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Bouki Dances the Kokioko - Critique

Wolkstein, Diane.  Bouki Dances the Kokioko.  Ill.  Jesse Sweetwater.  San Diego: Gulliver Books, 1997

Category: illustated traditional folk tale, Haitian/multicultural story, picture book

Approximate age group: early elementary


Analysis:   This humorous tale, (first published in Diane Wolkstein's collection The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales) is a wonderful way to introduce children to Haiti’s popular characters: the gullible Bouki and the cunning Malice.

There once was a king of Haiti who loved dancing.

One night a song came to him when he was alone in his garden.  He called it the Kokioko and made up a dance for it.  He put this new song and dance to good use.  Anyone who was ableto dance the Kokioko would get a sack of five thousand gourds.  Of course, no one knew this particular dance, but he took it in good faith that there are always those who think they can do anything.

In this way, not only would his treasury remain full, but also there would be dancers every night to entertain him. 

It was months later and still no one had guessed the dance.  One evening, Malice, the king’s gardener, spied the king dancing the Kokioko.  Since the king would be suspicious if Malice were to win the prize for guessing the dance, Malice went home and worked out a little something with his wife, Madame Malice.  They would play a sneaky trick on gullible, unsuspecting Bouki.  In fact, poor Bouki is twice the fool in the same tale.

Wolkstien truly puts her “internationally renowned” storytelling experience to work in this book.  The repetition and variation of the two songs of this tale are a delight.  Its interactive quality, and the bold, bright colors and bold lines of its gorgeous, full-sized, flat illustrations add to its read-aloud appeal.  Plenty of action is provided by this tale’s colorful language and uncomplicated, memorable characters.

An “About the Story” page explains some of the various cultural aspects of the “active, rich storytelling tradition” of Haiti.  The “Unfamiliar Words in the Story” page gives insight and definition to character names and other words such as

Kokioko (KOH-kee-oh-koh), an onomatopoeic word that imitates the crowing sound made by a rooster, similar to the American cock-a-doodle-do.

There is even a piano music and lyrics page insert (which also shows where in the main song to clap).  Sweetwater  researched Haitian history, culture, and art (among others) for her illustrations.  This fact shows greatly in the detail of every aspect of her paintings, including the great feel of movement and dance.  Her character enhacements are great, as is noticeable in Malice’s sharp features, slanted eyes and full, always showing, top teeth, and in bouki’s very round self and droopy eyes.  Between the two, Wolkstein and Sweetwater have created a must-have for everyone’s shelves.


  • This book can be used for early elementary through upper elementary as an introduction to other cultures and tales. 
  • Discuss the characters and three-part plot. 
  • Have the children get into groups, write their own stories using malice and Bouki as characters, and make illustrations. 
  • Also, the whole class an weave a tale of their own aloud; each person can take a turn adding their own part. 
  • Younger children will surely enjoy trying to dance the Kokioko for themselves.