Seeking Global Perspectives in Traditional Literature Picture Books: Part 4

Pretty Salma: An African Little Red Riding Hood Story
By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University

In 2008, the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) selected Pretty Salma: An African Little Red Riding Hood Story for inclusion on the Outstanding International Books (OIB) for children and young adults. This book was recommended for grades K-2. The book jacket notes Pretty Salma is set in West Africa and a brief glossary with two Ghanaian words accompanies the book’s dedication “For Salma.” The book is shelved in the 398.2 section of the library indicating that the Library of Congress determined it is a folktale originating in the oral tradition.

Young Salma, who lives with her grandparents, is sent to the market by Granny who warns her not to talk to strangers. On her way to market, Salma sings a sweet song (tailor-made for storytellers to include in their retellings). At the market, she buys a watermelon, a rooster, a pink drink, and a bunch of straws.

She sets off for home with a heavy basket. Hot and taking a shortcut, Salma meets Mr. Dog who offers to carry her basket. Mr. Dog asks for Salma’s sandals, her wrap-skirt, her scarf, and her beads. He demands that she teach him her song and won’t return her things until he learns to sing it well. When she begs for her clothing and her basket, Mr. Dog threatens to bite her in two.

Salma runs until she finds her grandfather telling stories and wearing his Anansi costume. Grandfather and Salma hatch a plot to save Granny from Dr. Dog. Salma dons the mask of “the Bogeyman” and beats on Anansi’s drum, Grandfather shakes his rattles, Little Abubaker claps sticks, and they march home making quite a racket.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dog arrives at Granny’s house. When Granny asks for a kiss, Mr. Dog obliges her. “What a wet nose you have!” she exclaims. Famished, Mr. Dog chases the rooster. “My what an appetite you have!” exclaims Granny. Granny gives Mr. Dog a bath and becomes suspicious when she discovers his tail.

To test his authenticity, she asks “Salma” to sing their song and realizes she’s been tricked when all Mr. Dog can do is “Woof! Woof! Woof!” Granny attempts to chase Mr. Dog with her broom, but he threatens to bite her in two. Granny jumps into her cooking pot, and Mr. Dog snaps the lid closed and begins to make Granny soup. Just then “the Bogeyman” and his gang burst through the door and scare Mr. Dog, who turns tail and runs back “to the wild side of town.” And yes, Salma learned her lesson!

This story seems to have been written to be told. The repeating song, the sounds, the Ghanaian words, and rhythm of the story provide an opportunity for a dramatic retelling. What are your ideas for bringing this story to life through oral storytelling?

Reteller-illustrator Niki Daly lives in Cape Town, South Africa. He has written and illustrated many children’s books that involve various African cultures. His cartoon-like illustrations for Pretty Salma convey both a modern urban as well as aspects of a more traditional Ghana setting and portray various aspects of the culture, including fabric patterns and masks. The book itself does not provide any information about his folktale beyond what is mentioned in this review. I did find a post on Niki Daly’s blog about reading the book to school children while someone translated the story into Afrikaans. I noticed that you can leave Mr. Daly a note by clicking on his “About” page.

How can storytellers authentic this story? Are there other “Little Red Riding Hood” stories from Africa? One possible option for making connections and further research on aspects of this story is to investigate West African folklore centered on Anansi, the trickster African god who often appears in stories as a spider. Many popular children’s book authors and illustrators have retold Anansi stories including Eric Kimmel, Janet Stevens, and Gerald McDermott, who earned a 1973 Caldecott Honor Award for Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti (Henry Holt, 1972). What do you know about this popular character from African (and Caribbean) folklore? What African folktale picture books have been written or illustrated by non-white Africans?

Next week’s title will be Juan Bobo Goes to Work: A Puerto Rican Tale/Juan Bobo busca trabajo retold by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Joe Cepeda.

Works Cited

Daly, Niki. Pretty Salma: An African Little Red Riding Hood Story. New York: Clarion, 2006. Print.

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