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Book Review: "Jujo: The Youngest Tribesman"

Ted Alvarez
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyColorado author and illustrator Mark Ludy's newest book is "Jujo: The Youngest Tribesman."
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Sometimes, you just don’t want to crack open that copy of “Ulysses” you’d been planning on tackling ” even with all the literary cred you’ll get for finishing it. Every now and then the simple joys of a children’s book can take us back to place we haven’t visited in decades, and inspire us to share it with the littler ones in our lives.

“Jujo: The Youngest Tribesman,” by Colorado artist and writer Mark Ludy, is just such a book. It bears resemblances to Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” but carves its own path through gorgeous, fully-realized artwork and a simple but endearing storyline that encourages kids to stand on their own two feet by using their wits and the lessons their relatives have taught them.

In an anonymous, vaguely Africanesque village near the Ting Ting river lives an adolescent named Jujo, who dreams of joining his father on the hunt. He’s told he’s too young ” until one day the village shaman commands him to go alone into the jungle to spend a night atop the Great Rock. Only then will he prove his worth to join the tribe’s hunting party.



While out in the jungle, Jujo has to face several trials and dangers at the rock, including crafty serpents, hunger and a sly cat who may not be as friendly as he pretends to be. Though most of the action takes place on or around the rock, Ludy alludes to a bigger, moving jungle full of living things by having each creature slink out of the deep, inky shadows. Samsoa the snake’s eyes glow green with menace, and the jungle cat Mashaku practically melts into the darkness, exposing only the white of his teeth and eyes.

Ludy’s art style is unique; it seems equally inspired by cartoons, comics and math-folder doodles as formal training. He apparently creates all of his artwork with the standard Bic Round Stick pen rather than any fancy inks, which gives his characters a scratchy, natural appearance. The deep, rich colors appear to be done by computer, and the marriage of homespun ink with high-tech coloring makes for illustrations that pop off the page and vistas that have foreground and background detail and depth-of-vision blur.

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Ludy’s writing is informal and maybe a bit sparse, but it leaves some of the action up to the imagination, which is half of the fun anyway. The faces of his characters often show the emotion and fill in the lines left open by his prose. There are no grand climaxes or overblown crises in Jujo ” the main character simply follows a steady path towards growing up, making his way through his environment by applying the lessons of his elders, learning from his mistakes and summoning up a little courage when necessary.

“Jujo: The Youngest Tribesman” is bookended by extensive maps of the land of Owattigooseyem that go far beyond the village, the jungle and The Great Rock. We can only hope Ludy will revisit Jujo and the other interesting characters, wondrous places and frightful creatures hinted at on this map and in his imagination.


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