The threads of a little boy’s life are drawn together and lead to a happy ending, thanks to the wisdom of his grandfather, in this beautifully written and illustrated picture-book: Babu’s Song by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and illustrated by Aaron Boyd (Lee & Low, 2003). Set in contemporary Tanzania, Bernardi lives with his grandfather, Babu. They make a living from the toys which Babu makes and Bernardi sells at the market. Bernardi shares a love of soccer with the other boys his age and he wishes he could afford to go to school like they do…. and he longs for the new football he sees in a shop window.
One day Babu gives Bernardi a musical box he has made from an old tin: it plays a song that Babu used to sing to him, which makes it extra special as Babu lost his voice after an illness several years earlier:
Bernardi hugged Babu, and together they listened to the music. That night for the first time in many nights, Bernardi fell asleep listening to Babu’s song.
The following Saturday, Bernardi sells the music box to an insistent tourist and decides he will buy himself the football. However, he finds that he cannot buy it and, filled with guilt, he hands the money over to Babu. Babu leaves Bernardi for a while, then returns with three surprises: a school uniform, because he has paid the fees for Bernardi to go to school; a soccer ball he has made; and an old lard tin to make another music box.
Babu’s Song became an immediate hit in our household and, since it arrived a few months ago, we have read it many times. I’ve included it in my Personal View for our current music theme; and it is definitely one of the books Steve Adams of the Willesden Bookshop would have been referring to when he spoke to me about children’s books about Africa and India starting to reflect a modern urban setting. The illustrations here really help to get that across.
All in all, there’s plenty of food for thought and this is exactly the kind of story we need to get children thinking at an early age, even if subconsciously to start with, about the distribution of world wealth. For parents reading this book with their children, it is a wake-up call: a tourist paying, albeit generously, for a hand-made souvenir makes it possible for a child to attend school…
Little Brother read this as his African book in our Book Challenge so I’ll leave him with the last words:
There are some sad bits and some happy bits, which makes it a heart-moving story.