What Others are Saying About This Book

Drum (Dikatso Mametse)
“This is a magical book – well written with a great story line and beautifully illustrated.”

www.iafrica.com (Karen Whitty)
“With lots of laughs and thrills aplenty, Kubuka and the Magic Calabash will no doubt soon grow into a legend of its own.” http://entertainment.iafrica.com/books/childrens/392473.htm

Full Review

Kubuka and the Magic Calabash
Karen Whitty
Out of 5: starstarstarstarstar

‘Kubuka and the Magic Calabash’ will enthrall children old and young, thanks to a storyline with as many kinks and curls in it as the tail of the intrepid little monkey that it follows.

Ideal for children aged 6-12, the book is punctuated by colourful illustrations and each chapter is around ten pages long – perfect for a good bedtime story session and easily handled by speedy readers.

Only very rarely has a children’s book hooked me like this one did. The story follows the little vervet monkey Kubuka who, after being tossed out of his tribe to find his own way – part of the “wandering time” in which all young males must partake – falls into the trunk of a huge baobab tree while searching for food. Living in the tree is the water spirit Amanzi, who has been banished there by the evil magician of the bush, Zaka. As a result, there has been little rain and the animals and plants of the bush are dying.

Amanzi is distraught and he entrusts the little monkey with a mission: to retrieve the magic calabash from Zaka and bring it back to him. Only once the calabash is back in Amanzi’s possession, will the rains fall again on Africa.

Kubuka takes on his responsibility with the kind of spunky bravery and wily monkey humour that quickly endears him to the reader (Kubuka means “admire” in Sindebele). On his journey to Zaka’s evil dwelling, he comes across creatures of myth and reality, who teach him the valuable lessons of courage, loyalty and, above all, keeping his sense of humour.

Bazi the hyena is especially memorable for this and will no doubt be a firm favourite among the book’s colourful characters, whom author Janet Keegans brings to life through clever dialogue and creative, yet concise, descriptions.

Growing up in the bush has instilled in Keegans a knowledge and love of the African veld and its animals that is as genuine as it is practical. Many of the references are based on real African myths: baobabs are considered dwelling places of spirits, for example. She also evokes the area around Great Zimbabwe powerfully, with its hilly piles of stones, yawning caves and the majestic ruins of abandoned stone palaces.

But not only does she tell a good story; Keegans manages to infuse the reader with her love for African folklore, the feeling that drives the story to its magical end.

With lots of laughs and thrills aplenty, ‘Kubuka and the Magic Calabash’ will no doubt soon grow into a legend of its own.


Review by: Kitty Honeybrook on June 23, 2012 : star star star star star
Combine a cheeky young monkey, a heroic quest, a little African magic, lots of funny bits, gorgeous illustrations, and you have the perfect children’s story. Adults will also enjoy it (as I did!) One of the things I most like about Janet Keegan’s writing is her faithful depiction of the African landscape and it’s creatures. Whilst anthropomorphised, her animals nevertheless stay true to their natural character. Kubuka, for instance, loves fruit and is not above stealing some bananas from an African village! I thoroughly enjoyed this gem of a book, which I originally bought for my nieces. Not to be missed.
(reviewed the day of purchase)


Review by: Brent Green on June 18, 2012 : star star star star star
Very good…I’m sure it will delight any one who reads it. I had the pleasure of enjoying it whilst on safari in Africa; and couldn’t help imagining the personality of each novel character in the real animals I saw!
(reviewed within a month of purchase)


Read The First Chapter

A Word at the Start

Once upon a time in Africa, there was a great drought in the land …

The leaves fell from the trees, and the water holes slowly dried up until they were empty pans of cracked earth. The rivers disappeared under their sandy beds, and it was hard for the animals to find food or water.
But deep in the African bush, in the wildest places, there grows an extraordinary tree that can survive any drought. In all the old tribal legends, the baobab tree is a place where spirits live — often ancestral spirits, but sometimes others — as we shall see.

Chapter One
The Baobab Tree

The baobab tree’s ancient, scarred trunk was as wide as five elephants and its branches could stretch over a whole herd. There was nothing left alive on earth that had seen this tree as a young sapling, but here it still stood after a thousand years. It was providing, as it had always done, a meal for another living creature. On this particular evening it was a young and adventurous vervet monkey who had spent the afternoon foraging among the bare branches of this massive tree, helping himself to the cream-of-tartar pods.

