Posts Tagged ‘homeschooling’

The African Orchestra, written by Wendy Hartmann, illustrated by Joan Rankin
published in 2017 by Crocodile Books, Interlink Publishing Group

That buzzing cicada? That crackle-snap of a seed pod breaking? The thunder of hooves as a herd of zebras races across the plains? The burbling of a brook freshened by a mighty rainfall?

All those sounds woven into the wild, vast, haunting, lovely, lush, bleak African landscapes, found their way into African musical instruments as humans invented ways to replicate nature’s songs.

Thought-provoking ideas, lyrical text, and marvelously inventive, artistic images capture the natural world of Africa and the emotion of its music. A brilliant concept and collaboration to muse over with children ages 3 and up.

You can pursue the idea of nature-inspired music with these brilliant guides to classical music:

Listen to the Birds, music selection and explanatory notes by Ana Gerhard, illustrations by Cecilia Verela, translated from Spanish by Heléne Roulston and Sabrina Diotalevi
first published in Spain in 2010; English edition 2013 by The Secret Mountain

Amazing Water, music selection and explanatory notes by Ana Gerhard, illustrations by Margarita Sada, translated from Spanish by David Lytle
first published in Spain; English edition 2016 by The Secret Mountain

Gerhard chooses 20 classical selections for each book, with themes and sounds that convey birdsong and water respectively.

For example, Vivaldi’s “The Goldfinch and Saint-Saën’s “Aviary” from The Carnival of the Animals are included in Listen to the Birds. Schubert’s Trout quintet and “Alla Hornpipe” from Handel’s Water Music are included in Amazing Water.

Background for each piece is provided which might be best read by a parent to dole out judiciously, as well as brilliant listening notes that accompany the included CD, drawing children’s attention to specific aspects of the music and explaining how these reflect the subject. There are also brief bios of each composer and a glossary of musical terms, and all of this is presented on pages dominated by joyful illustrations.

This is a great resource for homeschooling families, for example, who could putter through one volume over a 20 week period with children as young as 3 or 4.

There is one other title in this series, Simply Fantastic, which explores fantasy-oriented musical selections.



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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…


Deep in the Sahara

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.

Sierra Leone

Be Patient Abdul

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.


Son of a Gun

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.

Cote d’Ivoire

The Bitter Side of Sweet

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.

Burkina Faso

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.

Anna Hibiscus

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
95 pages

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:

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese


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Some of you have already begun the new school year; some are just gearing up; There are many rich ways for each of us to learn and grow, an untold variety of approaches to education spanning the centuries and regions of our world. I hope something within this smattering of titles is just the ticket for you.

school's first day of school cover imageSchool’s First Day of School, by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson
published in 2016, a Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

Looking at the world from upside down and inside out angles is a great way to see old things anew, tickle funny bones, spark ideas. This brilliant picture book team has done just that, twisting the kaleidoscope a turn or two, making a brand-new school building into the new kid on the block.

school's first day of school interior rex and robinson

The charming, new Frederick Douglass Elementary school is feeling a bit nervous about its upcoming First Day of School. Understandable, right? Soon scads of unknown children will throng its hallways, play on its playground, sit in classrooms, eat lunches. Some may not like it. Some may make rude comments about it. Blaring fire drills might go off!

school's first day of school interior 2 rex and robinson

With the encouragement of a friendly janitor, School copes with all this newness, one step at a time, and emerges from the first day on an overall upbeat note. Besides the lovely space within this text to step back and take a look at first-day jitters from a secure vantage point, Christian Robinson’s irrepressibly cheery illustrations exude comfort and friendliness with a genius vibe that somehow combines old-fashioned simplicity with contemporary diversity. It’s basically the perfect First Day of School book for ages 4-6.

the class cover imageThe Class, Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee
published in 2016 by Beach Lane Books

Ages ago, Karla Kuskin and Marc Simont teamed up to produce one of our favorite books, a survey of all the members of the Philharmonic Orchestra preparing for an evening performance.

This book happily reminds me of their approach. It’s a collection of classmates this time, twenty children from various households all around town, getting ready to become one wonderful class. Some are eager-beavers. Some are over-sleepers. Three eat pancakes for breakfast while two nibble toast. Eight get kisses at the bus stop. Two can’t seem to find their socks.

the class interior ashburn and gee

Charming, lighthearted illustrations spotlight this diverse group of kindergarteners. It’s a tremendously inviting book, great approach to the marvelous differences within commonalities that make up a group. Ages 3-7.

steamboat school cover imageSteamboat School, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

The encouraging depictions of diversity in the previous two titles are, of course, not a given in our society.

Based on a true story, this book bears witness to the immense struggle to be schooled experienced by African Americans. It takes place in St. Louis in 1847, just as a shameful new Missouri law forbade education to “negroes or mulattoes.”

steamboat school interior hopkinson and husband

Through the testimony of one fictional boy, Hopkinson relays the courageous, ingenious actions of Reverend John Berry Meachum whose determination resulted in a highly-unusual method of schooling these children, taking advantage of a most unexpected loophole in the law.

Striking, atmospheric illustrations ratchet up the story’s tension and emotion while bringing the period to life. Includes a lengthy Author’s Note and recommendations for exploring this history further. Ages 5 and up.

frank and lucky get schooled cover imageFrank and Lucky Get Schooled, written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
published in 2016 by Greenwillow Books

I’m a firm believer in all the vivid learning that takes place outside of a formal classroom setting. It’s unusual to find a book that captures so well the spirit of a whole world out there to investigate, the one hundred ideas sparkling in a pond, the windows-upon-windows of ideas opening onto more ideas all lying in wait in the most surprising places.

In which Frank and Lucky learn about beggar's lice, burdock, and dog ticks!

In which Frank and Lucky learn about beggar’s lice, burdock, and dog ticks!

Lynne Rae Perkins dives into that sense in this remarkable look at a boy named Frank, his dog, Lucky, and the immense amount of learning and idea-sparking these two encounter in their life together. From Entomology to Art, Math to Foreign Language — careen along with these two and be amazed at how they both accumulate a vast array of knowledge. Unschoolers — this is your book. Innovative reading, for ages 6 and up.

this is my home this is my school cover imageJust a reminder here, if you are looking for the Gold Standard in picture books about the homeschooling experience, look no further than Jonathan Bean’s masterpiece, This is My Home, This is My School. I am a huge fan of Jonathan’s work, and love the fact that he has allowed millions of homeschoolers to see themselves in a book about school for the first time. Kudos to him and his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


school days around the world cover imageSchool Days Around the World, by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Alice Feagan
published in 2015 by Kids Can Press

I love introducing children to the intriguing cultures around our globe, the clever, beautiful, enticing ways people construct their lives. School is one of the things that looks different around the world, and this cheery catalog is a great way to explore that.

Visit 13 children from a wide variety of countries and types of schools. From the South Pacific to Alaska. Homeschools, public schools, international schools. School in an orphanage. School in an old castle. Immense schools and tiny schools. Fascinating at every turn!

school days around the world interior ruurs and feagan

Colorful, happy cut-paper illustrations will make you want to travel and visit each one of these extraordinary places. Broaden your world and find out ways you can help children in places where school is less available. This one’s a delight for ages 4 and up.

For a more in-depth treatment of different kinds of schools around the world for older children, check my reviews of:
A School Like Mine
Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World

i'm new here cover image copyAnd one more reminder — some children from other cultures may well be joining your children in their classes. Anne Sibley O’Brien’s book I’m New Here, offers a superb, lovely introduction to what it’s like to be oh-so-new in America. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.

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