Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Geckos, Tokays, and Other Lizard-like Things

I grew up in Thailand and most of my night music consisted of listening to the animals, bugs, and other critters in the night air. It was a magical time. We slept with the windows open and the fans on full speed to keep the air circulating in the sweltering humidity.

One of my favorite nighttime creatures was the Tokay. The rest of the world knows it as a type of gecko. In Thailand, they call them Tokays because they make the noise, "Urrrrr, To-Kay, To-Kay, To-Kay." Some say more "To-kays" than others. There was one outside my best friend's house that we called "Big Ben." He could do ten "Tokays" in a row when he really got going. It doesn't sound like the word "to", it sounds more like Homer Simpson saying "Doh!" only with a hard T sound. Strange I know, but it's hard to describe the sound in print.

I was thrilled beyond belief to see Margaret Read Macdonald's book Go to Sleep, Gecko! at my local library. I relied on some of Margaret Read Macdonald's retellings of Asian folktales when I did a paper on Thai folktales for J.D. Stahl's Myth and Folktale class at Hollins. I met Dr. Macdonald at an IRA conference several years ago, so I was thrilled to see her Gecko book in my very own hometown library, especially since it was about my favorite nighttime music maker.

Go to Sleep, Gecko! is a Balinese folktale about a Gecko who says, "Gecko, Gecko, Gecko" all through the night. His lizard loudness keeps the elephant awake. The elephant complains to the Gecko to quite making so much noise. Gecko blames it on the Fireflies who are keeping him awake. The Fireflies blame Buffalo, Buffalo blames Rain, Rain blames the mosquitoes, who provide food for the Gecko.

I read this book to my daughter and instead of saying "Gecko, Gecko, Gecko" like the book suggests, I substituted "Tokay, Tokay, Tokay" (gasp--I changed the words). I told her that they don't really say "Gecko" they say "Tokay." When I got the back of the book, Macdonald writes that she hopes it sounds like "To-kay" like the geckos really do in Indonesia. I'm was glad that she mentioned it because they really sound like "To-kay."

This book stirred a story up in me. I wrote a story for Ruth Sanderson's picture book class at Hollins inspired by my experiences with a Tokay growing up in Thailand. I think I will dust off the story, rewrite and revise it, and send it off.

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