Kubuka (for that was the monkey’s name) blinked as a small bat flitted past him, twittering. He hadn’t noticed the sun setting – and now it was nearly time to find somewhere to sleep for the night. He dropped the pod on which he had been nibbling. The sweet, dry white lumps inside had made him thirsty. What to do? Go to bed thirsty, or try to find a drink now, before it got too dark for little monkeys to be out alone in the bush?

Kubuka was alone because he had been sent away on his ‘wandering time’, which was meant to toughen up troublesome young males. It was also a sort of punishment – Kubuka had been seriously naughty, cheeking the dominant male and even getting into a nasty fight. He would only be allowed back when he was much stronger and wiser – and more respectful.
He felt lonely, thinking of the troop. Then he remembered something the Troop Mother had told him when he was little.

‘Baobabs are wonderful trees’, she had informed him in her listen-to-me voice while, holding one of his arms in the air, she picked at the fur round his tummy for fleas, ‘They give you food, shelter, and drink, too’.
Kubuka frowned, trying to remember what else she had said. Her skinny, wrinkled fingers had been tickling quite unbearably at the time, and he had been trying not to giggle. (Giggling or wriggling while receiving a grooming session from such an important monkey as the Troop Mother was terribly bad manners).
He pictured her face again. Yes – it was coming back to him now. She had said that baobab trees often have a hollow middle, where if you’re lucky, rainwater collects, making a perfect private well for animals like monkeys, who above all things are good climbers. Kubuka turned and walked back along the broad, smooth branch of the tree, climbed the rest of the way up the trunk and peered over a ridge of bark right at the top.

‘AiEeeeeeesh…!’ He yelped, leaping backwards in fright, tumbling down and (luckily for the story of Kubuka), landing on another fat branch just below.
There was something inside the tree! A pair of eyes shining in a dark face! He shivered, his small body curled up in fright, his tail almost in his mouth.. He listened carefully, staring up at the rim where he had perched, all his senses on the alert. Nothing. Could it have been just a couple of of bats down there, perhaps? Kubuka started to feel a little curious. Monkeys are dreadfully inquisitive animals, and poor, thirsty little Kubuka was no exception. Also, he had smelled water.
Cautiously, he crept back, closer and closer, until he could peep once more over the edge. It was quite gloomy down there, but after a moment he realised that he was looking at his own bright-eyed reflection.
He felt a little foolish, but no-one was watching except maybe the bats, and they didn’t count. Kubuka perched casually on the edge and looked down into quite a deep hollow, about four tail-lengths wide. Sure enough, there was water down there – its still, dark surface as reflective as a mirror.

Feeling thirstier than ever, Kubuka examined the sides for a way down. The smooth bark of the baobab was folded and wrinkled on the inside of the hollow trunk; there were rootlike growths here and there to hold on to.
The light was fading fast now, and Kubuka knew he would have to hurry. So he hopped over the edge and, using all four hands plus his tail, carefully lowered himself down to the surface.
The water was surprisingly cool and fresh. He drank thirstily, hanging sideways with his tail firmly wrapped round a handy root. A few mosquitoes rose, whining, from the surface

Then the water swirled and heaved. Kubuka jerked back from the pool and stared. There was something in there! Surely not a fish? Fish don’t live in trees, he was pretty sure of that. Then a deep, gentle voice seemed to bubble up from beneath the water.
‘Thank you for your visit…’ said the voice, ‘But you have drunk my water, and now you owe me a favour’. Kubuka froze in fright, one drop trembling on his chin.. Was he hearing things? An owl spoke softly in the distance. The wind breathed past the bare branches of the tree. It was quite dark inside the hollow. Kubuka decided that things were getting a little too spooky, and he retreated, nervously scrambling back up to the top of the opening.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ said the voice quickly. ‘It is I, Amanzi, Spirit of the Rain.’
Kubuka perched a safe distance from the hollow. He thought that it would be best if he were polite.
‘Greetings, O spirit Amanzi’, replied Kubuka, ‘I am Kubuka of the Tshoko tribe, and I thank you for my drink of water.’ He paused. Then his monkey curiosity got the better of him again.
‘But please tell me,’ he said, ‘If you are a Rain Spirit, what are you doing inside this baobab tree?’
More bubbling noises started coming up from the well. Kubuka suddenly remembered that if you call a spirit by its name, it can appear if it wants to. That was something else the Troop Mother had told the tribe one moonlit evening, with the elders wedged comfortably in the branches of an enormous ebony tree and the small ones cuddling close.
A splashing sound added itself to the bubbling noises. Kubuka kept his distance, but rose up higher to see into the hollow.
A wobbling, silvery shape was coming out of the well!

