Book Review: How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots

How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots
By Barbara Knutson
Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 1990
Age Range: 4-8

As you may remember, after last week’s unfortunate fairy tale incident, we decided to give folk tales a try. How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots was an excellent and encouraging first pick for this new strategy.

The story, which is based on a Swahili folk tale, is a simple one. Cow and Guinea Fowl are two friends with a common enemy, Lion. Twice Guinea Fowl rescues Cow from Lion with more bravery than caution. As thanks, Cow gives Guinea Fowl the gift of camouflage (those lovely spots, which as Guinea Fowl delightedly points out “are just the thing for hiding in the shadows and grass”).

There’s a lot to like about this book. The simple theme of friendship. The Lion who is more foolish than fierce. The inventive ways in which Guinea Fowl, who you wouldn’t expect to be a match for Lion, is still able to get the better of him. The fact that no one dies.

The illustrations are both lovely and stark. Knutson combines bold lines and delicate scratches to create full-color animal illustrations that are both engaging and pleasing to the eye. Meanwhile, Knutson decorates her text with stark black and white straight-line patterns derived from traditional African designs. Although the black and white designs can seem overwhelming at times, they do make a nice foil for the delicately drawn animal illustrations.

The story is fun to read as well, which is always a plus. I particularly enjoy reading the bit when the Lion struggles to get his roar working properly again after Guinea Fowl thoroughly douses him with river water. Audience participation suggests that The Four-Year-Old’s favorite bits are the moments of stalking, which Knutson writes so light-heartedly that you can easily pretend that the three animals are just playing a bit of hide and seek–should your Four-Year-Old, like mine, require that sort of coddling.

And now it’s your turn. Have you stumbled across any good folk tales lately?

Cross-posted on

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