Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Leap from the African Bush to the City of Readers


By Munah Nicola Tarpeh

  • Title: Mr Hare Meets Mr Mandela
  • Author: Chris van Wyk
  • Illustrator: Paddy Bouma
  • Publisher: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd
  • Number of pages: 30
  • Year of publication: 2016
  • Category: Children

‘Those who cannot read repeat their mistakes over and over…and so will you again’. – Mr Lion

Mr Hare Meets Mr Mandela by Chris van Wyk, a South African award-winning poet, short story writer and author of children’s books, deals with multiple themes like patriotism, bravery and the importance of being literate. These are complex themes that are presented in a very simple and humorous manner to teach children their importance. 

As the title of this review depicts, the book tells of the protagonist’s journey, or leap, from the African bush to the City of Readers, from a place of relative safety and innocence to one with a more cosmopolitan and fast-paced lifestyle. The protagonist, Mr Hare, lives in the African bush with all his animal friends: Mr Leopard, Mr Buffalo, Mr Lion, Mr Rhino and the Secretary Bird. He is a lovable character who is very confident and fearless – or is it foolhardy?

One beautiful, sunny day, he discovers a R200 note on his doormat. He cannot read, so he is not aware that it is money. He examines the note and discovers Mr Mandela’s picture on one side and Mr Leopard’s picture on the other. He immediately asks the Secretary Bird to call a meeting of all the animals. He informs them that he will go at once to the City of Readers to return the note to Mr Mandela. In spite of dire warnings by Mr Lion that as he cannot read he could run into trouble, he sets off for the city to return the note. He believes he is the ‘little wise one…cleverer by far than anyone in the City of Readers’. He enters the city with a leap of confidence rather than trepidation, blissfully unaware of the wiles of tricksters like Bra Tsotsi, the antagonist. He goes through an interesting journey and has many adventures whilst in the city.

Mr Mandela, respectfully called Madiba, was a South African president who spent twenty-seven years in prison for his strong belief that apartheid should be eliminated in South Africa. So everyone, including the animals, respects him. He was also a firm believer in an inclusive society irrespective of one’s skin colour. The book captures this by showing that even though the colour of the note and the animals on it change, Mr Mandela’s picture always remains. This constancy reveals his unwavering love for humanity, a love that inspires South Africans and even Mr Hare. The author writes:

Mr Hare looked at the new note. Again it was different from the last one. Instead of Mrs Lion, it was Mr Elephant who stared out at him. But when he turned it around there was Mr Mandela still smiling. Mr Hare smiled back and began to hop up on the road (p 18).

It is important, therefore, that Mr Hare, as a patriot, return Mr Mandela’s money as a matter of urgency. Does he succeed? The story provides a hilarious, unexpected twist.

The story is narrated in the third person. It is also written in simple, straightforward language and short descriptive sentences that children can follow easily. It succeeds in being didactic without being boring.

The book stresses the importance of being literate in order to avoid unnecessary mistakes in life. The author employs humour to drive this point home. The book also teaches children to be courageous and pursue their dreams in spite of what others may think. This is exemplified when Mr Hare goes to the City of Readers even though the other animals warn him against it.

South Africa is commonly referred to as The Rainbow Nation for many reasons, mostly because it is a melting pot of different nationalities and ethnicities. The rainbow effect is displayed in this book using the different colours of the South African rand. The book teaches children how to identify and recognise the different currency notes that make up the South African rand and their corresponding colours. A colourful and educational display of the currency notes mentioned is included on p 30. The reader can always look at this page and compare real notes to the ones shown there.

The author employs personification and anthropomorphism as useful literary tropes in the narrative. Anthropomorphism comes into play when the animals are given human characteristics in order to create interesting imageries for the reader. All the animals can speak and are referred to as Mr or Mrs. There is Bra Tsotsi, the fox, and Mr Alligator, the taxi driver – all wear shirts like humans. Anthropomorphism is also evident when Mr Hare shakes Mr Mandela’s hand like a human and has a long chat with him. ‘The two men entertained each other with stories of the city and the bush, of lions and heroes, of freedom and adventure’ (p 21).

The book is well illustrated in bright and vibrant colours by Paddy Bouma, a South African award-winning illustrator. She brings the characters alive and makes them recognisable with bold, cartoon-like drawings.

The author introduces some South African history in a simplified way by writing about Mr Mandela, arguably the most important South African hero, and using the title of his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom as the name of the street he lives on.

The adventures of Mr Hare make for interesting reading. This book will provide hours of fun for children who cannot read yet as they can flip through pages of beautifully illustrated pictures, especially of Mr Hare leaping boldly across the air into the city with R200 in his paw to be returned to Mr Mandela. The book also provides an interesting resource material for adults who want to teach children about Mr Mandela, currency notes and the various themes discussed.

Mr Hare Meets Mr Mandela proves to be a delightful and refreshingly insightful read. The book compares most favourably to others in the children’s fiction genre and goes a step further by bringing African folklore to life in a new and creative way.

Photograph: ‘hare’ by Eljay

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Munah Nicola Tarpeh
Munah Nicola Tarpeh
Munah Nicola Tarpeh is a final year student of English at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is proficient in French and Mandarin, having lived in China and Republic of Benin. She experiments with new recipes, writes poetry and analyses literary works. She was a Wawa Book Review Young Literary Critics Fellow. Email:

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