It was fat and rippling like a huge raindrop. It had long, thin arms, just one leg and its hair resembled a miniature waterfall. It had a round, friendly face, with one huge, silvery-blue eye. It rested on the edge of the hollow and sighed with a gurgling sound.
The eye blinked at Kubuka, who stared back. in disbelief. He could see the moonlight shining through the spirit’s watery form.
‘Why am I in this baobab tree, indeed?’ it said, ‘Well, it’s a long story, but if you’re going to return the favour, you have to know how it all happened’.

Kubuka was fairly certain there would be nothing he could do as a favour for such a strange being, but he decided to listen first and ask questions later. He crept closer and settled down, all ears. The moon was rising quite fast now, and it was the perfect time for stories.


Buy the e-book – Your Choice of places and Devices:

Available as a Kindle edition on Amazon

Available from Smashwords – USD5.99 – click here

Available from Barnes & Noble as a Nook Book

Available from Sony’s Kobo Book Store in South Africa (Special Price R39.87)

Available from the Diesel eBook Store  (on any device, any way you like it)

And of course, available from Apple iBookstores in a country near you:

Apple iBookstore USA: iTunes USA

Apple iBookstore UK: iTunes United Kingdom

Apple iBookstore Australia: iTunes Australia

Apple iBookstore IrelandiTunes Ireland

Apple iBookstore New ZealandiTunes NZ

Apple iBookstore SwitzerlandiTunes Switzerland


OR – Buy the print version (Paperback) and I’ll send it through the post. There are a limited number of printed books left, so get yours soon before they are all sold out:

by post in South Africa:

Book plus post and packing: R175
Pay by EFT

by post to Rest of World:
Book plus post and packing: USD29
Payments by PayPal

Contact the author and confirm your delivery details.

About the Author

Janet Keegans was born in the UK, but raised in Africa — first Uganda, then Zimbabwe. Her childhood playground was the African bush, literally at the end of the garden. After a career in advertising, she now lives in Cape Town, but the magic of Africa’s remote wilderness, wildlife and folklore remains close to her heart.

Kubuka & The Magic Calabash was first published by Struik/New Holland Publishing, in Cape Town, 2004. It has since gone out of print and the rights have reverted to the author, who has re-published it herself as an ebook on the platform provided by e-book publisher and aggregator, www.SmashWords.com, as well as on www.amazon.com

There is a sequel to Kubuka & The Magic Calabash, coming soon – as soon as the illustrations have been completed. Its working title is: Kubuka and the Elephants Secret. This time, the story mainly takes place in the rugged mountains… quite far from Kubuka’s home range…


The Blog

A Kids’ Book for a Good Cause

NEW! Announcing the latest Kubuka-inspired kids book:
A Tall Story about the Giraffe, by Janet Keegans and illustrated by Harriet Matsaert,
Now available as an e-book from Master Publishers, Kenya, Dec 2012

A Tall Story follows the adventures of a very small giraffe, who ends up very tall indeed. Adapted from an African folktale, all proceeds from this book go to the Trust for African Schools, in particular to support Mivukoni school, near Kora National Reserve, north east of Nairobi, Kenya.

But what has this to do with Kubuka? You might ask.

Well, there is a section in Kubuka & The Magic Calabash, where Bazi and Kubuka are waiting for sunset, and to pass the time Bazi tells Kubuka the legend of how the Giraffe came to have such a long neck.  It is a Central African story, probably of Nguni origin, and I gave it a bit of a twist during the re-telling.

