Genre: Family / Africa / Humor / Folktale
Year Published: 1982
Year Read: 1993
Publisher: The Dial Press
Now, everyone knows about Marc Brown’s famous “Arthur” series and how it managed to remain well-loved by children for many years, right? Well, did you know that Marc Brown had illustrated an underrated children's book called “What’s So Funny, Ketu?” which was also written by Verna Aardema and was based off an old Nuer folktale? I must admit that it took me awhile to get back around to this story since it was so unknown to the general children’s book community and I could not remember the title of this story at the time, but I will say that this story is definitely worth reading!
The story starts off with Ketu saving a snake from his dog and the snake wanted to reward Ketu for his kindness by giving him the gift to hear animals’ thoughts. Of course, there is a price to this gift: if Ketu tells anyone what the animals are really thinking about, he will DIE! So, Ketu promised not to reveal the animals’ thoughts to anyone, not even to his wife Nyaloti. Unfortunately, this starts causing problems for Ketu as every time he hears the animals’ thoughts, he would start laughing uncontrollably to the point where he would startled anyone near him. This then leads to his wife Nyaloti going to the Chief and telling the Chief that her husband is supposedly laughing at her since Ketu refuses to tell her what he is really laughing about. The Chief then tells Ketu that if he does not tell everyone what he is really laughing about, then his wife Nyaloti and their baby daughter will have to go back and live with her father.
Will Ketu tell everyone his secret or will he risk dying in the process?
Read this book to find out!
Now, I have been a huge fan of Marc Brown’s works for many years now, mainly with his work on the “Arthur” series. However, I was quite surprised that Marc Brown had done some gorgeous artwork for this unknown children’s book “What’s So Funny, Ketu?” Marc Brown’s artwork is just gorgeous in this book as the characters look realistic and the African setting of this story is extremely vibrant to look at. I also loved the fact that most of the colorings in the artwork are mainly done in red, brown, yellow, black and white colors as they really made the artwork truly stand out. It is amazing how realistic and gorgeous Marc Brown’s artwork looks in this book compared to the artwork in the later “Arthur” books and I just cannot help but stare for many hours at these wonderful illustrations! Verna Aardema’s storytelling was truly wonderful in this book as I thought that this book was barrels of fun and I loved the way that Verna Aardema used various phrases such as “tu-e, tu-e, tu-e” and “pah, pah, pah” to describe the sound effects that each character makes such as laughing or patting a baby on the back.
Parents should know that there are some mentions of death in this book, mainly concerning that if Ketu tells anyone his secret, he will die. Parents might want to discuss about the subject of death with their children before reading them this book.
Overall, “What’s So Funny, Ketu?” is a truly brilliant book for anyone who loves African folktales and underrated classics! I would recommend this book to children ages five and up since the subject of death might be a bit upsetting for some children.