to several different effects. The first and most obvious effect of having the whole text as a poem is that it adds to the overall enjoyment of the book and keeps children engaged from start to finish. The rhyme also makes the book easier for children to follow, as they are able to build up a rhythm when reading it and follow this rhythm through until the book’s close.
However I think the way in which the rhyme scheme adds the most value to the book is in an educational sense. One of the natural consequences of having the poem in rhyme is varied sentence structure and inversion, something some children may have not come across before. Sections of the text such as “Out of a bag he pulled out a needle// With his syringe, the bull he tried to scare// The bull? He didn’t turn a hair!” and “Swinging her bag came a woman fair// Lovely sari, beautiful hair” show children that there are many ways to construct sentences besides the simple way which they are most probably used to. Although the children will probably not have use for such sentences very often, reading them will force them to think about how sentences are put together and at the very least draw their attention to the fact that this can be done in different ways. This is a lesson that British and Indian children can appreciate equally.
In some ways, I think that British children may be able to enjoy this book even more than Indian children. This is due to the story itself: a buffalo in the middle of the road which is simply refusing to move. Whilst Indian children are unlikely to have experienced this exact situation, they will be used to seeing cows on the road, whereas for children in the UK this would be a very surreal experience. This makes the whole story funnier and more enjoyable to British children, as the whole plot will be unimaginable to them, not just the points where the bull talks!
The book’s word choice will also be appreciated by a British audience as it is not too simple; words such as “demurely”, “saga”, “alas” and “vigour” will be unfamiliar and therefore challenging to many children, allowing them to stretch their reading ability and expand their vocabulary. The allusion to the popular English nursery rhyme “Little Jack Horner” in the line “Said the bull, “I’m no Li’l Jack Horner!” makes the book further more relevant to a British audience and children will enjoy a reference that they are familiar with.
The illustrations also contribute greatly to the overall enjoyment of the book. They are quite unusual in the sense that the line-drawings are quite cartoon-like, but the colour is done using watercolours. The combined effect is that the pictures are amusing (in particular the way the bull has been caricatured, and the faces of the people who are waiting for the bull to move) because of the line-drawings, but also lovely due to the watercolours. The combination of all these factors makes it a very successful book, managing to communicate quite an Indian tale in a way which will be enjoyable to children from several different cultural contexts.
The story’s main concern is about the affections humans should show towards animals. The story shows the relentless pain and suffering a bull feels and how he chases every human away because they are not nice. However, when Mimi comes along with her innocence and love, the bull finally leaves and they become friends. The story is of loving and caring. With or without a South African context, it works well. From the bull being afflicted with suffering to finding friendship -it applies to any tradition- as it shows to love animals as equal. The language is used in a stanza format. The language is wonderfully poetic, showcasing a great fluency about it. The readers will show more intrigue and find the book more interesting. The poetic devices also introduce readers to the fundamentals of poetry. The illustrations used are lovely. The use of watercolors emphasize the “playful” feel about the characters. It is well detailed and is in sync with the word content of the story. Many South Africans can relate to this story, though figure and animals of such are Indian orientated, the basis of the story will not be lost. It would be beneficial to a South African society, knowing the beautiful relationship between man and animal which is not just based on a “ give and receive” basis. A wonderful tale for children.
Mimi and the Buffalo is available in the following languages: English, Hindi, Kannada and Marathi.