by Jane Kurtz

Illustrated by Durga Bernhard

  • publisher and date: Gulliver Books, 1997
  • genre: fiction
  • age/grade:ages 5-8

Synopsis (from
This charming children’s story is based on a story that author Jane Kurtz heard growing up in Ethiopia. In it, young Tekleh is always getting into trouble, letting the goats into the garden, kicking dust on the roasting coffee beans. So his father gives him a gift of a wooden board game, which he promises will keep Tekleh out of trouble. We follow Tekleh the next morning as he takes the family’s two goats to graze, and has a series of adventures before he returns home, the same but different. Durga Berhnard’s warm, earth-toned illustrations are the perfect companion to this book.

Author’s Perspective: ( Jane Kurtz was born in Portland, Oregon, but when she was two years old, her parents moved to Ethiopia. Jane grew up in Maji, a small town in the southwest corner of the country. Since there were no televisions, radios, or movies, her memories are of climbing mountains, wading in rivers by the waterfalls, listening to stories, and making up her own stories, which she and her sisters acted out for days at a time.

Literary Elements:

Character – Tekleh’s curiosity and ability to find trouble will keep the students entertained.

Stlye -This is a patterned circular story. First graders love that! This story is based on a traditional tale.

Illustrations – From Kirkus Reviews – Bernhard’s illustrations provide an enchanting window into the culture and people of Eritrea

Curriculum Connections:

  • Read aloud
  • Make a class map (similar to the end pages) but each child illustrating one part of the adventure and then putting it all together
  • Play Gebeta or Mancala
  • Sequence the events in the story.

Web Resources:


School Library Journal (from

PreSchool-Grade 2. A traditionally patterned, circular story from Eritrea that begins provocatively: “Trouble always found Tekleh.” Tekleh’s job is to tend the family goats that often wander off when under his care. The boy’s father carves his undependable son a wooden board game, hoping it will entertain Tekleh and keep him out of trouble. Setting out with his goats and his game board the next morning, the lad fails to go straight to the grazing place. Instead, he and the animals wander off, encountering many people along the way. First, he meets a group of traders who are looking for firewood and take his wooden game board. When he protests, he is given a knife in exchange. In subsequent encounters, he trades one thing after another until finally, predictably, he exchanges a papaya for another game board bringing the story full circle. Bernhard’s gouache illustrations depict authentic cultural details such as round, grass-roofed houses; traditional shawls; and colorfully bordered, white cotton clothes. The pictures contain subtle details of humor well suited to the tale. Endpapers that map the boy’s journey can be used to recapitulate the tale with listeners. In an endnote, the author cites Harold Courlander’s version of the story included in his book Fire on the Mountain (Holt, 1995). Kurtz’s retelling, which differs in detail but not in pattern and intent, depicts Tekleh as mischief maker, teasing more humor out of the tale than the more straightforward Courlander version. Enjoyable.?Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Kirkus Reviews (from

From Kurtz (Miro in the Kingdom of the Sun, 1996, etc.), the lively Eritrean story of a young boy with a magnetic attraction to trouble. On Tekleh’s watch, goats end up in the garden, and dust somehow settles on the roasting coffee beans. His father gives him a gebeta board, hoping that the game will keep his curious boy out of mischief. Board in hand, Tekleh takes the family goats to graze in the hills, but soon loses his father’s gift to some traders, who give him a fine knife; another man offers Tekleh his masinko–a musical instrument–for the knife, and so Tekleh’s trading and his adventures continue; eventually he returns home with another game board, fulfilling his father’s prophecy: “A gebeta board never fails to keep a young boy out of trouble.” An author’s note discusses the story’s origins; Bernhard’s illustrations provide an enchanting window into the culture and people of Eritrea. (map, glossary) (Picture book/folklore. 3-7) — Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


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