By Maureen Tai, 20 August 2018
“With that square head, you look just like a gecko.” – Akissi
It is hard to miss the copy of Akissi, laid out on the table at Daunt, a bookshop in London. The cover is a startling yellow and has a picture of a little girl the colour of warm cocoa, with an oversized head, large oval eyes and wide toothy grin. She lives with her mum and dad, older siblings Victorine and Fofana in a square, yellow brick house with blue shuttered windows in the Ivory Coast.
Akissi is full of life, full of ideas and full of mischief – that trait which endears certain book characters to the youngest of readers (think Pippi Longstocking, Matilda, Peter Rabbit and Tom Gates to name a few). Akissi is irresistible.
The book is made up of short, colourful comics chronicling the little girl’s (mis)adventures, living in a town in Africa. Akissi is always up for anything, and always up to something, especially something mischievous, much to the chagrin of her older brother Fofana, who endures his little sister tagging along to his soccer games and pigeon-hunting expeditions.
Some of her schemes are laugh-out-loud funny, like when she tries to infect herself with lice from a friend in order to convince her mother to cut her hair off (thereby avoiding the need to undergo tedious hours of hair-styling in the morning) or when she ties a string to her monkey in a desperate bid at self-administered tooth extraction. Others will make you cringe, like the time Akissi and her friends forage for discarded vegetables at the town market and make a stew to feed their neighbour’s baby, or the time she chases after Fofana, holding up a tapeworm that she has recently evacuated.
She tattle-tales on her family members, and makes the mistake of telling on her brother, who retaliates by stringing her up to a tree by her foot. She mistakes the communion table at church for the snack table, with hilarious consequences. She almost kills her Nan with a coconut, but she saves a sheep (that has been projected from the roof of a too-fast bus). She sets fire to her friend’s braids, but she convinces the owner of the town cinema to let her brother and his friends go scot free after they sneak in to watch a Bruce Lee movie.
Abouet, an Ivorian graphic novelist, tells Akissi’s stories with lighthearted humour and simple but effective text. It is always wonderful to discover that the stories and escapades of a child in say, the Ivory Coast, are just as relatable, interesting and funny to a child in say, Hong Kong. It reminds us that however different we may be as adults, we all started out pretty much the same, and with the same childhood impulses: to explore, to learn, to have fun, to eat as many sweets as we could without our parents finding out, and of course, to make mischief.
For ages 5 and up.