Review: Kabungo by Rolli, illustrations by Milan Pavlovic
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Groundwood Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 5, 2016
Verdict: Very Good/Excellent
Ten-year-old Beverly is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary best friend. Her name is Kabungo, and she lives in a cave on Main Street. No one knows where she comes from or who she really is, but life is never dull when Kabungo is around.
Beverly tries to teach her friend about the ways of the modern world — the importance of teeth brushing, understanding strange holidays like Halloween, learning how to read. But Kabungo doesn’t take well to being civilized, and she can be stubborn, bossy, and plain infuriating. Sometimes Beverly gets so mad that she just wants to move to Cincinnati.
Besides, Kabungo is a skittish cavegirl, and it takes a while to win her trust, even among Star City’s eccentric denizens, such as Mr. Gobshaw, who owns the local drug shop (“We have everything!”) where you’ll find the stuffed tigers right next to the breath mints. And there is Ms. VeDore, who seems to float as she walks around her decrepit mansion, and who throws the most amazing Halloween parties.
Then, just when you least expect it, Kabungo will do something surprising (and when you’re best friends with a cavegirl, you’re not easily surprised). Like planning an unexpected birthday treat for Beverly (even though it isn’t actually her birthday) — at the city dump.
In other words, Beverly learns that there are times for teaching, and times for tipping your head back and laughing.
“My friend Kabungo lives in a cave on Main Street. It’s right by the post office.”
You might be (or might not be!) wondering at the spate of high verdict children’s book reviews coming in lately: I can tell you that I relish the fact that I been have been very fortunate to read such a variety of surprising, delightful, high caliber titles lately. Canadian writer/artist/cartoonist Rolli’s starred Kabungo is another children’s fiction title to safely add to the list of unexpected greats of the year. As with Sara Cassidy’s impressive A Boy Named Queen, Rolli’s book packs a striking amount of both comedy and loveliness within its relatively small page count. Balancing straight-up zaniness of a plot where a cavegirl lives in a modern time, with that of compassion, community/family and young friendship, Rolli (with Milan Pavlovic’s fitting drawings) perfectly blends a beautiful, eclectic story together.
We meet our narrator, ten year old Beverly, as she pays a visit to see her close friend Kabungo. As we know from the book description, Kabungo is a cavegirl. A ten year old, tiger (cat) obsessed, beast furs and snakeskin pouch wearing cavegirl, who happens to live in a modern day town called Star City. Through the course of the book, Beverly takes us on a variety of happy, hysterical, sometimes heartache-inducing stories/adventures involving her and Kabungo. One very interesting part of the book is that the author doesn’t divulge where Kabungo comes from or how she made it to Beverly’s town- her origin story, if you will, is not a component of the book. Part of me so wished to know everything about Kabungo (and more about Beverly’s back story, too!), but another part of me thinks that the book was perhaps made stronger and more fascinatingly surreal by the exclusion of details and inclusion of more pure story. While absolutely funny- Rolli imagines this brilliant and understandable language of Kabungo’s and how she and Beverly communicate- there is so much of the story, at its core, that touches upon the importance of patience and understanding in friendships and how people in our community can surprise us in the best possible ways.
A book of terrific peculiarity, big humour and tenderness, I was absolutely taken in (and away) by this beautiful, unusual book. Any reader who is looking for something that ticks all of the boxes mentioned above- and aren’t you just so curious to meet Kabungo and Beverly?!- then Kabungo is a solid pick. Any fans of authors such as Alex T. Smith, Kate DiCamillo, Tom Angleberger, Daniel Pinkwater or Jon Scieszka might especially adore this book.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.
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