Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Middle Child's Favorite Book - Mabela the Clever retold by Margaret Read MacDonald illustrated by Tim Coffey

 Mabela the Clever appears with the permission of  Albert Whitman & Company.  Text copyright © 2001 by Margaret Read MacDonald, Illustrations copyright © 2001 by Tim Coffey

"In the early times, some were clever and some were foolish."  Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same. "The Cat was one of the clever ones. The mice were mostly foolish." One exception was a little mouse named Mabela who had been taught cleverness from her clever father. He gave her the following sage advice:

Mabela, when you are out and about, keep your ears open and LISTEN.
Mabela when you are out and about, keep your eyes open and LOOK AROUND YOU.
Mabela, when you are speaking, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU ARE SAYING.
Mabela, if you have to move, MOVE FAST! 

One day, the Cat claims that mice will now be allowed to join the Secret Cat Society. The Cat informs the mice to arrive early Monday morning for the initiation ceremony. Now that sounds suspicious to me, but then I was raised on Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker cartoons and thus can spot all forms of trickery a mile away.  This invitation does not cause the mice to raise an eyebrow. But they are after all, foolish.  Obediently, the mice arrive, eager to learn the ways of the Cat. The Cat instructs the mice that they will go for a walk and that while walking they will sing:
When we are marching,
We NEVER look back!
The cat is at the end!
Fo Feng, Fo Feng!

The mice begin marching in a single file line with Mabela in the lead, because she is the smallest. The Cat brings up the rear.  Unbeknownst to the silly marching mice, as they shout "Fo Feng," the Cat is snatching one mouse at a time and placing them in his sack. After a while, Mabela begins to think about her father's advice.
"Mabela, when you are out and about, keep your ears open and listen." Mabela then listens. She notices that what before sounded like a long line of mice behind her, only sounds like a few mice.

"Mabela when you are out and about, keep your eyes open and look around you." Mabela turns her head slightly to the left and right.  She only sees a  short line of mice behind her and the cat is very close now.

"Mabela, when you are speaking, pay attention to what you are saying." The song that the mice are chanting contains the words, "the Cat is at the end."  Mabela realizes that phrase means that no one is watching what the cat is doing. 

Lastly, "Mabela, if you have to move, MOVE FAST!"  Mabela, does not pause a moment longer, she dives into the bushes.  The Cat attempts to pounce on her, but instead pounces on thorns and gets tangled up in the bushes.

Clever Mabela is then able to rescue all the foolish mice from the Cat's sack. Little Mabela has outwitted the Cat and saved the day!

Tim Coffey's illustrations are just beautiful. The book is filled with rich and saturated greens and purples and reddish- browns and yellowish -oranges. The above illustration of Mabela rescuing her fellow mice is particularly lovely. Coffey has made little Mabela with the buck-teeth and bulging eyes into a very adorable character. One day I will compile a list of my favorite book cover illustrations, Mabela the Clever is definitely in the top 5.

On the first page of Mabela the Clever, Margaret Read MacDonald  provides an informative note on the origin of the story. It is a retelling that originates from the Limba people of Sierra Leone in Africa. The book ends with a saying of Limba grandparents, "If a person is clever, it is because someone has taught them their cleverness." I believe that Mabela the Clever has allowed me to impart some cleverness to my own children that will serve them well in life.  I have used the advice of Mabela's father  to caution my children about danger and their own personal safety. I'd like to think that they are more observant because of the many readings over the years. They know to look, listen and pay attention when they are "out and about." And they know, that by all means if they need to get out of a dangerous situation - "MOVE FAST!"

While I have labeled Mabela the Clever as my middle child's favorite book since it is the one he selected, it really has been a firm favorite of all of ours for years. Well, except for my husband, who detests mice, even mice in books. Although he loves the Mighty Mouse cartoon - go figure:-)


  1. Oh my goodness what a fun book. I love Tim Coffey's illustrations too.

  2. Love the illustrations. Good choice with Tim Coffey!!!

    1. Linda and NJGardenGirl,

      I agree, Tim Coffey's illustrations are gorgeous. Look at the green of the cat's eyes - it almost glows. Coupled with the excellent story, Mabela the Clever is a real treat. Thanks for stopping by, hope you will again!

  3. What a joy to read! We shared your blog post on our web-site. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Kate,

      Thank you for the compliment. It really is an excellent book. What is your website address?