Ten year old Mu has lived with the family of his great-uncle, the mukumu (a African traditional priest who can cast curses and give protection from them), for as long as he can remember. Mu is treated more as a servant than as a member of the family, but at least he gets to go to school for half a day. Then one day on the way to school, Mu makes a friend, and everything in his life changes as his talking chameleon friend chooses Mu and calls him on a mysterious quest.
“The Myhres, Scott and Jennifer, are missionary physicians who joined Serge (then World Harvest Mission) in 1991, and have worked in East Africa since 1993: 17 years in Bundibugyo, Uganda; five years in Kijabe, Kenya; and now partnering with a busy Kenyan government hospital in Naivasha.”
Author J.A. Myhre is the “Jennifer” of the missionary couple, and she wrote this story as a Christmas present for her four children. Ms. Myhre is obviously well-versed in the flora, fauna, and culture of east Africa as a result of her many years spent living in that part of the world. As Mu travels through the savannah and up the mountains, following the chameleon’s instructions, mostly, the reader gets a wonderful introduction to the geography and culture of east Africa, embedded in an adventure story that is sure to thrill and intrigue. Mu rides an elephant; he sleeps in a warthog’s den; and he escapes from the evil rebel soldiers who try to use him as a child soldier. However, Mu is not without his own evil and cowardice, and he finds himself forced to make choices that are all too disastrous in their consequences.
The talking chameleon and other talking and helpful animals in the story give the tale a hint of “magical realism”, and the ending is pure fantasy. However, for the most part Mu’s story is all too realistic and somewhat sad. Hope is found in Mu’s animal guides and in his calling to an important quest. The book isn’t preachy at all, but it does give a lot of food for thought and discussion as Mu travels through the countryside. What will Mu do when he has the opportunity to rescue a friend, but at the risk of his own life? What will he do when his captors demand that he prove himself to be a man by killing yet another friend? The violence and evil aren’t graphic or gratuitous, but the story is also not without disturbing scenes. If your child isn’t ready to read about animal deaths and human cruelty, condemned and later redeemed but definitely a significant part of the story, then you might want to wait on this one.
I’m really looking forward to Ms. Myhre’s second and third books in this African series, the Rwendigo Tales:
A Bird, a Girl, and Rescue, Book #2
A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star, Book #3 (to be released in September, 2017)
If you want to know more about the Doctors Myhre and their work, now in Uganda, here’s a link to their blog.