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Satchel Children's books

2 January 08 words: James Walker
Satchel keep alive oral traditions through their unique brand of storytelling

Satchel is a relatively new imprint dedicated to publishing childrens' stories from around the world, in particular, folk tales which have been handed down from generation to generation, thereby keeping various oral traditions going. Their stories are multi-cultural and entertaining, often closing with a question to provoke further debate once these beautifully illustrated books have closed. The books are appropriate for Key Stage 1, 2 and 3 of the national curriculum. The two key storytellers, Peter Kalu and Tariq Mehmood are also available to come and read at schools and regularly tour the country. Indeed, in November they took their yarns across the ocean for a storytelling tour of Pakistan. I can think therefore of no better or nobler present to buy all of our younger family members this Christmas than these publications. 

Tariq Mehmood is heavily involved in campaigns for social justice and uses the books as a platform through which to discuss wider issues. If we want our children, the future generation, to understand the complex issues of the world then we need them to be doing this from an early age. More importantly, their voices need to be recognised and nurtured. This will ensure an end to the current voting apathy, more so than allowing youth to vote via text, the most recent brainwave by our elected  government.

Peter Kalu has performed for all age ranges in contexts including state and supplementary schools, youth services and works closely with Local Authority Ethnic Minority Support Services. A flexible storyteller, he adapts his style to the particular audience before him to make the readings as engaging and relative as possible. In addition he is the author of five novels, and has won numerous writing awards including BBC Young Playwright of the Year.

The Singer And The Snorer
Illustrations: Joel Chikware
Design: Ian Bobb
Retold by: Peter Kalu
Price: £7.95
ISBN: 0-9552539-0-X

‘Under a blazing sky, two weary young men traipsed across a bleak landscape’ and so begins a moral fable about two travellers who end up in a remote village. Although we do not know why they are travelling, we learn that they are very hungry and tired and delighted when the Oba, the head of the village, grants them permission to stay. Naturally, there is a catch. They are welcome to all of the amenities of the village on one condition, they do not snore when sleeping. If they do then they will have their throat slit in the middle of the night.

One of the travellers indulges in a potent palm wine. Immediately he becomes drunk and starts to act like one of those annoying youths you will invariably find sloped in a taxi rank queue over the festive period. He is so drunk that he collapses on the floor and starts to snore. Fortunately for him his friend is sober and comes up with a clever improvised plan to ensure their necks remain in tact. But there are a few more moral questions that surface after the event which no doubt will split young classrooms in two. 

Anansi The Spider And Tiger’s Stew
Illustrations: Akhter Shah
Ian Bobb

Retold by: Peter Kalu
Price: £7.95
ISBN: 0-9552539-1-8

'Way back, before Playstations, before even televisions, Tiger and Anansi were the best of friends’. Anansi and the Tiger are the best of friends but very different personalities. Anansi is a Machiavellian spider who manipulates situations to his advantage. Tiger is less quick witted, instead relying upon his strength to get what he wants. And so begins a tale which pits the body against the mind, innocence versus selfishness.
The story revolves around a meal Tiger is cooking and Anansi’s desperate attempts to consume it for himself. Food is often a powerful motivator in traditional tales, often because it is so sparse. You get the impression kids wouldn’t understand this today, especially when you can buy a burger for 57p. They will understand the manipulation though and in particular, how one person’s selfish behaviour can have dire consequences for innocent others. In this story the monkeys suffer and we find out how they ended up living up trees.
On a more realistic and perhaps scarier level, how many innocent people have been persecuted or died for 9/11? Although this is not necessarily the point of the tale, the context and setting does allow scope to relate to wider social issues which is of course the objective of the publishers. It was also really good to read a childrens’ book with words such as ‘apoplectic’ in it. If the Victorians could recite entire poetic works perhaps it is time that our children learned to expand their vocabularies instead of being told everything is too hard.    

Half brother
Pahi Adha
Illustrations: Aamir Hussain
Cover: Akhter Shah
Design: Ian Bobb
Retold by: Tariq Mehmood
Price: £9.95
ISBN: 0-9552539-3-4

Pahi Adha is a popular folk tale found in Pothowar and Kashmir. Interpretations of this fable vary, some depicting him as being completely limbless, others where he is so small he can ride a cat. Pahi is the disabled child of one of the King’s seven wives. His disability was brought about after a goat ate half of a magic leaf his mother was given to help with fertility. The reason his mother did not consume the leaf straight away – as the other six wives had done – was because she was conscientious with her chores and wanted to finish these first.
Pahi is born disabled but has a wonderful disposition, finding beauty in the natural world and compensating for his disability through his expanding intellect and compassionate outlook. This is in stark contrast to his selfish arrogant siblings. One day the brothers go on a journey which invariably leads to conflict. Thankfully, Pahi is on hand to save them all and the brothers finally realise ‘this brother who we have called a half, is worth two of any of us’. The story is a little bit like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as you have two conflicting approaches to a journey. It is also a story which makes so many subtle and pertinent points about life that you really feel positive after reading it.


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