Now that the war had finally come to an end, the children could return to school. Hippopotamus offers her “the quickest way” to the schoolhouse in exchange for a promise that she will write his name for him. She meets many creatures afterward and they all let her pass with the same promise. On her return home, she hands each animal a scrap of paper with their name and an illustration. She arrives home. This is where the story takes an unexpected turn—by merely continuing.
Mar Azabal’s illustrations include pencils, lined paper, and/or letters in their composition, in every scene. One of the most moving is the incorporation of letters and pencil with bullet casings in the opening. The only scene with absence is when she’s home and empty-handed and at a loss.
Ayobami brings her world and experiences (encounters) into the classroom with her. The music she hears when making words, enters the dreams of the animals whose names she writes for them. She returns from the classroom with what she learns there and brings those things into the world.
Pilar López Ávila also reminds us that Ayobami’s learning relies on her opportunity to do so: safety, a school/teacher, and her father’s permission. Ayobami and the Names of the Animals questions the privilege of that ubiquitous array of animal primers and alphabet books and first day of school narratives that flood library and bookstores shelves. And it offers a sensation of urgency and optimism of what educational opportunities can do to shape not only an impressionable child, but how she will in turn, shape her world.