Editor's note: This 1976 Caldecott Award winner retells a West African story of a buzzing mosquito. For other books about insects and reptiles, see page 8M.
One morning a mosquito saw an iguana drinking at a waterhole. The mosquito said, "Iguana, you will never believe what I saw yesterday."
"Try me," said the iguana.
The mosquito said, "I saw a farmer digging yams that were almost as big as I am."
"What's a mosquito compared to a yam?" snapped the iguana grumpily. "I would rather be deaf than listen to such nonsense!" Then he stuck two sticks in his ears and went off, mek, mek, mek, mek, through the reeds.
The iguana was still grumbling to himself when he happened to pass by a python.
The big snake raised his head and said, "Good morning, Iguana."
The iguana did not answer but lumbered on, bobbing his head, badamin, badamin.
"Now, why won't he speak to me?" said the python to himself. "Iguana must be angry about something. I'm afraid he is plotting some mischief against me!" He began looking for somewhere to hide. The first likely place he found was a rabbit hole, and in it he went, wasawusu, wasawusu, wasawusu.
When the rabbit saw the big snake coming into her burrow, she was terrified. She scurried out through her back way and bounded, krik, krik, krik, across the clearing.
A crow saw the rabbit running for her life. He flew into the forest crying kaa, kaa, kaa! It was his duty to spread the alarm in case of danger.
A monkey heard the crow. He was sure that some dangerous beast was prowling near. He began screeching and leaping kili wili through the trees to help warn the other animals.
As the monkey was crashing through the treetops, he happened to land on a dead limb. It broke and fell on an owl's nest, killing one of the owlets.
Mother Owl was not at home. When she returned to the nest, she found one of them dead. Her other children told her that the monkey had killed it. All that day and all that night, she sat in her tree -- so sad, so sad, so sad!
Now it was Mother Owl who woke the sun each day so that the dawn could come. But this time, when she should have hooted for the sun, she did not do it.
The night grew longer and longer. The animals of the forest knew it was lasting much too long. They feared that the sun would never come back.
At last King Lion called a meeting of the animals.
Mother Owl said, "Monkey killed one of my owlets. Because of that, I cannot bear to wake the sun."
Then King Lion called the monkey. He came before him nervously glancing from side to side, rim, rim, rim, rim.
"Monkey," said the king, "why did you kill one of Mother Owl's babies?"
"Oh, King," said the monkey, "it was the crow's fault. He was calling and calling to warn us of danger. And I went leaping through the trees to help. A limb broke under me, and it fell taaa on the owl's nest."
Then the king called for the crow. He said, "King Lion, it was the rabbit's fault! I saw her running for her life in the daytime. Wasn't that reason enough to spread an alarm?"
Then King Lion called the rabbit.
"Oh, King," said the rabbit, "it was the python's fault. I was in my house minding my own business when that big snake came in and chased me out."
King Lion called the python. "But King," he cried, "it was the iguana's fault! He wouldn't speak to me. And I thought he was plotting some mischief against me. When I crawled into the rabbit's hole, I was only trying to hide."
King Lion pulled out the sticks, purup, purup. The he asked, "Iguana, what evil have you been plotting against the python?"
"None! None at all!" cried the iguana. "Python is my friend!"
"Then why wouldn't you say good morning to me?" demanded the snake.
"I didn't hear you, or even see you!" said the iguana. "Mosquito told me such a big lie, I couldn't bear to listen to it. So I put sticks in my ears."
"Punish the mosquito! Punish the mosquito!" cried all the animals.
When Mother Owl heard that, she was satisfied. She turned her head toward the east and hooted: "Hoo! Hooooo! Hooooooo!"
And the sun came up.
But because of this the mosquito has a guilty conscience. To this day she goes about whining in people's ears: "Zeee! Is everyone still angry at me?"
When she does that, she gets an honest answer.
From WHY MOSQUITOES BUZZ IN PEOPLE'S EARS by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Text copyright c 1975 by Verna Aardema. Illustrations copyright c 1975 by Leo and Diane Dillon. Reprinted by arrangement with Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc. All rights reserved.
Pub Date: 07/14/99