This delightful collection of tales from Central Africa bears a striking resemblance to Kipling's 'Just So' stories set in India. The chameleon is a very unpopular animal among most African tribes, but a proverb of the Anyanja people is: "If your face is ugly, learn to sing", and Geraldine Elliot has used this as the starting-point for the tales. The central character, Nadzikambe, having learned to sing, is an excellent listener and also a raconteur, and makes a perfect vehicle for the exciting stories which reveal so much about life in Africa in the middle of the 20th century.
Geraldine Elliot, despite publishing at least four well-known books ('The Long Grass Whispers', 'Where the Leopard Passes', and 'The Hunter's Cave', as well as translations of African folk tales in the Zulu language ('Kunyenyeza Esikhotheni'), is virtually invisible in terms of her life. One of the aforementioned titles appeared as early as 1939, and the Singing Chameleon was published in 1957, so perhaps all we can say is that she was a South African author writing in the first half of the 20th century.
Sheila Hawkins (1905-1999) was one of the most innovative children's illustrators of her generation. Born a rural Australian, in 1931, Hawkins left Australia for Europe, spending a year in Spain and then settling in England, where she lived, almost without a break, for the remainder of her life. She wrote and illustrated a number of books before, in 1939, beginning a collaboration with Geraldine Elliot, on 'The Long Grass Whispers', the initial volume of a series of retellings of African folk tales. This confirmed her talent for humorous animal illustration, and led to her becoming one of the first artists to contribute to Puffin Picture Books with her adaptation of Aesop's Fables (1942), and exemplifying the Puffin philosophyof using striking design and draughtsmanship both to educate and entertain.
Our book is in generally good condition, with an unclipped dust jacket which is grubby and a little tattered along the top edge, but with no loss. The flaps are both marked with a light brown stripe where (?a mylar outer cover?) has been taped into place in the past, and there is a corresponding brown line on each free endpaper. The book is bound in pale olive-ish cloth with a brown line illustration of a chameleon on the front cover, and titles etc in similar brown letters on the spine. The covers are edge-faded, and there is a 'shadow' of the title from the dust-jacket at the top of the front cover. One small brown spot on the back cover may be an early foxing spot, and there is a light stain at the top of the back. The endpapers are charmingly decorated with a family of chameleons. Inside, the binding is firm, with no loose pages, and the text is bright and clear throughout. Page tops are dark brown. There are many B/W illustrations. A charming book.