Our last week in Africa brings us to the West, an area dear to my heart.
I wrote an entire post on West Africa in the midst of the Ebola crisis which so devastated several regions there. A number of those titles appear here as well but you can access them all through this link to that blog.
A handful of grand, ancient civilizations ruled and spread throughout this region, so despite modern borders, cultural similarities blur those lines. Thus, my first book today isn’t set in any one particular location, but offers a fabulous window into everyday life in much of West Africa. I’ve loved it for decades!
A Country Far Away
Illustrated snapshots of two boys’ lives are used to compare the similarities and differences between them. What does it look like for each of them to swim on a hot day? welcome a new baby? play a game of soccer? Brilliant for ages 3 and up. Read my full review here.
Now lets journey through West Africa, starting at the northernmost point…
This striking book welcomes us into an unusual setting deep in the Sahara, where Lalla longs to wear the malafa — the long, flowing veil worn by all women in her community. But she’s too little.
Colors zing, words sing, and a culture and faith come alive for ages 3 and up. Outstanding. My full review is here.
The Children of Mauritania: Days in the Desert and by the River Shore, written and photographed by Lauren Goodsmith
published in 1993 by Carolrhoda Books
This book is perhaps the least story-like of my world tour books but despite that, and despite its lengthy text, and despite its age — I fell in love with it.
I am quite sure that’s because of how potently some of these pictures reminded me of our old home in Guinea, West Africa — a rare sight in children’s literature.
Lauren Goodsmith follows the lives of two Mauritanian children in quite disparate zones of the country. Fatimatou belongs to the ethnic group called the Moors, and lives a desert life in central Mauritania.
Hamadi belongs to the Halpoular people living along the Senegal River. Their lives look tremendously different from one another — a helpful understanding for us to gain. Goodsmith spools out rich cultural details along with her excellent photographs in this lengthy text which could be read aloud bit by bit to interested children at about age 7. Adults with an interest in this region will find this fascinating as well.
52 Days by Camel: My Sahara Adventure, written by Lawrence Raskin with Deborah Pearson, photographed by Lawrence Raskin, maps illustrated by Farida Zaman
published in 2008 by Annick Press
Okay, this is one of my favorite books from the entire tour 🙂 That’s because I’ve always had a huge yearning to journey into the Sahara. When we lived in Guinea, I thought we might make it to Timbuktu, as several of our friends had done, but we waited just too long and the rebel activity there made it too dangerous. (Heavy sigh.)
But Lawrence Raskin did ALL of that on his epic, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Sahara adventure that turned my heart just a shade green with envy. His photo essay of travels from Morocco through Mauritania and on into Mali, ending up in Timbuktu and Taoudenni, brim with adventure. Intriguing sidebars teach us how to climb up into the saddle of a camel, proper protocol for taking tea in a nomad’s tent, and other good things you’ll need to know for your own desert excursion. Enjoy this one a chapter at a time with ages 8 and up.
I Lost My Tooth In Africa, written by Penda Diakité, illustrated by Baba Wagué Diakité
published in 2006 by Scholastic Press
When Amina flies to Bamako, Mali for an extended visit with her dad’s family, she’s got a loose tooth. Her father tells her that the African Tooth Fairy looks for a lost tooth under a gourd and replaces it with a chicken! Exciting stuff! Will it work, in Amina’s case?
Amina’s eventful stay is colorfully narrated and illustrated in this delightful story, which includes that lost tooth, but so much more. Life in a typical compound in Bamako is wonderfully on display. Share this with ages 2 and up.
A young boy from Freetown sells oranges in the streets in order to earn money for school fees.
It’s a rare, colorful glimpse of Sierra Leone in children’s literature for ages 4 and up. My full review is here.
Liberia was the scene of a prolonged, horrific civil war from 1989 until 2003. The children growing up during that time — oh! what violence they witnessed. Some of them were pressed into service as child soldiers. This devastating account reveals the trauma of that life for ages 12 to adult. My full review is here.
Surprisingly, I could find no picture books set in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) even though there is so much to tell about and see in this country. Rather than leave it off of today’s list entirely, I’m including this link to a review of a middle-grade/young adult novel revealing the dark side of cocoa harvesting. An eye-opening, riveting read.
All Aboard for the Bobo Road, written by Stephen Davies, illustrated by Christopher Corr
first published in Great Britain; American edition published in 2016 by Andersen Press USA
Climb aboard in the most comfortable seat on this cheek-to-jowl taxi — your armchair!
Join a vibrant expedition on a crammed minibus journeying through Burkina Faso. Feel the heat, ride past waterfalls, rock domes, and the fabulous Bobo-Dioulasso Grand Mosque. Better slice up some juicy pineapple and watermelon to sample while you bump along these roads! The Day-glo colors of these illustrations will knock your socks off! A joy for ages 2 and up.
Bintou’s Braids, written by Sylviane A. Diouf, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
published in 2001 by Chronicle Books
Bintou is just a little girl. Her hair is short, gathered together neatly in four little tufts on her head. The problem is, Bintou despises those tufts. Bintou wants braids like her glamorous older sister. But braids are most definitely not for little girls.
On the great and festive day of her baby brother’s baptism, though, Bintu turns into a hero and is granted a reward. Can you guess what she asks for?!
