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The Heart of a Monkey, A Fairy Tale in Swahili

As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.

H is for the Heart of the Monkey

H is for the Heart of the Monkey

My Children’s Alphabet Book

As a background for this story, I have to tell how it all began. If you an old friend, you probably know I’ve written and illustrated a children’s alphabet book using fairy tales and folk tales from around the world as prompts for the letters of the alphabet. Some years ago I started it as a thesis project for my illustration degree. The whole project transformed and morphed many times before I was done. Now I am planning another book series with several more folktales and fairytales from around the world for each letter of the alphabet.

Global Fairytales

After doing R is for Red Riding Hood and J is for Jack in the Beanstalk, I thought I was going to have trouble finding fairy tales for all 26 letters if I stuck to the typical English and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. And that’s when it hit me to be more global. Why not research fairy tales and folk tales from all over the world? This added to my work but in the end, it became very satisfying. This is another animal story told in Swahili but it was so fun and funny I had to include it. In some versions, the monkey is enticed by a shark and in some an alligator. I like the alligator version because it allowed me to include a tree into the illustration.

Value Sketch for the illustration

Value Sketch for the illustration

The Heart of a Monkey, A Fairy Tale in Swahili

A monkey made friends with an alligator when the monkey kept tossing his friend the fruits of a giant mkuyu tree that grew overhanging the water.

After a time, the alligator told the monkey how good and kind he had been and he would love to give the money a gift and introduce him to the sultan of the alligators. If he would only come home with him, the alligator would give him a ride there. The monkey accepted, but halfway there, the alligator told him that the sultan of the alligators was deathly ill and needed a monkey's heart to cure him.

“What a pity,” the monkey said, “because if I had only known, I could have brought my heart, but I left it behind in my tree.”

The alligator immediately turned around to get the heart. When they got back, the monkey jumped up into his tree and was not coming back down. The wise monkey told the alligator a story of a washerwoman's donkey, which was persuaded to meet with a lion twice. The second time the lion killed and ate him.

“I am not a washerwoman's donkey,” the monkey told the alligator.

Color Composition for The Heart of the Monkey

Color Composition for The Heart of the Monkey

We have art so that we shall not die of reality.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Collage Illustrations

I didn’t want my book to be just one more “A is for Apple” alphabet book and since I love fairy tales, why not use them instead? After deciding that I was told I should use my collage method instead of the usual watercolor illustrations that I had originally desired. The collage took much longer but in the end, it made for a very unique book.

I hope you enjoy my process here showing the start with thumbnail sketches, then value sketch, color composition and finally, the collage. As you can see from the color composition, as I worked on the collage I felt it needed some more color, and decided on bright pink flowers in the tree.

A character sheet for the monkey and the alligator in different poses.

A character sheet for the monkey and the alligator in different poses.

Published with Lulu

This fairy tale has been shortened to fit into my book along with all the other letters of the alphabet. If you would like to read the full version, you can Google the title and find several versions of The Heart of the Monkey.

My book, The FairyTale Alphabet Book, Fairy Tales and Folk Tales from Around the World, was self-published last year with Lulu.com because Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing) refused to allow illustrations that spanned the central gutter of the page. They demanded at least a half-inch margin around the outside, which I could have done, and a half-inch margin through the center margin, which would destroy the look and cohesiveness of the double-page illustrations. I had to find a different publisher who would allow the illustrations the way I wanted them. KDP obviously does not understand illustrated children’s picture books.

Final Thoughts

I hope you like my story and my fairy tale alphabet book idea. I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 04, 2020:

That was some smart thinking on the part of the monkey! I so enjoy learning all of these fairy tales from around the world and getting to see more of your fabulous art. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on March 11, 2020:

Devika Primić,

I'm so happy you like my stories. Thanks for being a faithful fan.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on March 11, 2020:

Thanks, Lawrence. I am happy it is published, and in color and with the full double-page spreads I wanted. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 11, 2020:

Denise

Loved the story, and so glad you found a way to publish it.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 14, 2020:

An interesting tale in Swahili and had no idea of it. Your approach to these tales are amazing!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 13, 2020:

James C Moore,

That's a good saying. I'm glad you think this is good for children. I like the lessons they teach. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

James C Moore from The Great Midwest on February 13, 2020:

I like the quick thinking on the monkey's part. "I forgot it at home." Great. Also, I gotta think children will retain more of what they learn with this method. I always say -facts tell but stories sell.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 12, 2020:

DreamerMeg,

He certainly would have if the monkey hadn't been smarter. But then the monkey would rather eat fruit than meat and the alligator would rather eat meat than fruit. Makes sense to me. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 12, 2020:

Linda Crampton,

It means so much to me for people to like my art. So much work goes into each piece. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on February 12, 2020:

What a great story. I thought I had read a lot of fairy stories but you keep coming up with new ones. This is worthy of being one of Aesop's fables. What a cold hearted character that alligator was, he just killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 11, 2020:

Every time I visit one of your fairy tale articles I look at the first illustration and notice its beauty. I admire your artistic skills, Denise. Thank you for sharing another interesting story as well as the lovely art.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

Marie Flint,

Yes, isn't it interesting how in the US culture monkeys are portrayed as dumb but in this story the monkey was wise? I'm glad you like the process. I do spend a lot of time with character drawings trying to figure the facial expression and stance that would work best. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

Liz Westwood,

As always I'm so happy you like it. There's more to come. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

Bill Holland,

I feel the same about your walk with Maggie series but I have to love and comment each time because you always take me somewhere new. I appreciate that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

Hari Prasad S,

I'm happy you think so. Thanks so much for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on February 11, 2020:

A really nice job, as always, Denise! I enjoyed the story. It was interesting that the voice in the video was a lady from India with the variation of a crocodile's wife. These tales are shared by many cultures with variations.

My version of the moral would be "Don't believe everything you're told."

I appreciate your pre-collage character illustrations. These show the time and thought you put into your work.

Blessings!

P.S. What a smart monkey!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

Lorna Lamon,

I think a good fairy tale should always have some sort of moral or lesson. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

Nikki Khan,

I'm so pleased that you like it. It was fun for me to create. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

John Hansen,

Thanks so much. I am happy this one is done and published. Now for the next one. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

Lora Hollings,

It is finished and published through Lulu.com. I would be honored for you to have a copy. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 11, 2020:

Eric Dierker

Well, I'm so tickled that you like the collage process. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Liz Westwood from UK on February 11, 2020:

I appreciate the way that you have collected stories from all over the world. This is a lovely tale and as usual, well-illustrated.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 11, 2020:

You know how I feel about this series. Why repeat myself by telling you over and over again how fantastic I think it is? :)

Blessings always

bill

Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on February 11, 2020:

Great act of imparting knowledge and inspiration to kids, using wonderful art. Kudos.

Lorna Lamon on February 11, 2020:

Another lovely Fairy Tale with a moral to the tale. Beautiful illustrations which are so detailed. Excellent.

Nikki Khan from London on February 11, 2020:

Incredible book idea, Denise. I loved the story and how you illustrated it, goes well around.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 10, 2020:

Nice work. I love the idea of this book and your collage illustrations are amazing.

Lora Hollings on February 10, 2020:

Denise, I love your idea of using fairy tales and folk tales from around the world to help children learn the alphabet. Your illustration of the monkey and the alligator is awesome! I love the colors that you selected. Your book will be just fabulous when it's completed. I will have to get this book for my niece. She will just love it! Any child would.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 10, 2020:

Amazing how you do that. Thanks for sharing it with me.