Illustrated by Milan Pavlovic
It’s a different world when your best friend is a cavegirl but Beverly is the very best of friends to Kabungo who lives in a cave on Main Street in Star City. Beverly has learned much of Kabungo’s vocabulary–sungo for night, sunup for day, sniff for follow and Belly for Beverly–but she still wants to teach Kabungo about living in the “civilized” world. Whether it’s teaching Kabungo the alphabet, or that it’s wrong to steal, Beverly does her best, often with a grain of salt and a whole lot of sugary fun.
I would have told her that flea powder wasn’t for eating, but I never tell anyone anything more than a hundred times. It’s my personal rule. (pg. 13)
Kabungo, the book, is divided into eight chapters with an odd assortment of titles–Shark Toofs, Targur, Vibbles, Fundersticks, Himplepotamus, Flimsy Tree, Hopping Bird Day and Trigger Cheats!–that play on Kabungo’s ability to anunciate English words because of a scarcity of teeth. (For a bit of fun, say the chapter titles aloud and see if you can discern what Kabungo is really trying to say.) Each chapter is an anecdote in the story of Kabungo and Beverly’s friendship. From Kabungo’s desire to make jewelry with teeth scavenged at a retirement home, to her struggling with certain letters of the alphabet Beverly is teaching her, her affection for her new kitten Bun, a visit to Miss VeDore’s mansion and pumpkin field, or Kabungo’s knack for creating a family from an odd assortment of people and branches she comes upon, it's all in day's friendship for these two.
Regardless of how much she seems to understand, Kabungo is an astute and absorbing young girl of ten, and a delight to meet in Rolli’s Kabungo (okay, maybe not in person, as she does have fleas and isn’t into personal hygiene or etiquette). Same goes for Beverly whose perceptive observations, some via her Aunt Ev and Uncle George, will serve her well in life and her friendship with Kabungo, as well as others who heed her wisdom.
Apologies are heavy. They’re boulders. It’s hard work pushing a boulder, even if it’s just across the room. A lot of people give up halfway and lose a friend forever. (pg. 85)
As my Uncle George always says, sooner or later, even impossible takes a nap. (pg. 27-8)
Very wise for a ten-year-old.
Rolli has written a witty story for the pre-middle grade reader for whom the early reader may be too easy and MG books too mature. It’s comical in its word play, likeable in its characters–Kabungo, Beverly, Mr. and Mrs. Gobshaw, Miss VeDore, and more–and entertaining in its short stories. Having a best friend who’s a cavegirl makes for a world that is hardly boring. And, contrary to her teacher who thinks Beverly’s definition of boredom– “when everything turns out like you expected” (pg. 56)– to be incorrect, I think Beverly knows exactly what boring is and accurately recognizes that her friendship with Kabungo is anything but predictable.