Ifeoma Onyefulu. Grandfather's Work: A Traditional Healer in Nigeria. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1998. Grades P-3 + ages 4-8. Photographs. $13.93 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7613-0412-8.
Reviewed by Dianne W. Oyler (Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, NC)
Published on H-AfrTeach (October, 1999)
Grandfather's Work: A Traditional Healer in Nigeria Reviewed
Grandfather's Work is one of several books Nigerian photographer Ifeoma Onyefulu has written about her homeland. An apparent mix of fact and fiction, Grandfather's Work was inspired by the memory of the author's late grandfather. The story is told in the first person by a young boy who appears to be in the same age group as members of the target audience, ages four to eight. In language easily understandable to this population, he tells about his family members and their occupations. The book is illustrated with bright, color photographs that provide a glimpse of real Africans at work.
The strength of this book lies in the author's depiction of family relationships and the various occupations the family members pursue. Grandmother is a seamstress, father is a teacher, and mother owns a bakery. One uncle is a woodcarver, one "makes things out of iron", another is a lawyer. An older aunt is a potter and a younger one is a doctor. Grandfather, the focus of the book, is a healer. Most of the jobs will be familiar to children everywhere. The exceptions may be healer and blacksmith.
Onyefulu has provided a real service by describing the work of an African healer. English-language books frequently depict this job in crude and stereotypical ways. She dispels such nonsense by showing a grandfatherly healer collecting and describing several important medicinal plants including okpokolo (a root that reduces fevers), osencha (a pain medication), nsi ebilibi(a stomach soother), and dogoyaro (a treatment for malaria). In a note at the end of the book, she gives the scientific names for two of these plants.
There are weaknesses in the book. Onyefulu's photographs of people and the work they perform are clear but some are too static for parents or teachers to engage children in thinking skills. For example, when we are introduced to "Uncle Law" we are told that he is an attorney. Unfortunately, we do not actually see him practicing law. He merely stands there in his black robe and wig. Also one wishes there was a photograph of the blacksmith working directly with iron. The picture shows him pumping a bellows. Although this is part of the iron-making process children and adults who unfamiliar with blacksmithing and might not get the point.
The map she included is another area of concern. It seems as though Nigeria was added only as a afterthought. Bold lines define Nigeria within the continent of Africa but no states or cities in Nigeria are demarcated. Nigeria is a huge country and it would help to establish the location of the story if more details had been included.
Despite these criticisms, the book is a worthwhile addition to libraries and home collections. It offers children and adults the opportunity to engage in dialogue about Nigerians, healing and occupations generally. I recommend it for ages six to ten.
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Dianne W. Oyler. Review of Onyefulu, Ifeoma, Grandfather's Work: A Traditional Healer in Nigeria.
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