In February 2009 I received an email from someone who had tracked me down. Harriet Matsaert, an anthropologist, illustrator and mother of three, living in Kenya, sent me this message:

“I wanted to get in touch to ask you a favour. I recently read my children your great book Kubuka and the magic Calabash.
I really liked the story inside the book of how the giraffe got his long neck, and was thinking it would make a great picture book story for younger children. I’m looking for a story to illustrate to sell to raise money for to support school trusts in Northern Kenya. The schools are supported by a UK charity but also by the Kenya Wildlife Service as they are located close to game parks. So the giraffe theme would be great.  
The books could be written in swahili and English.  Used by the younger kids and sold to raise money for the school trusts. I wonder whether you would give me permission to use the story or might even like to edit it yourself for this purpose?”  

Although I couldn’t take credit for the original legend, the story was re-purposed and embroidered upon by me, so I replied that I would love to be involved in the production of a little storybook and yes, I would enjoy re-editing the story for use as a fundraiser.

For the next year or so, things went quite slowly, since although Harriet had done some colorful, charming illustrations, when we sent the first illustrated draft to many publishers we received no takers.

Then, at a book fair in Nairobi, Harriet met the people from CanDo Publishing, who produce and sell ebooks under their Master Publishing brand name. We were in business!

A Tall Story About The Giraffe came out on the major online bookstores in late December 2012. The links -


We’ve been assured that ‘A Tall Story about the Giraffe’ is also available on all 50 of the Apple iBookstores, but we cannot access the link since Apple doesn’t sell its ebooks to African customers yet!

Harriet and I are already doing what we can to spread the marketing word via our different networks, and Harriet has created a FB fan-page for it. Please visit and ‘Like’, if you like!


Other work by Harriet Matsaert:
Harriet is becoming well known in Kenya for her illustrations. Her most recent work was the 80-page publication ‘Being a Bird’, which was launched at the National Museum in Nairobi by celebrity BBC presenter David Lindo, aka The Urban Birder.

The fully illustrated book was authored by a group of Kenyan ornithologists, and focuses on bird behaviour, ecology and conservation. Aimed at young readers, it was published in October 2012 by Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society.
It is different from all other bird books, says Harriet, “…because it helps the reader appreciate birds by taking a closer look at their lives from the bird’s perspective.”

Excerpt published in *The Zimbabwean* newspaper

‘The Zimbabwean’ is a weekly newspaper, printed and distributed in South Africa and published online for the rest of the world. It’s widely read in the Zimbabwean diaspora (at least 3 million people apparently). The editors are currently publishing excerpts from Zim and ex-Zim writers, so I emailed them and asked if they would like to print a little section from Kubuka & The Magic Calabash.

I said that the book may be of interest to expat Zimbabwean readers looking for something to read to their kids, because it is about Zim places, spaces, culture, mythology, animals and bush lore… The story features lots of Zimbabwean stuff – a village nganga, a mystical Black Eagle, the Mlimo oracle at the Njelele Shrine in the Matopos, folklore about baobabs and the spirits that live in them, the Great Zimbabwe, a folktale about Giraffes, Lake Kariba and Rupert Fothergill, the goddess Shirichena, and a very evil baddie magician called Zaka… and that generally, the book would appeal to people wanting to keep the memory of home alive. It’s beautifully illustrated by Jacqui Taylor – small scatter illustrations and full pages are throughout, (but the ebook editions display her lovely double-page spreads as downsized versions).

When the Zimbabwean published and excerpt, I immediately had to try and choose a passage to send. Finally I chose a fairly key scene, an exciting one featuring baddy vs. hero plus apparitions by the eagle goddess, the Shining One, Shirichena…

By the way, the editors and owners of The Zimbabwean are Wilf & Trish Mbanga, who have co-written and published a book of their own, the romantic and dramatic  biographical story of Botswana’s First Couple, Sir Seretse and Lady Ruth Khama. It’s a story that should be made into a movie!

Trish Mbanga will be my lifelong heroine for having almost single-handedly started the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, in Harare way back in the eighties. The country was full of budding authors and new-age publishers at that time, and the event was held in the Harare Gardens -  it was a vibrant, exciting and very well-attended affair right from the start. The ZIBF’s  welcoming, thatched office is still there in the park to this day and the Fair is still going after all these years.

