Planet Picture Book

Ready Set Read Stories from Ethiopia

This is an attractive collection of three short, simple illustrated stories inspired by wise sayings from Ethiopia. The text is bilingual (Amharic/English).

Ready Set Read Stories from Ethiopia: Volume 1 is an attractive collection of three short, simple illustrated stories. This bilingual title is in English and Amharic, but Ready Set Go books are also available in other local Ethiopian languages, such as Afaan Oromo and Tigrinya. The concept behind the books is fantastic: Profits from book sales will be used to create, publish and distribute more Ready Set Go titles in Ethiopia, where children and adults have very few books to read in local languages.

The three tales in this collection of Ready Set Read Stories are all inspired by wise sayings from Ethiopia that many readers would be familiar with. In the foreword, we learn that if an adult says the first half of one of these sayings, many children can chant the second half! Each story combines colourful single-page illustrations portraying Ethiopian children, animals and backdrops with short snippets of text in English and Amharic.

The first story in the collection ‘Fifty Lemons’ opens with just two words ‘One lemon’ on the first page, then two more on the second (‘Ten lemons’). The English text appears first with the Amharic script in bold font underneath it. ‘Fifty Lemons’ also uses repetition of words, such as ‘lemons’, ‘friends’ and ‘fifty’, and the accompanying illustrations reinforce their meaning, making this a great text for those learning to read. It’s my favourite story in the collection – I love the colourful palette with its aqua skies, earthy tones, yellow-green fruit and, in contrast, the dark-skinned boy dressed in white and his big group of friends. And I love the underlying themes of friendship and helping each other to lessen the load.

I enjoyed the other stories in the collection, too! They have a similar format to ‘Fifty Lemons’ with single-page illustrations, word repetition, and limited text in English and Amharic. ‘We Can Stop the Lion’ is a fun tale of spiders dancing while a lion sleeps and then spinning their way out of trouble when he wakes up and growls at them. The lion is an important symbol in Ethiopia, I learnt, and the country is also home to lions with distinctive black manes* – this special feature is captured beautifully in the illustrations for the story.

The final tale in the collection ‘Walls of Grass’ provides another fascinating insight into life in Ethiopia. The story features a traditional thatched house made from wattle and daub that takes time and patience to build. While homes built in this way are able to withstand the power of the elements, houses constructed in a hurry from other materials may not fare so well when the wind blows . . . The tale has echoes of the English classic The Three Little Pigs but in this instance, sticks and straw are definitely the winners! Again, the illustrations are beautifully colourful – I particularly like the traditional house with its thatched roof.

Ready Set Read Stories from Ethiopia: Volume 1 provides beginning readers in Ethiopia with colourful, fun tales to read in their own language, featuring characters, sayings and settings that they will recognise. This picture book collection also provides readers from other cultures with a lovely introduction to Ethiopian language and traditions.

The Book
Ready Set Read Stories from Ethiopia: Volume 1 (bilingual Amharic/English title) by Jane Kurtz, translated by Amlaku B. Eshetie and Woubeshet Ayenew, with illustrations by Ruby Stott, Eden Hakala, Jackie Farah, Humphrey Nelms, Celeste Burkholder and Beth Neel (Ready, Set, Go Books, 2017, an Open Hearts Big Dreams project).

The Author
Jane Kurtz is an award-winning author books for children, including a number of bilingual titles under the Ready Set Go Books imprint, which she founded with her sister, Caroline. Jane learned to read in Maji, Ethiopia where she spent most of her childhood and is a longstanding advocate of literacy in the country. She is a co-founder of Ethiopia Reads and continues to be a spokesperson and ambassador for the organisation. She also teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in children’s literature. Jane and her husband live in Portland, Oregon in the US.

The Illustrators
The three stories in this Ready Set Read collection were illustrated by a team of child and adult volunteers, including Ruby Stott, Eden Hakala, Jackie Farah, Humphrey Nelms, Celeste Burkholder and Beth Neel

The Translators
Amlaku B. Eshetie is a passionate and experienced translator from English into Amharic and volunteer translation coordinator at Ready Set Go Books. Before making the move to translation in 2011, he worked as an English teacher at all levels (from primary through tertiary). He holds a BA in Foreign Languages and an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Addis Ababa University.

Woubeshet Ayenew is a cardiologist in Minneapolis, Minnesota (US) who has been in practice for more than 20 years. He has worked as a volunteer translator from English into Amharic for several Ready Set Go titles.

*Check out this National Geographic link for video footage of a sighting of a rare Ethiopian black-maned lion.

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