I have a fairly strong preference for books set in South Africa, about South African things. I was raised on an almost exclusive diet of British books and am so glad that young people today have so many local stories from which to choose.
One of these is Nicko, the story of a baby vervet monkey, which was found abandoned and then taken to the Kirk’s farm in KwaZulu-Natal. Alice Kirk, renowned for rescuing wildlife, adopted the baby into her menagerie of animals where he lived out the rest of his days.
Penny Haw, the author of Nicko, is the granddaughter of Alice Kirk, but she writes in the first person, and one can almost hear the retelling of the tales through the generations. I often smiled, and once or twice shed tears during the reading of this charming true story of life on the farm.
As one gets to meet the other animals in the house one learns their secrets and their characters, and the animals capacities to surprise humans, even humans who know and love them, continues right through the book to the very end.
I was caught up in the story from the outset, and read it in two short bursts, one the evening before and the rest the following morning.
Mary the Scottish Terrier, Zama and Ruskie the Russian Wolfhounds, Mee the duiker and Nunu the African Skunk together with Bobcat the cat make up some of the animals which share time with Nicko and Jack and Alice Kirk. I loved each of these creatures so beautifully captured by the wordcraft of Haw.
The book is charmingly illustrated by Petra Langner in black and white and I enjoyed these drawings every bit as much as the stories they brought to life. A set of pencil crayons to go with the book wouldn’t be inappropriate.
Nicko is written for children from the ages of six to nine, but it is one of those narratives that will delight older readers just as much as the age range of those for whom it is designed.
If you are still puzzling what to put in the Christmas stocking of an animal lover, you can rest assured that Nicko is the perfect addition.
- Title: Nicko
- Subtitle: The Tale of a Vervet Monkey on an African Farm
- Illustrater: Petro Langner
- Publisher: Struik Children (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
- Year: July 2017
- Recommended price: R130
- Format Paper Back
- ISBN 9781432307592