I picked up this book for two reasons: I am busy revising a picture book about adoption, set in Botswana, a nation I know and love; a land also inhabited by Ostrich and Lark. Secondly, I was intrigued that the illustrations in this story are by San artists. While I didn’t meet any bushmen in Botswana, I did meet some Kalahari San while I was working in Namibia, and was able to visit some of their ancestors’ rock paintings. This book is a rain shower of sensorial delight.
Written by Marilyn Nelson
Illustrated by San Artists of the Kuru Art Project of Botswana
Published by Boyds Mills Press, 2012
Themes: Botswana, birds, unique voice, lark, ostrich, unlikely friendships, San art
Ostrich and Lark started each morning together at first light, day in and day out. And they parted at nightfall.
Ostrich and Lark pass their time on the veldt of southern Africa. They are sweet companions who search for food together all the while accompanied by a chorus of African birdsong (hornbill, diederik, mousebird and many more). Daily, perched high in a tree, Lark adds his own song. His is the first warble of the day and he joins the bird chorus from his branch, while below on the ground, Ostrich remains silent. Then comes one special evening as dusk falls, when Ostrich finally finds his unique voice. The story has the feel of a traditional African folktale told in pictorial poetic prose, and is beautifully married to warm, vivid illustrations inspired by the ancient rock paintings of the San people’s ancestors.
Why I like this book:
This picture book is about an unlikely friendship both between Ostrich and Lark, and between the African American poet Marilyn Nelson and the San artists of Botswana. To my interpretation, it is how friendship and collaboration can inspire creativity and confidence. Ostrich takes more than half the book to work up the courage to utter anything, but when he does, it is beautiful, authentic and powerful. The story came about through a chance encounter Nelson had with the artists when she travelled to Botswana and the author’s proceeds from this book will be used to support the San artists of the Kuru Art Project in Botswana. The San bushmen were the first people of Southern Africa and their rock paintings are amazing documentation of their history. They are a native people who, like so many, find their culture and lifestyles threatened, so I am thrilled to see a book that not only brings the magical veldt and its wildlife to a western audience, but will also feed back into their artistic community. I found myself reminiscing of waking on very, very cold desert mornings in Namibia, while camping in fry riverbeds, to birdsong. I would love to show you more of the exquisite artwork, but you will just have to buy the book yourself.
I would have students choose one of the birds mentioned in the story and try and paint in this San style.
I also wrote a poem here, on my time in the Namib.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.