Reviews for Gift from Childhood : Memories of an African Boyhood

Booklist Reviews 2010 May #2
In his memoir of growing up in a village in Mali, West Africa, well-known storyteller and artist Diakité weaves in the folklore and lessons he learned as a child with his personal biography. The illustrations, printed from earthenware tiles, capture the blend of myth and tradition as well as personal interactions with people and nature. The messages get heavy at times for a young audience, as when Diakité explains how folktales are "like narrative versions of metaphors or proverbs." But many people will be held by how, at age four, Diakité's city parents send him to his father's home village to be raised by his wise, loving grandmother, where he listens to her fireside stories ("nighttime was beautiful" with no electricity or light), herds sheep and goats, feels the effects of French colonialism, and learns to blend cultural traditions and his own sense of self. Finally, he marries and moves between the U.S. and Mali. Suggest this to adult storytellers as well as to young people. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
Malian artist Diakite's ceramic tiles illustrate this autobiography. The medium admirably suits the subject: rural Mali comes to life in the tiles' earth tones, saturated colors, and bold drafting, supplemented with Diakite's handsome portraits and traditional designs. His story's significance shines through the simplicity of its telling: Malian village life is revealed in authentic detail, and the cultural attitudes are mind-opening. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #4
Malian artist Diakite came to the United States as a young man to marry an American artist. Here he studied ceramics-hence the tiles that illustrate this autobiography and several of his picture books. The medium admirably suits the subject: rural Mali comes to life in the earth tones, saturated colors, and bold drafting of Diakite's color tiles, supplemented with his handsome portraits and traditional designs in black on dove gray. He recounts incidents involving such memorable figures as wise Grandma Sabou (who raised him); his hard-working, absent mother; an independent-minded blacksmith; and a deaf cousin. His story's significance shines through the simplicity of its telling: Malian village life is revealed in authentic detail, from childhood tasks and play to the aroma of market day, from the respect observed between young and old to the coming-of-age circumcision ceremony. Cultural attitudes are mind-opening. His grandmother tells the boy that he can go to school only "when you are educated." That's what happened: he went to school once he'd learned to herd goats and to distinguish between his people's oral history and its stories ("Folktales...are like narrative versions of metaphors or proverbs, used both to entertain and to teach"). Diakite was gifted in many ways, including modesty and cheerful tenacity in the face of poverty, hard work, and almost insurmountable difficulties in getting an education. An extraordinary window into what will be, for most readers, an unfamiliar world. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 March #2

Diakit's (The Magic Gourd) illustrated memoir focuses on his childhood in a small Malian village, but also touches on his adult years, including meeting his future wife and moving to Portland, Ore. Four-year-old Baba is sent to his father's hometown of Kassaro to live with Grandma Sabou and Grandpa Samba to learn valuable ranching and farming skills, as well as the Mali tradition of storytelling. Interspersed with Diakit's recounting of his youth (catching catfish with his grandmother, receiving ritual circumcision), are stories about his grandfather's brokering peaceful relations with the French, a blacksmith who stymies Death, and others. "Stories were more than just a learning tool for my cousins and me," Baba says. "They were like going on an adventure." Diakit's precise language and vibrant illustrations, created on earthenware tiles, form an engrossing story of community life. Studded with Malian proverbs, metaphors, and morals ("Fortunately, brains do not have any bone. That is what allowed us people to be flexible"), it's a memoir alive with far more voices than just that of the author. Ages 10-up. (Mar.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 May

Gr 4-8--After spending his first four years in an African city, the author's parents sent him to live with his grandparents in a small Malian village. Grandma Sabou was a respected herbalist and healer with a gift for storytelling. Grandpa Samba owned a mango plantation and was one of the few men in his village who knew how to cook. Together, they schooled Diakité in catching catfish, cultivating crops, and coexisting peacefully with nature, all the while instilling in him their virtues and values. When Grandma Sabou finally decided he was "educated," she acquiesced to his request for more formal schooling where he channeled his childhood experiences into a career as an artist. Diakité's story is poignant and well written, and his reverence for his homeland is apparent. The accompanying colorful illustrations, created on earthenware tiles, are beautifully rendered, and the seamlessly interwoven ancestral fables lend authenticity to his story.--Kelly McGorray, Glenbard South High School, Glen Ellyn, IL

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