At that same time, Wilf Mbanga was an investigative journalist, writer and editor. He went on to start an independent daily newspaper – The Daily News – in Zimbabwe in 1999, but since the paper apparently posed a threat to the ruling party, it was bombed and shut down. Wilf was harassed and driven from his country. He now lives in England with Trish and publishes an online newspaper instead.








‘Moonhag’ Story Donated to Worldreader.org

I came across Worldreader.org while browsing for African children’s books online. They are an organisation that supplies Kindles (donated, refurbished or second-hand) and as many suitable e-books as possible to schoolchildren in under-funded schools in Africa. This is what they say:

“Worldreader gives kids in the developing world access to digital books. Using e‑readers loaded with thousands of local and international e-books, we provide children the books they want and need, so they can improve their lives.”

I remember falling in love with reading when I was a child, and although it is perfectly obvious that you cannot fall in love with reading if there are no books around for you to read, it takes an organisation like this one to remind you of the fact. The genius in this idea is that e-books don’t have to be physically delivered, they don’t get dirty or torn and they can be shared over and over and over.

A few months ago, at the request of a reader of Kubuka & The Magic Calabash, I wrote a short story which completed the yarn that Kubuka starts to tell on page 121 – about how he, being a monkey, came to be friends with a hyena. (I felt that needed some explanation, but as it happens, in the book, Kubuka gets distracted before he can finish his tale). I called the story Moonhag and the Monster Monkey and made it available as an ebook on Smashwords.

The link to the free book on Smashwords is here

Cover for 'Moonhag and The Monster Monkey'

When I heard about Worldreader.org, I thought the Moonhag story might be a suitable contribution for their platform, as it was aimed at kids and set in the African bush. So I contacted the organisation and sure enough, Elizabeth Wood, the Director of Digital Publishing, said they would be delighted to have it for their free-content library. As Worldreader.org is given technical and other support by Amazon.com, I first had to publish it there. That done, it will now be distributed the next time that a new content bundle is sent out to all the Worldreader e-readers throughout Africa! (Worldreader kids cannot browse the internet for books; the content is pre-loaded).

I hope the children will have a bit of a giggle over this story, and that other authors or donors will consider supporting this wonderful literacy program.

Don’t forget – if you are upgrading to the newest Kindle, don’t throw out your old one – why not donate it instead? Go here to read all about it:  www.worldreader.org

Kubuka’s Stage Premiere… it’s official!

One of the most surprising things that have happened since the launch of Kubuka & The Magic Calabash was when an experimental drama school in the Eastern Cape, took the story and turned it into a play.

I discovered this quite by chance. One day I entered the book title into the Big Search Engine in the Cloud (Google) to see what it would come up with. I was truly startled when I found and followed this link:


The story of Kubuka and his quest for the Magic Calabash had been précis’d down (I suppose) to its essence, and the dialogue re-arranged into a full stage script! My first reaction was: ‘Breach of copyright! What a cheek! Huh!’ – but then I read what the teacher – and blogger – had written. She had set up a school that was experimenting with education through drama and fun, to teach using living history, and to bring relevance to the ancient African legends and mythology which is every African child’s heritage. They had chosen my story because it was about traditional Africa. A million miles from Hip-Hop, Manga, high school Vampire romance, or Idols pop culture.

The blog shows cute pictures of happy kids in their minimal, improvised costumes. I was charmed by their cardboard baobab tree, inside which stands a child in flowing robes, who I presume is a representation of Amanzi, the water spirit (the character who sends Kubuka on his first magical mission).

The school cannot have had much in the way of funds, as the rest of the decor seems to have consisted of a couple of potted rubber-tree plants. The cast, blogged the teacher, kept expanding as more and more pupils wanted to participate in the production. Fortunately there were parts for all, as the story features a troop of bewitched baboons.

I would love to have seen this dramatic production – but alas, I didn’t know the producers had ‘borrowed’ my story. Apparently the kids loved it and so did the proud parents! How I wish they had contacted me  – I was at the time contactable through the publisher, Struik, in Cape Town. I would also have loved to see the stage script they produced (although possibly I may have been too tempted to interfere, so it’s probably just as well I didn’t!).

This story has a sad ending though – I immediately tried to contact the writer of the Rafaeli School blog – but alas, it seems that the school failed and has closed its doors for lack of funding.