Planet Picture Book

Lupompo and the Baby Monkey

All is not well in Lupompo’s village. People are cutting down trees and draining the land; the forest animals are leaving and villagers are falling sick. Lupompo is determined to find out the truth.

This title was released in 2004 by E&D Limited, another independent Tanzanian publisher with a children’s list. It is actually a short chapter book with illustrations, mainly small colourful vignettes, on every other page. As with many titles on this journey, I wasn’t sure what to expect until I had the actual book in my hands. It has been a fascinating read for a number of reasons and I’m glad I ordered it.

The story features a strong female protagonist, Lupompo, who is caught between the conflicting views of two generations regarding drinking water. On the one side, she hears her grandmother insist that she drink water from the spring in the forest. On the other, she has her mother making the family drink boiled water from the canal that flows from the spring. Rather than coming down on one side or the other, Lupompo shows herself to be open-minded, curious and determined to find out who and what is right. Great traits for a lead character (and great to see a girl in this role, too!)

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of old and new in this book. Author Demere Kitunga chooses to start with a presentation of traditional life in Lupompo’s small village. In ancient times, people observed the sun and seasons and lived in tune with their surroundings. New developments are shown to pose a real threat, particularly to the water supply for the village. The marsh around the reservoir is drained to make way for coffee plantations and people’s desire for financial gain. Pesticides are washed into the water course. The villagers reject taboos and swim in the reservoir and canal, despite the entreaties of the elders. And then they start to get sick and die.

Lupompo is able to trace the problem back to its source (literally) with the help of a baby monkey she befriends half-way through the story and its mother. It’s an real journey of discovery for Lupompo and her mother. And the realisation/reminder that pure spring water is cool, fresh and delicious motivates them both to take action over the water supply situation for their own village.  

The story raises all sorts of interesting issues for discussion, such as health, the importance of clean drinking water, and tradition vs. progress It also highlights the importance of questioning situations where no consensus has been reached. The text invites readers to extend themselves, too. Difficult words like ‘deposited’, ‘afflicted’ and ‘pondering’ are scattered throughout (and marked in bold). Kitunga provides a useful glossary at the end of the book. The colourful illustrations of people, animals and village landscapes and activities are beautifully executed and provide a valuable visual support for the text.

Lupompo and the Baby Monkey is one of those books that invites opinion and discussion while promoting discovery and learning.

The Book

Lupompo and the Baby Monkey by Demere Kitunga, illustrated by Paul Ndunguru (E&D Limited, 2004)

The Author

Demere Kitunga is a publisher, writer and feminist activist. She is co-founder and executive director of E&D Readership & Development Agency—Soma, which focuses on promoting reading for empowerment.

The Illustrator

Paul Ndunguru is a well-known visual artist, performer and educator from Tanzania, whose work has been exhibited around the world. He has illustrated a number of books for the Tanzanian Books Project, as well as comics and schoolbooks.

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