‘Jungle Drums’ is an interactive book with great child appeal, so it is not surprising that it was shortlisted for the REAL, COOL and KOALA children’s choice awards in 2005. It was also the winner of the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award for Best Language Development Book for Lower Primary Children. It tells the story of a small, plain Warthog called Ngiri who is bullied by the larger and more decorative creatures that he shares the jungle with. The mysterious wildebeest Old Nyumbu comes to his aid with a set of magical bongos that can make wishes come true. But magic often has a mind of its own and Ngiri’s wishes create mayhem amongst the animals.
Base’s somewhat over-the-top text, with its folktale repetitions and cadences, is great to read aloud, and his sense of humour and irony imbue both the text and the illustrations. His ability to create interesting animal characters with heaps of personality is undisputed, and he takes it to a new level in this book as the animals take on one another’s distinctive characteristics. As with all of Base’s books, there is much for keen-eyed readers to spy in the detailed illustrations, and the layout provides a masterclass in the use of variations in framing to help carry the narrative in a book. The illustrations also showcase the way in which an illustrator manipulates the emotional reactions of the reader using colour, placement of the characters on the page, facial expressions and body language.
The story provides discussion points on bullying, judging people by what they look like, and being careful what you wish for, along with pride coming before a fall and other adages. And, in true Base form, there is more to the pictures than meets the eye – he does love a visual puzzle – with all the animals on each page changing in some way each time Ngiri plays the drums. There is also a guest appearance by the ghostlike wildebeest on each double-page spread. This makes it a great book to use for visual literacy exercises. Luckily, the answers to the hidden animal puzzles are provided at the end of the book, along with a pronunciation guide for the Swahili names of the animals.