Picture Books

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Asare, Meshack

Kwajo and the Brassman’s Secret

Illustrated by Asare. Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2002. 44 p. ISBN 9988-550-43-X. Ages 8 and up.

Language: English

Publisher: Sub-Saharan Publishers

The Brassman’s Secret was published in 1981, and it won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa the following year. At that time, West African economics dictated that it be illustrated in black only. This new edition, with its slightly altered title, has full-colour illustrations. Kwajo and the Brassman’s Secret is not only an important and impressive publication, but it is also representative of the high quality and strengthening of indigenous children’s literature in Africa.

This “tale of old Ashanti wisdom and gold” focuses on the little brass figures that were used to weigh gold dust, which was the wealth of the ancient Ashanti kingdom (now called Ghana). Kwajo helps his father with the furnace that makes the gold-weight figures. In his dreams he visits an ancient palace, where he gets a chance to win gold by explaining the symbolism of successive gold-weight figures. However, he fails on the last one, and the dream dissolves. Folk wisdom and local proverbs are woven deftly into the story. The new illustrations are simple and bold, with monolithic shapes dominating most pages. Asare uses colour washes, mostly brown and blue, to add drama and rhythm. The About the Book section explains Ashanti history and the use of the gold weights. It is a pleasing coincidence that the Sankofa bird, which eludes Kwajo’s interpretation, is also the title of a recently launched scholarly journal, Sankofa: A Journal of African Children’s and Young Adult Literature, edited by Meena Khorana (USA).


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