Book Review: My African Bedtime Rhymes

Lillie Forteau's picture

Today I get to share a cool new book with you! It is called My African Bedtime Rhymes. I like it because it is fun, it is laughter, it is exciting! The pictures are great - funny and interesting. I especially liked the water pictures. I liked the stories - they are told in rhyme, and sometimes they make you laugh.  There are four stories, each about different animals in Africa. There are also new words to learn - names, and in the beginning you learn what language they are. It is cool! The funniest story is about the crocodile - especially at the end. This book made me want to learn more about African animals! I love it. We read it (and giggle) almost every night.

I emailed the author and illustrator and asked them some questions. I was happy to learn more about their writing and art! But first, here are their stories:

My African Bedtime Rhymes was written by Brettell Hone. Brettell Hone was born in Malawi and educated in Zimbabwe. An advocate by training, Brettell has worked with words in legal, corporate and training environments in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, where he has always had the good fortune to be in close proximity to the African bushveld. My African Bedtime Rhymes is the first of his African animal rhymes. Brettell has also published a play, "Philemon", which won The 2004 Drama Circle Playwriting Contest in the USA. 

My African Bedtime Rhymes was illustrated by Ginger Nielson.  Ginger Nielson is a full time children's book illustrator living in semi rural New England. Her colorful illustrations are a mixture of traditional and digital art and with each one, Ginger tries to create a "picture story" that can be enjoyed with wordless imagination. She has illustrated a number of Picture Books, educational readers and continues to paint sets for the Summer Children's Theater in her community. Ginger is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.


My African Bedtime Rhymes


Here are my interviews with Brettell and Ginger - Brettell first:



WE:  Please tell us about your book, My African Bedtime Rhymes...

BH: My African Bedtime Rhymes is a collection of African animal rhymes, beautifully illustrated by Ginger Nielson. The rhymes introduce some familiar and less familiar African creatures to readers by describing the animals' homes and typical behaviour. The words in the rhymes may sometimes be new and challenging for younger readers.  However, readers or listeners can always ask the meanings of new words and this will help to develop vocabulary.



WE:  Why did you write this book?

BH: Good question, Lillie!  My wife's sister was visiting us from Iran and she doesn't speak English.  So, I had some time to myself and started to write the rhymes for fun.  Rhymes, poetry and animal stories have played an influential role in my and my children's childhoods.  Rudyard Kipling's "Just So" stories; Geraldine Elliot's "The Long Grass Whispers"; A A Milne's "Winnie the Pooh" and Beatrix Potter's "Peter Rabbit" and many other stories have all featured in our bedtime rituals. The rhymes in these stories are written to be playful syllables and sounds: story-telling through the medium of a form of poetry.



WE: Have you seen these cool animals in real life?

BH: Yes, I have.  We live on a mountain on the edge of a forest and we listen to Orlando and his friends the Wood owls almost every night.  I grew up in Zimbabwe and lived in Namibia and now South Africa.  In all these countries we have been privileged to live close to nature and to the wild animals.



WE:  Is there really a Krish the fish?

BH: Mmmm.  There really is a fish (trout) and you may wish to call him by a different name. I called this one Krish because it rhymes with fish and I have a dear friend called Krish, who looks a little fishy at times!


My African Bedtime Rhymes



WE:  How did you learn about these animals?

BH: I guess that when you live close to nature you want to learn the names of all the different plants, birds and animals.  Then you want to find out what they eat and what they do each day.  How many children do they have and how do they bring up their children? Who are their friends and whom do they try to avoid? The same sort of stuff that you probably want to know about your friends and relatives.  You grow to love the animals, just as you grow to love your friends and family. Animals can also teach us about things like loyalty, strength, courage and majesty.  



WE:  If you made a different book instead of this one, would you have the same name as this one?

BH: That is difficult to say. I have written three other books (see below) and they have quite different titles.  I think that for the first one, I wanted to draw attention to the African animals and to the rhymes and to the possibility that these could be read at bedtime, which was the time that I used to read to my children when they were little.



WE:  Are you going to write another book?

BH: We have written three other books - The Big Five Come Alive, Some Creatures Great and Small, and a new one called Baboon Tales, which is not yet finished.  These books are not yet published, but we hope to do so before too long. 



WE:  Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

BH: Just to thank you for your questions and for your interest in our animals and in these stories. I hope that we will be able to meet some day and then you can tell me about yourself and what you do and what you hope to become when you finish school.   Jessie tells us that you are an artist.  How
wonderful!  I wish you every success in your art.  It is a beautiful talent and I would love to see some of your pictures. Do you want to work as an artist when you complete your education? 



Ginger's interview:



WE:  What mediums did you work in for this book?

