Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears

by Verna Aardema. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Picture Book. 32 pages. Grades K-3.
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cover art

This Caldecott award winning African tale uses the cumulative format. It's a pourquoi tale or myth, telling how some natural phenomena came to be. In this case it's why mosquitoes buzz in people's ears. According to this tale, it happened this way: a mosquito said something foolish to the iguana who put sticks in his ears so that he would hear no more such foolishness. This frightened the next animal who saw the iguana and so went the chain of action and panic until a monkey inadvertently killed an owlet which caused the mother owl to mourn and neglect her duties of waking the sun. When the animals finally figured out the tragedy, they blamed the mosquito and were furious with him. That's why mosquitoes buzz in people's ears: they are asking if everyone is still angry with them.

The books outstanding illustrations extend and illuminate the tale. Done with vivid watercolors and an airbrush, each figure or part of a figure is outlined in white, giving the page a stained glass look. Sometimes the print is black on white and, in the endless night, it is white on black. As the animals explain the sequence of events, one part of the illustration shows what they think happened while another part on the same page shows what really happened. The Dillons make comic characters of some of the animals. An antelope, unmentioned in the text, mugs at the viewer on several pages, stealing the scene. A red bird, also unmentioned is on each page and seems to represent the reader there.


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