Cover image for The magic tree : a folktale from Nigeria
The magic tree : a folktale from Nigeria
Echewa, T. Obinkaram.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Morrow Junior Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
approximately 28 pages : color illustrations ; 26 cm
Although Mbi, an orphan boy, is constantly asked to "do this" and "do that" by his many unkind relatives until a special tree grows, just for him.
Reading Level:
AD 680 Lexile.
Program Information:
Reading Counts RC K-2 3.9 2 Quiz: 17640 Guided reading level: O.
Added Author:


Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PZ8.1.E17 MAG 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Childrens Area-Black History

On Order



Children will cheer for Mbi, an orphan boy who lives in a Nigerian village, when he teaches the villagers a lesson they'll never forget. Overworked and mistreated, Mbi gets only scraps when it's time to eat. Then one day a magical fruit tree grows just for him, and, using his wits, Mbi makes sure that he'll never be treated badly again. Nigerian-born author T. Obinkaram Echewa's accomplished story telling and E.B. Lewis's evocative paintings give this engaging tale timeless appeal.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ages 4^-8. The outsider child gains power and recognition in this Nigerian folktale, which has the elemental appeal of the Cinderella story. Orphan Mbi is made to work hard by everyone in the village. The other children taunt him. He's left hungry and alone at the end of the day. But when a magic udara tree gives him fruit and obeys his commands, everything changes. In an unusual twist, this outsider kid not only is good but also gets angry. At first, Mbi is thrilled with his fruit, and he's generous to the villagers. But they continue to bully him, and when he finds the meanest boy high in the tree, stealing fruit, Mbi orders the tree to grow and grow, carrying the thief high into the sky, until the boy's parents and all the villagers beg Mbi to bring the boy back home. Then they bring him gifts and attention and respect. Nigerian-born Echewa's storytelling is direct and lively, whether he's describing Mbi's forced labor and lack of family ("You would have thought his middle name was Do this! or Do that!") or the way Mbi sings his orders to the tree. Lewis' beautiful active watercolors focus on the sturdy child in a contemporary Nigerian village. The pictures are in soft shades of brown when the raggedy, hungry boy licks the empty bowls and chews the scraps that the other children have left behind. Then, gradually, the world glows with more color, first green and yellow with the fruits of the tree, then also red and blue as the villagers bring him pottery and baskets and richly patterned clothes. In the final picture, Mbi is smiling and strong, dressed in a beautiful robe with gift coins pasted on his forehead. And just in case we forget the past, the back of the dust jacket frames a close-up portrait of the destitute child bearing a bundle of wood, his fist clenched on the rope. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Echewa's (The Ancestor Tree) lilting retelling describes how an orphan gains power over the villagers who treat him badly. Each day, from sunup to sundown, the people call out to Mbi, "Mbi, do this! Mbi, do that!" Yet the boy frequently ends up hungry, having no food other than the scraps he can lick from others' bowls. One day, a udara fruit falls magically from its treeÄout of seasonÄand when Mbi plants its seeds, like Jack with his Beanstalk, he gets more than he bargained for. Not only does a tree take root immediately, but it obeys Mbi's commands. The tree gives him all the fruit he can eat, which he generously shares with the villagers. But when a boy tries to steal the fruit, Mbi sings to his tree, commanding it to grow ("Udaram to-o-oh!") until its branches are "lost in the clouds." Only after the villagers shower Mbi with gifts and promise to be kind to him does he command the tree to bring the boy down. The drumlike beat of the words gives the narrative the sound of a tale that has been passed down orally for generations, replete with songs and pauses that anticipate audience reaction. Yet the book's moral may confuse readers; the tale seems to indicate that kindness is dependent upon power. Lewis (The Jazz of Our Street) fills his sun-drenched watercolors with realistic details of clothing in vibrant colors and exquisite baskets set in intimate village scenes, and grounds the story's magical elements in the real world. Close-up portraits of Mbi's transformation from village outcast to mascot help to compensate for the obfuscation of the story's message. Ages 4-up. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 1-4-Mbi, an orphan, is continually mistreated by the other villagers. He slaves for them from dawn till dusk and is sometimes awakened during the night to perform yet another chore. One night, he goes off to sit by himself under a udara tree. It provides him with a magic fruit, which he eats and then plants the seed. Instantly, a magic tree grows and Mbi soon discovers that it will follow his commands. Although he provides the villagers with fruit, they continue to mistreat him. However, when Mbi causes the tree to grow into the clouds with a mean boy trapped at the top, the people heap gifts, flattery, and promises of good treatment on him until he brings the boy down. The tale strikes a rather sour note, as the fawning of the villagers is so obviously insincere. They are in no way repentant of their previous behavior toward Mbi but simply wish to manipulate his present power. The author cites Nigeria as the country of origin for this tale but provides no source notes, raising a question about whether or not he altered the tale enough to subvert its original meaning. Lewis's watercolors have an unfinished look to them, clear in the foreground, fuzzy in the background, like a badly focused photograph. For a more satisfying version of the tale set in Haiti, see Diane Wolkstein's "The Magic Orange Tree" in the collection of the same name (Schocken, 1988).-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.