GN: I was trained as a painter and most of my adult life I used oils, acrylics, and watercolors. But when I got my first computer I found that you could PAINT in the computer. At first I just used a mouse to make lines, and that was very hard.  Later, however, a company called Wacom invented a drawing tablet and pressure sensitive pen that I could use to draw on and make the images show up in the computer.  I now use a high end painting program and this tablet. Both are made for the computer. The program is called PAINTER....and within the software are dozens of digital brushes and pens and different kinds of techniques one can use to apply the "paint."  In this program what I create in the computer looks almost like what I would have painted with real paint.  I can even adjust the distance of each bristle on the bushes I use.  It is a fascinating program and so complex that even after using it for 10 years I am still learning more each day. So even though I will still do lots of sketches in pencil, my finished work is all done in the computer as digital artwork. If you go to my website you can find ARTICLES that will show how I work.



WE:  How did you learn how to draw all the animals?

GN: To draw anything well one needs to practice, and so I do.  I draw every day and often at night.  For this book,  I studied videos, looked at my old sketches from when I would go to the zoo or the Museum of Natural History to sketch animals.  I also looked at dozens of photos of animals in all kinds of poses and habitats.  The author of this book gave me lots of good first hand information because he actually lives near all these animals. He sent me some wonderful photos of Orlando the wood owl and for another project we hope to work on, he sent me some great elephant photos. I also take lots of photos of almost everything that looks like it might  make it into a book someday. I photograph houses, cracks in sidewalks, ivy, shadows, grass,trees, name it.  I save them in the computer in "folders" and file them away there for future reference.


My African Bedtime Rhymes



WE:  How long did it take to illustrate this book? Did you work a lot?

GN: I think it is funny when people call what I do 'work.' I love to paint and draw so this is the most fun I could possibly have! So, no, I did not work a lot, but I did havd FUN a lot!

The book took quite a while to complete.  Whenever an artist works on a book there is a discussion with the editor or author about how things are going. When sketches are approved the painting can begin.  This book took us almost a year from start to the finished book we could hold in our hands.   Some books are done more quickly if an editor or publisher has a very tight schedule but either way I always want to do my very best work, and I won't send out anything that I am not proud of.



WE:  The water illustrations are so beautiful. How did you make the water reflections?

GN: I love doing water scenes.  The brushes I use in Painter make it fun and easier than one would imagine. To make a reflection I only needed to create a copy of the illustration and then add it into the scene, turn it upside down and wiggle it around a little in the computer until it looked just right...then I could soften the image and make some wavy lines to look like water.  It is a lot harder to explain than it is to actually paint.



WE:  How did you draw the fish and the fly?

GN: The fish was harder for me because I didn't have any fish to look at....but I have a computer friend who studies fish, and trout in particular, and is a biologist. So I was able to see lots of his photographs of trout. And the fish in our story is a trout. Of course the author, Mr Hone wanted the lady fish to have big eyelashes and lipstick. That made it even more fun. The fly was fun too, because I could find pictures of African flies to look at. The computer program I use allowed me to create a pattern to show those enormous eyes as compound eyes, almost like the real thing.



WE: Do you have other books you've illustrated?

GN: I have illustrated about 10 books for children and several educational stories that will be used in children's text books.  The books I have illustrated are listed on my website on my Books page.

There are also books that I have written and illustrated and those are being sent out periodically to editors to see if a publisher would like to produce them.  Those are called ms/dummies... which means you send the full manuscript for the book along with a printed copy of all the drawings you would want to include in the book those pictures are put together in a book form called a dummy. On my website in the ARTICLES section I show how to make a dummy book.



WE:  Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

GN: I enjoyed being interviewed and loved the great questions you asked.  I work with children on a weekly basis at our church where I teach the K-4 group.

And in the summer, like right now, I create painted scenery for our children's summer theater camp.  In fact I just got home from one of their rehearsals.  In addition to painting the sets, I take photos of the children during practice and during the final performances.

I was a first grade teacher for many years, then a travel agent and a doll maker before I finally decided to devote all my time to an illustrating career.

Our home is in northern New England at the top of a hill at the edge of a forest and we are often visited by all kinds of animals.  Turkeys, deer, foxes, owls, and even a bear or two.  Our rescued beagle, Henry, keeps us company and always sounds the alarm when one of those animals wanders into the yard.  I don't know if you have ever heard a beagle sound the alarm, but it is a HOWL that would warn anyone quite easily that something is going on.

Thank you very much for including me in your interviews.



WE: Thank you, Brettell and Ginger! I am an artist and love this book. I hope to make one someday!


For more information, please see:

Brettell Hone - author

Ginger Nielson - illustrator


My African Bedtime Rhymes is published by Shamwari Publilshing, in South Africa.


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