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Mabela The Clever

Mabela The Clever

Author: Margaret Read MacDonald
Illustrator: Tim Coffey

A cautionary tale from the Limba of Sierra Leone. Mabela’s father teaches her cleverness. So when the cat attempts to initiate the mice into his “secret society” she is alert and saves the day. But not before a lot of fun marching and singing on the part of all. Children love shouting out the “FO FENG!” each time the cat pounces.

Somehow I think this little tale might save lives. I remember being charged by an out of control car one day when I was eight. I escaped the car’s wheels only because I had my ears and eyes open and…as Mabela learned…MOVED FAST!

Type Year Publisher Price Length   ISBN
Paperback  2006  Albert Whitman & Company  $6.96  32 pages  0-8075-4903-7 
Hardcover  2003  Montessori Korea Co., Ltd.    32 pages  89-7098-732-0 
Hardcover  2001  Albert Whitman & Co  $15.95  32 pages  0-8075-4902-9 

Additional Information and Resources


Act this out
By all means act this out after you have read it once! You will need another adult to be the “cat” and catch the mice and stuff them into a “bag” holding space. One teller used a hula hoop to catch the mice!

Mabela and Mice (PDF 688.0KB)  

Reader's Theater
Sandy Zell, of the Bellingham Public Library, has created this delightful Reader’s Theater for Mabela the Clever. Sandy uses this in a format she calls "junior theatre". Children of all ages come for the program.

Reader's Theater Script (PDF 22.4KB)  

Audio Clip
Hear MRM tell Mabela the Clever on CD FAT CAT AND FRIENDS Link to Audio Clip

See iconographic video of Mabela the Clever with MRM narration on Nutmeg Media DVD Mabela the Clever. Link to Video Info


Mabela in Iceland Birte Hansen plays Mabela with her Kindergarten.


"The energetic text is trademark MacDonald. Written purely to be read aloud, and punctuated by a chant that invites children to join in."  ...Kirkus Reviews

"MacDonald’s retelling of this Limba tale is engineered for storytime success"  ...School Library Journal

"MacDonald’s spry retelling of an African folktale…is alight with humor."  ...Publishers Weekly

"Tim Coffley's wraparound jacket with the elongated tawny cat striding aboe a big-eyed, gap-toothed mouse is a fine indication of things to come. well as a picture books for a young audience. "  ...Horn Book, Sept/Oct 2001 Maggie Bush

"This Limba fable wraps several moral lessons into a nail-biting adventure....The fast-paced text is filled with sly jokes the young ones will like...and the angular, parrot-color paintings are large enough to work well for read-alouds."  ...Booklist, July 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg

"MacDonald's spry alight with humor. Coffey's acrylics on watercolor paper textured with gesso create an appealingly tactile quality..."  ...Publisher's Weekly, 2001

"From tone to pace, MacDonald's choices here are right on the money: this is a cautionary tale that will be rip-roaring fun to tell, listen to, and act out."  ...The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May 2001

"MacDonald's retelling of this Limba tale is engineered for storytime success. *Starred Review"  ...School Library Journal , June 2001

"This story lends itself to gentle accompaniment on thumb piano or authentic Mbira, with possibilities for light percussion from drums and rattles. Because the tale is brief, it can easily be done in one class period and repeated as the children wish. "  ...The Orff Echo, Spring 2002, Veronika Schultz


Parent’s Choice Silver Award

Aesop Accolade

Storytelling World Award (Stories for Young Readers)

Charlotte Zolotow Award, Highly Commended

ABA Pick of the Lists

School Library Journal*

Book Links Lasting Connections

Children’s Literature Choice

Texas Library Association 2 x 2

Washington Children’s Choice Nominee

ALSC Notable Children's Films
For Nutmeg Media DVD   

Best Books for Children 7th ed.

Children's Catalog 19th ed.

New York Public Library 101 Best Books

Children's Core Collection, 2014, 21st ed.

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Mabela the Clever: An African Folktale (DVD)