August 20 – World Mosquito Day

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About the Holiday

World Mosquito Day dates back to 1897 when Sir Ronald Ross discovered the connection between these biting insects and malaria. The purpose for the holiday is to raise awareness about the causes of malaria and prevention methods. It is also marked by fundraisers to provide more resources for both research and preventative measures for people and communities that need them.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale

Retold by Verna Aardema | Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

 

One day a mosquito has a secret for Iguana. The iguana bit at this enticing invitation, but when Mosquito told him that he had seen a farmer harvesting mosquito-sized yams, Iguana said, “‘What’s a mosquito compared to a yam?’” Iguana was so angry at this tall tale that he put sticks in his ears and went on his way. A little later, Iguana happened to pass Python, who greeted him with a cheery “Good Morning.” Because of the sticks in his ears, however, Iguana didn’t hear it and just continued walking.

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Image copyright Leo and Diane Dillon, 1975. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

This snub caused Python to think something nefarious was up. He looked for the first place to hide—which was a rabbit hole. Seeing the large python invading her space, the rabbit high tailed it out the back way and hurried across the field. Crow spied “the rabbit running for her life. He flew into the forest crying kaa, kaa, kaa! It was his duty to spread the alarm in case of danger.” Monkey began screeching and leaping through the tree tops, also on a mission to alert others.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-why-mosquitoes-buzz-in-people's-ears-monkey

Image copyright Leo and Diane Dillon, 1975, text copyright Verna Aardema, 1975. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

In his rush, Monkey happened to step on a dead limb, which fell onto a baby owlet in a nest below, killing it. When Mother Owl returned from her hunting and found her little owlet, she was so sad that she could not hoot to wake up the sun. “The night grew longer and longer.” The animals thought the sun might never rise again. Finally, King Lion called a meeting. Owl explained that Monkey had killed one of her babies and that she could not “bear to wake the sun.”

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Image copyright Leo and Diane Dillon, 1975, text copyright Verna Aardema, 1975. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

The lion called for the monkey to explain himself. He said that it was the crow’s fault. Because of the crow’s warning, he was also trying to help. He told about the branch and how it fell on the baby owl. King Lion next summoned the crow. He said that it was the rabbit’s fault. If he had not seen her running pell-mell through the field, none of this would have happened. “The king nodded his head and said to the council: ‘So, it was the rabbit / who startled the crow, / who alarmed the monkey, / who killed the owlet— / and now Mother Owl won’t wake the sun / so that the day can come.’”

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Image copyright Leo and Diane Dillon, 1975, text copyright Verna Aardema, 1975. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

The rabbit was called to speak next. The lion asked her why she had broken a rule of nature by running during daytime. The rabbit related how Python had invaded her home. Next, Python was asked to tell his side of the story. He slithered to the front of the group and cried, “‘it was the iguana’s fault! He wouldn’t speak to me. And I thought he was plotting some mischief against me.’”

Of course, Iguana hadn’t heard about the meeting, so “the antelope was sent to fetch him.” The other animals laughed when they saw the sticks in Iguana’s ears. King Lion pulled them out and demanded to know what he had planned for Python. Iguana didn’t know anything about it. “Python is my friend!” he said. “‘Then why wouldn’t you say good morning to me?’” Python asked. Iguana said he hadn’t heard him. He explained about the “big lie” mosquito had told him and the sticks in his ears.

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Image copyright Leo and Diane Dillon, 1975, text copyright Verna Aardema, 1975. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

All the animals cried that Mosquito should be punished. This idea satisfied Mother Owl, and she hooted toward the sun, waking it. The mosquito was tricky, though. She had listened to the council meeting from nearby. When she heard she was to be punished, she hid and was never found. From that day on, however, Mosquito has had a guilty conscience. “To this day she goes about whining in people’s ears: ‘Zeee! Is everyone still angry at me?’” And when people hear this question, you know swat the answer is!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-why-mosquitoes-buzz-in-people's-ears-sun-comes-up

Image copyright Leo and Diane Dillon, 1975, text copyright Verna Aardema, 1975. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Verna Aardema’s classic retelling of this West African tale is suspenseful, engaging, and inviting. Aardema’s animals mek, krik, wasawusu, kaa, and pem with evocative onomatopoetic actions as they react to mosquitoe’s influence. Their pass-the-buck testimony leads into lyrical and fun-to-say repetitive phrases that build on each other and allow children to read along and become one of the forest group. The ending is both humorous and appropriate while also providing an opportunity to delve into deeper ideas of responsibility,quick judgments, and guilt.

Leo and Diane Dillon won the Caldecott Medal in 1976 for this stunning book that encompasses airbrushed watercolors, pastels rubbed on by hand, india ink, and die-cut shapes made of velum. This combination of styles creates pages of modern folkart that seem to be in motion as the animals slither, scurry, run, and bound away from some perceived but indistinct danger. The colors are magnificent, and as each animal takes its turn in front of the council, the black nighttime gives way to a bit of daylight. The animals may be in the dark, but enlightenment is on its way. The final pages in which the mosquito tickles the ear of an innocent bystander may make children cringe a little even as they look forward to what they know, from experience, is coming.

Ages 5 and up

Puffin Books/Dial Books for Young Readers, 2004 (Paperback edition) | ISBN 978-0140549058

World Mosquito Day Activity

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Mosquito Facts Page

 

Mosquitoes are an unavoidable part of summer. You can learn a few interesting things about them from this printable Mosquito Facts Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review

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