With the emergence of his new book, “Strange Friends”, Children’s book author, Prince Chinweze Isaac, rekindles hope for a possible paradigm shift from a poor reading culture to a vibrant one for present day generation of students.
It is indeed a new dawn for children literature as the advent of Strange Friends signals the return of colorful child-friendly books to bookshelves in schools and homes where there has been a worrisome lull in reading.
Set in the fictive world of a folkloric Animal Kingdom, Strange Friends, an easy-to-read book, is sure to resuscitate the dying interest of youngsters in reading for pleasure and academic purposes.
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Published by Finetime Concepts, Lagos, Nigeria (2021), the 25-page book contains attractive pictures that uniquely illustrate its rich content in a way that elegantly justifies the author’s preference for telling the story in pictures spiced with fewer words to a lengthy narrative that some readers may find boring.
Presented in the third person narrative style, the storyline of Strange Friends develops from a combination of a few simple sentences and lyrical lines laden with humor and suspense. The book also features practical exercise sections that are deliberately designed to enable readers to unleash their latent creative abilities. The practice items include skeletal drawings that readers are to label or color.
As the title suggests, Strange Friends features characters that are unlikely to fit for friendship and naturally pitched against one another. Carnivorous animals known for their unmitigated penchants for food are deployed to reveal the rat race in a contemporary society where only the fittest survive.
The book has a simple plot which revolves around the unusual friendship that evolves from the encounter of three animals-a lion, a hyena and a raven. The lion, Leo tries unsuccessfully to live happily in the jungle without the intrusion of the hyena, Harry into his chosen cocoon. But the meddlesome hyena unable to cater for himself always tags along whenever Leo goes hunting. Harry often distracts Leo from the meal, only to steal the game. Leo vows to deal with the mischievous hyena whom he also accuses of laughing at him. As they scheme to outwit each other, Harry cleverly avoids direct confrontation with Leo, but keeps taking bits of his game.
Unknown to Leo, Harry steals to assuage hunger and “laughs” because it is in his nature as a hyena. He also learns that laughter is a natural trait of hyenas. Harry laughs — not to mock him, but to genuinely express his nature. On realizing that despite his being strong and industrious, he barely has enough food to feed on, it dawns on Leo that he could live a robust life by extending a hand of friendship to Harry. He forgives Harry and makes friends with him. They resolve to keep aside their differences and unite to fight a common enemy, hunger. Having realized the folly and impracticality of their self-centered antics at outsmarting each other, they unite to form a formidable team that later includes the raven, Charlie. The trio resolve to tackle hunger-their common enemy, and not to fight one another.
In this new relationship, Leo promises to protect Harry from other wild beasts while the hyena joins him to search for food. Their union begins to yield greater results as they find food more easily than before. Later, Harry meets the raven, another lone-ranger who has much to eat, but is defenceless and lonely. He introduces Charlie to Leo and the trio enter into a partnership that turns out to be mutually rewarding.
The fictional society depicted in the book is a metaphor of a heterogeneous society such as Nigeria which consists of people from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds. The animals symbolically mirror the various tribes that make up the country and their ability to forge a formidable relationship is a pointer to the need for the component ethnic groups to forgo their differences and foster unity despite their diversity.
All the pages of Strange Friends are ornamented with colorful pictorial illustrations that make the piece a must-read as most young readers will find it irresistible. The animal characters with human names are featured as symbolic representations of persons from diverse social strata and divergent character traits. The major characters are the young lion, Leo, a hyena, Harry and a raven named Charlie.
The author uses the animals to teach children basic moral lessons about socially acceptable or condemnable human qualities. By extension, such lessons remind adults of the factors that account for harmonious relationships and peaceful co-existence in a society.
Although the short story has a universal setting which makes it relevant to readers across diverse cultures, the author introduces it in a formulaic mode reminiscent of traditional folktales. This is instantiated in the following expressions: “Once upon a time there lived a young lion. His name was Leo and most of all he loved to run free in the fields and eat food.”
Strange Friends is a very captivating story laden with moral lessons, especially about the importance of relationships and mutual understanding. The overriding themes of the story include: freedom, love, cooperation, trust, teamwork and friendship. With the literary offering, Strange Friends, the author makes a case for harmonious relationships and peaceful co-existence among people irrespective of their socio-cultural differences. The author explores a wide range of thematic concerns. African rich cultural heritage is a central theme. There is also the theme of change realized through the transformation of characters such as Harry from a cunning and selfish animal to a liberal personality as revealed in the following sentence: “He started to be friendly and honest and very soon they both found that working together made them stronger. “
Conflict in the short story is generated in the first part which includes the following expressions that capture the initial frosty relationship between two symbolic characters: “Day by day they lived their lives trying not to see each other./ But when the lion went searching for food the hyena followed. And each time Leo found himself something to eat the hyena would / trick him away to / steal it. Every time this happened, the lion became angry … “
The climax and subsequent resolution of the conflict is realized in the second part of the story where a direct confrontation occurs, triggering the much-needed dialogue: One day, when Leo found a good meal, he decided to trick the hyena. So he lay down next to the food and pretended to fall asleep. Very soon he heard the hyena’s steps moving closer and closer. / Leo opened his eyes and leaped to his enemy, throwing the hyena down on the ground./ Stop stealing my loo / he roared. “But I’m so hungry!” / replied the hyena. “And you always have so much food!” Https://allafrica.com/ “You always make fun of me! And laugh!” said the young lion. / “I’m a hyena / That’s what hyenas do! Ha-ha!”
Prince Chinweze Isaac, a graduate of public administration from Imo State University, Nigeria has other titles in the genre of children literature to his credit. These include Cradle of the Gods and Playground. The author believes that childhood is the best time to inculcate cardinal virtues such as love and tolerance in children, thereby nurturing a generation that will make a peaceable society. His inspiration is mainly drawn from childhood dreams, reading traditional folktales and a compelling need to nurture youngsters into responsible adults that will shun societal vices. Like most of his literary works, Strange Friends features inspiring characters that serve as ideal models for children across the globe.