Book Review: Fatou fetch the water

Friday, March 24, 2017

Neil Griffiths -Red Robin 2010

This brightly coloured and cheerful picture book tells the story of what happens when Fatou, daughter of the community seamstress in a Gambian village, sets off to fetch water for the evening meal. As she goes she is waylaid by various friends who have gifts and messages for Fatou to take for her mother. As the gifts pile up in Fatou’s arms, and the messages for her mother crowd her head Fatou, somehow, forgets to get any water!

This is a very simple story, but it’s so well told. The anticipation builds as you see Fatou’s arms full of gifts to carry. I actually thought that she would drop the water on herself, since she’s carrying the bucket on her head, but then she forgets to get any altogether. This idea seemed to really appeal to my four year old (perhaps because she’s always very easily distracted so will be sent to wash her hands and then be found just seconds later playing with something she came across on her way to the bathroom!) Anyway, there’s a definite charm to Fatou since we read it and read it again, and then read it a few more times again!

Fatou has a lovely bright smile, and the crowded pictures give a real flavour of village life in The Gambia. There are lots of colourful fabrics to see, and fun things to look at on Fatou’s way to the well. I liked the repetition of everyone calling out Fatou’s name to attract her attention and give her another gift in return for some favour her mother has done for them. Each call is different in some way, and the text increases in size encouraging the reader to really shout out FATOU!

Fatou is a simple, heartening story set in a vividly depicted rural environment. The rhythm of the narrative, with its richly modulated refrain of gratitude and gift-giving, each repetition involving a new, colourful garment and foodstuff, proved a real delight to the young readers who shared this book. A reassuring read - we have all made mistakes in life, adults and children alike, and there is always a way to put them right. The story is charming and warm, having at its heart lessons about giving and receiving. It finishes on a high note of humour when after a wonderful feast using ingredients from the unexpected collection, the family need yet more water and wonder who to send to fetch it this time.

This book is a wonderful journey with amazing illustrations. The pictures are alive with colour and a strong sense of life in a Gambian village. It is entertaining and vividly educational without effort. This is a lovely story just to share on a one-to-one basis, but I could also see it working well within an early-years classroom setting too.

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