Welcome to Zanzibar Road, by Niki Daly. Clarion Books, 2006.
"One hot day in Africa, Mama Jumbo was walking down Zanzibar Road. "What a nice place to live," she thought." So begins Niki Daly's utterly charming tale of an elephant who settles down on a bright and bustling African street, builds a house, and adopts a young chicken (which sounds strange, but is rather sweet). The five chapters take Mama Jumbo from her entry into town to a happy ending of family and community.
When Mama Jumbo starts to build her house, all the neighbors come to help. The house was soon built, and a number sign (Seven Up) was found for it. But Mama Jumbo was lonely. She visits all the neighbors, a colorful group of African animals, looking for a house mate, but to no avail. Then she sees little Chico, a chicken, who "looked and smelled as if he needed someone to look after him." Soon Chico is clean and snuggled and loved. Chapter Three--"Where's Little Chico?" is the most amusing. When Mama Jumbo wakes up, she can't find Chico! The observant child will find him immediately--on Mama's head! Mama visits all the neighbors, giving us a tour of town--the grocery store, the bookmobile, Baba Jive the crocodile's music club--but no Little Chico! "Just wait until I find him," says Mama. "I'll pull his tail for making me worry so." But when Juju the Monkey tells Mama Chico's up on her head, she is so happy that instead of pulling his tail, she hugs him tight (been there, done that). In Chapter Four, "A Shadow on the Wall" (which, if this were a Victorian girl's book, would suggest that Little Chico were about to get TB, but of course it's not), a new cactus casts a monstrous shadow. Little Chico is scared, but Mama puts her hat on it, so now the shadow looks like her, and all is well. And finally the book concludes with a birthday party for Chico, and all the friends from Zanzibar road come to the party.
This is a marvelous book. It is marvelous at a surface level--fun story, fun pictures. At a deeper level, it gives children a wonderful picture of what it means to be a happy family and part of a community, even if you aren't born part of one. And on a final level, I really liked this book for its portrayal of an African community, a portrayal at once realistic and idealized. Finally, on a completely practical level, this is a great "easy reader" -- perhaps a quarter step up from Frog and Toad.