Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe


Steptoe, John. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. Lothrop, 1987. $13, 29 pages.

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Reader’s Annotation:

Two beautiful daughters, a king in a great city looking for a wife, which sister will be chosen?


Mufaro is blessed with two beautiful daughters.  Manyara is mean and spiteful, telling her sister that she would one day be her servant.  Nyasha, on the other hand, is classically good.  Hard-working and friendly to all, she is good natured and well-liked.  When the king announces that he is looking for a wife, and he will choose from the women who come before him in the great city, Mufaro decides both his daughters will go.  Along the way, Manyara leaves the party to go to the king on her own.  She then meets with a lost boy and an old woman, both of which she disregards on her way to the great city.  When faced with the same two, Nyasha stops to help and shows kindness to both.  Is it any surprise that the king, who magically posed as the boy, old woman, and little green snake, chooses Nyasha?


A beautifully illustrated Cinderella-like African tale.  The two sisters fit the usual stereotypes of the good and bad daughter.  Even their names indicate their positive and negative qualities, with the good daughter’s name meaning “mercy” and the bad daughter’s name meaning “ashamed.”  Besides the illustrations, other elements of the story that demonstrate African culture are  the farming, the little green snake, the landscape, and the people.  The plot is predictable for those familiar with the Cinderella story, but with enough unique tweaks that the story remains its own.  The language is contemporary and easy to access for readers.  No outside or prior knowledge is needed to understand the story.  Its classic themes of good vs. evil and what true beauty is are easily identifiable.  It was an enjoyable cultural read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:  3
  • Quality:  5

Genre and Subgenre:  fantasy, fairy tale

Appeal Factors: picture book, folk tale, fantasy, African culture, Cinderella story

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Swan Luka by Janet Berliner
  • The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
  • Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Caldecott Award
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Boston Globe – Horn Book Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Nyoka the talking snake
  • Similarities to Cinderella
  • Manyara rushing out of the palace because there is a “monster”

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What elements of the story showcase the African culture?
  • What characteristics make Nyasha beautiful?
  • “Nyasha” means “mercy” and “Manyara” means “ashamed.”  How do these names apply to the sisters?

Why I Chose This:

I initially chose this title because of the beautiful illustrations.  I also was interested in reading an African folktale.  I love reading fairy tales, so when I discovered this was similar to Cinderella, I enjoyed it even more.