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REVIEW: Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

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Dear Readers,

When I went to buy a copy of “Princess Furball” at Amazon, several other books were recommended to me as being of possible interest. “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” was one of them. It has some elements of the classic Grimm’s version of “Cinderella.” Yet those who dislike that story because the idiot Prince can’t seem to recognize the love of his life without the aid of a shoe might enjoy this tale better.

In a small village across the river and a half day’s journey from a great city lived Mufaro (Shona: happy man) and his two daughters Manyara (ashamed) and Nyasha (mercy). Everyone agreed that the two daughters were beautiful but that while Manyara was often spiteful and mean, Nyasha was always thoughful and generous. Nyasha worked hard in her garden and there she met a green, garden snake she befriended and called Nyoka who would always stay near the young woman.

One day, the King, who lived in the great city, announced that he was looking for a wife. Manyara immediately put on airs and stated that she would be chosen as Queen while Nyasha would be one of her servants. Nyasha ignored her sister’s taunting and declared that perhaps it would be better for her to remain with their father. But the messenger said that all the young women must appear before the King to allow him to pick the most Worthy and Beautiful.

So Mufaro announced that both his daughters would leave for the city the next morning after the village held a wedding party. Only Manyara stole away from the village in the night and headed for the city. Along the way, she met a hungry young boy and an old woman who offered her advice which Manyara promptly ignored. At daybreak, the villagers discovered Manyara was gone but after fruitlessly searching for her, Mufaro decided he and Nyasha would leave as planned. Along the way, they also encountered the same people Manyara had but while that daughter had been rude to them, Nyasha offered them her own food and saw to their comfort.

Upon arriving in the city, Nyasha was overcome with its beauty but dismayed when her sister rushed out of a central building sobbing and declaring that a monster lived there. Bravely, Nyasha entered the chamber and found her friend Nyoka. But why was he there, she asked. It was then that Nyoka revealed himself to be the King, as well as the young boy and old woman whom Nyasha had helped and Manyara had scorned. So it was Nyasha who was chosen as most Worthy while her sister became a servant in her sister’s household.

This book is based on an African folk tale collected and published in 1895. John Steptoe’s illustrations are sublime in their beautiful simplicity. They convey action, contemplation, confrontation, happiness and even kindness. Once I’d finished reading the story, I immediately went back and began to pour over these gorgeous pictures. Like all fairy/folk stories, there’s a message to be learned and here it’s about a person’s inner character and worthiness as opposed to just outer looks. John Steptoe died far too young and I can only imagine what he might have achieved. But check this book out to discover part of the illustrated legacy he left behind. A

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

9 Comments

  1. Hannah E.
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 11:31:56

    This was one of my favorite books as I child. It was featured in an episode of Reading Rainbow, if I recall correctly. The illustrations are incredibly detailed and beautiful.

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  2. Bonnie L.
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 12:05:04

    It’s been over 15 years since I last held this book, but it is such a wonderful tale that I could probably tell it to you now. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for reminding me that I should share this with my own little ones!

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  3. Sirius
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 12:15:10

    Sold, love fairy tales and their retellings. Thank you.

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  4. katieM
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 12:27:34

    I love this book and have it out for my middle school aged students to read. When the language arts teacher does her unit on fairy tales its always a popular choice for their independent reading.

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  5. Kay Sisk
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 18:14:33

    Just saw this presented on stage at the Dallas Children’s Theater with my granddaughter and daughter-in-law. Lovely story with singing and dancing.

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  6. Jayne
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 18:18:52

    @Hannah E.: @Bonnie L.: The illustrations are divine. I just wish I’d been able to fit more of them into the review. But then knowing there are more will give people something to look forward to. ;)

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  7. Jayne
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 18:32:59

    @Kay Sisk: When I was looking for examples of the illustrations online, I saw lots of pictures of what appeared to be live productions of the story – and they looked gorgeous too. I bet this is a wonderful story to see acted out.

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  8. Carrie
    Jul 09, 2012 @ 13:14:14

    I’ve been rearranging some books while preparing to paint a bedroom, and found this one on a shelf just a few days ago. My kids are all grown now, but I’m keeping many of the children’s books for visitors and, hopefully, grandchildren. This one is definitely a keeper. Another beautifully illustrated book is King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey and Don Wood. I recently bought copies to give as presents.

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  9. rebekah weatherspoon
    Jul 09, 2012 @ 18:27:28

    aww i loved this book. thanks for featuring it.

    ReplyReply

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