This story is so full of life and West African culture and sights and sounds and tastes! Fabulous combination of text and illustration brings both Bintou’s charming personality and the region to life. It is not specified as taking place in Burkina Faso, but I set it here because artist Shane Evans tips his hat to friends in Burkina in his dedication. Enjoy this gem with ages 2 and up.
Sosu’s Call, written and illustrated by Meshack Asare
published in Ghana in 1997; first American edition 2002 by Kane/Miller
Ghanaian artist Meshack Asare won multiple prizes for this unusual story of a crippled boy seeking to live a dignified, purposeful life in his village in Ghana.
Sosu cannot walk and is therefore left behind in his family’s compound while the others head off to work and school. His family cares for him with tenderness, but others in the village harbor superstitious fears about his condition and the harm he may bring to them. Sosu turns the tables on his future place in the community when he saves them from impending disaster through quick thinking.
The plight of those with disabilities in impoverished African communities is such an important topic, treated here with distinction. An authentic story with sophisticated artwork, this introduces some of the realities of West Africa handsomely for ages 4 and up. This author/artist has a number of other titles that look fabulous but I was not able to access them. If you can, I’d suggest you do!
Welcome Dede: An African Naming Ceremony, written and photographed by Ifeoma Onyefulu
published in 2003 by Frances Lincoln
I tried to explain, once, to someone from the United States, just how important naming ceremonies are to various cultures. I failed. So I was thrilled to see this book devoted to a naming ceremony among the Ga people of Ghana.
No, everyone doesn’t just comb the baby name books and choose whatever name seems best to them. Travel to Ghana in this photo essay, meet a jubilant family on the occasion of the naming of a new little cousin, and learn about the intricacies of baby-naming in one specific culture.
Ifeoma Onyefulu has many other titles depicting real life in West Africa, especially her original home of Nigeria. They are some of the best out there for unsentimental, real displays of everyday life in these settings. Ages 3 and up.
Catch That Goat: A Market Day in Nigeria, written and illustrated by Polly Alakija
published in 2002 by Barefoot Books
The colors and liveliness of a Nigerian marketplace are wall-to-wall in this cheerful story. Little Ayoka is on the move, chasing down her family’s goat through the crowded market.
No one seems to have seen it, but clever readers will catch glimpses of that naughty goat on every page. Great fun for ages 2 and up.
Chike and the River, written by Chinua Achebe, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
published originally in 1966; this edition 2011 by Anchor Books/Random House
This short chapter book by Nigeria’s most famous, beloved author — not to mention one of the world’s most beloved authors — just has to be mentioned here. I didn’t even realize Achebe had written fiction accessible to young children, so I was really pleased to run across this.
It’s the story of a boy named Chike, age 11, who has grown up in Umuofia, the same village that’s the setting for Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart. At the outset of the story, Chike is sent away from this bush village to live with his uncle in the bigger city of Onitsha where there are more opportunities for young boys. His mom’s parting words are a warning: Go well, my son. Listen to whatever your uncle says and obey him. Onitsha is a big city, full of dangerous people and kidnappers. Therefore do not wander about the city. In particular do not go near the River Niger; many people get drowned there every year…”
The trouble is, there is such an allure to that grand river, and to the rumored city that sits on the far bank. Chike is insatiably curious to see it for himself. Follow his adventures and mishaps, his gullibility and growth, in this wonderful, hair-raising story. Ages 8 and up.
All of the Anna Hibiscus stories are cream-of-the-crop multicultural fare set in Nigeria. You can read my review of several of them here and here. Besides the short chapter books, there are several picture books starring Anna for younger siblings, including:
Splash, Anna Hibiscus! written by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia
first American edition published in 2013 by Kane Miller
Anna and her whole, loving, commotion-filled family are heading to the beach on this sizzling day. Anna longs to swim, but everyone is busy with other things.
The grown ups snooze with the newspaper or braid one another’s hair. The cousins kick a football around and build sandcastles. Who will splash in the waves with Anna?!
Infectiously happy, as always, and a tremendous glimpse of contemporary Nigerian life from this delightful author and artist. Ages 2 and up.
And here’s where my book give-away comes in!
The great people at Kane Miller who import the Anna Hibiscus titles for American readers have provided me with one of the newest titles to arrive on our side of the pond:
Go Well, Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobias
first published in the UK 2014; first American edition 2017 by Kane Miller
I loved this episode in Anna’s life in which she travels with her grandparents from her home in the huge city of Lagos to the village her grandparents once called home.
I love it because it’s so full of the warmth and life that characterize the whole series. But beyond that, I love its revelation of the vastly different lifestyles in contemporary Africa. As an urban child, growing up in a multiracial African household, Anna is taken aback when she does not easily fit into traditional, village life. A fantastic choice for a read-aloud or an early independent reader.
Enter the drawing by telling us in the comments which of today’s children/locations you’d most like to visit. Do that before next week, and I’ll draw the name of one winner. Only American postal addresses — sorry; my budget doesn’t allow worldwide shipping! (I wish it did!)
You can’t buy these books on Amazon. If you don’t win, here’s a link to Usborne, where you can purchase one or more Anna Hibiscus titles.
Our next stop takes us across the Atlantic to Central and South America. Why not invite others along for the journey!
Here are links to our previous destinations: