Traditional Thursdays: Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears


1976_Why_Mosquitoes_BuzzWhy Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears  written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon is a traditional African folklore that has been adapted to a marvelous picture book.  The story follows a train of misguided actions that lead to the death of one of Mother Owls kids, which then leads to Mother Owl refusal to the wake the sun. King Lion attempts to right this wrong and punish the killer of the Owl’s child so that balance may be restored. The story begins with Mosquito who tells an outrageous lie to Iguana, who then decides he would rather have sticks in his ears than listen to Mosquito’s lies. As Iguana trudges off, Python greets his fellow reptilian but Iguana does not hear. At Iguana’s silence, Python worries that Iguana is plotting against him and sneaks into the burrow of the rabbit to spy on Iguana. The Rabbit rushes out after seeing the python entering and runs away in fear. The Crow sees the Rabbit scurrying during the day and assumes the worst. He then screeches to warn the other animals. Monkey hears the Crows screeching and jumps from branch to branch to escape the danger, but as he is jumping off of one of the branches it falls and kills one of Mother Owls kids. Mother Owl falls into a pit of depression after her child’s death and refuses to wake the sun. She accuses Monkey of killing her child and King Lion confronts Monkey. However, Monkey explains he only jumped on that branch because of the crows screeching. The crow then blames the rabbit, who then blames the python, who then blames the iguana. Iguana explains that it was the mosquito’s fault and everyone unanimously decides the mosquito will be punished. However, the mosquito had been hiding the whole time and knew what would happen to him so he flies off. But the guilt and fear leads him to every so often whisper in people’s ears to ask if he as been forgiven and he’s answered with a clap.


This book won a Caldecott Award in 1976 for its beautiful illustrations. The illustrations are very unique and have a very interesting texture that adds to the story wonderfully. The artwork was made with the usage of watercolors, pastels, and cutout shapes. The different methods combined give this story an African quality to it and that support the story’s origin.

My uncle bought this book for my brother and I when I was 5 and I absolutely loved it. My brother was older and would read it to me, but now after reading this as an adult I wonder if this was maybe too inappropriate for me at the time. The killing of the baby owl is not something I remembered and re-reading I was quite shocked when that happened.  I probably enjoyed it so much as child, because my mother use to tell us folktales similar to this before we went to bed. Aside from that, the overall story is wonderful.

Muniro Dini

James Earl Jones reading Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears





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