Sandy Walton, Tiphereth
In a story of magic, adventures and friendships Ernest Simba is the 21st Century‘s Swallows and Amazons meets the Famous Five in glorious African colour. Wrapped in a large colourful cloth with a small green lizard lying over his legs and clutching a tiny silver flute a baby boy is left at the orphanage gates. Seeing his solemnity and sensing the great adventures and dark dangers which lie ahead of him in his wide eyes, Mama Amy names him Ernest Simba, the African name for lion. Growing up in the orphanage called cry baby and snail boy by the other children Ernest’s only real friend is Liwida his lizard. As he learns the secrets of her shape-shifting and realises that his only other possessions the colourful cloth and the silver flute possess magical powers too Ernest is whisked away from the orphanage. On an adventure that will test his courage Ernest Simba, Mama Amy’s very own Lion King, has to draw on his strength and wisdom in facing great and terrible dangers.
When Ernest meets Musa a young boy living under a curse the two boys begin a fragile friendship. Musa recognise Ernest’s courageous and loyal qualities when his friend saves his life and frees him from the family curse on Mystical Mountain and the bonds of this first real friendship are sealed. In his white Captains cap with its navy peak, decorated with gold braid and an anchor motif Ernest sails his felucca with Musa in the face of great and terrible dangers meeting other friends along the way. As he shares his wisdom and courage with his new found friends we see their hidden qualities and strengths develop and by the end of the story we realise, we too, are a little wiser for having journeyed with Ernest on his felucca.
The magic and folk law which colours the adventures of the new friends is set in a vivid African landscape which fills our senses on every page. From the taste of the mandazis, the deep fried small round donuts, to the smell of the freshly caught fish cooking on the boat. From the noise of the impatient car drivers, sounding their horns, to the sight of the beautiful patterns of the sun’s rays as they glint and sparkle on the surface of a ribbon of river, so blue and long it’s impossible to tell where it begins and ends. To the tickle of the long whiskers of the lioness and her breath warm on Ernest’s neck. Like a thread woven in Ernest’s colourful cloth, the owl with its round yellow eyes, which only Ernest sees, journeying with him on the mast of his felucca, weaves its way through the story bringing a sense of calm and reassurance and leaves us at the end knowing we have truly read a wonder tale.
With her debut novel Catherine Cowell hasn’t just put ink on paper – she’s wiped her nib over the artist’s pallet and set every page ablaze with colour. Long after the last page is turned we will still sense the richness of this colour like warm African sun and long, long after the last page is turned we will realise, that having journeyed with Ernest Simba we are wiser for it and that he has a place in our heart.
Sadie, Rudolph Steiner School, Devon
Ernest Simba is based upon the author’s experiences of working in a baby home in East Africa. Ernest Simba is the name give to a baby boy who was left at the gates of the Forever Angels orphanage in Africa. He is found wrapped in a blanket and holding a magic flute. Around his bent and lifeless legs lay his shape shifting guardian, a lizard called Liwida. Ernest remains at the orphanage, but his ill health and disability means he is unable to join in with the other children and he is often lonely. One day when Ernest is feeling particularly ill and fed up, his blanket transports him to a boat on a river. He is both excited and fearful, but emboldened by his discovery of a sea captain’s cap, he, Liwida and a mysterious owl embark on the adventure Ernest has always dreamed about. One by one, four other children who are also hurt, afraid or displaced, join Ernest. Their adventure becomes a journey of healing and self discovery. However, although Ernest comes to fulfill the destiny of his name ‘Simba’ or ‘lion’ and he experiences the joy of being called ‘friend’ for the first time, his health is failing and eventually he ends up alone again on the boat. What is Ernest’s destiny? This is a wonderful, warm and engaging book. One of the greatest strengths of the story is the author’s skill in giving a sense of place and in bringing her characters alive; the kindness of the carers, the hubris of the village bully etc. This is most evident in her depiction of Ernest. His humanity shines through; his jealousy and fear as well as his courage and wisdom. I would highly recommend this book for children aged 8-11 years old.