Tag Archive: Africa


africa is my home

Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger, illustrated by Robert Byrd

Based on a real person from history, this fictionalized account is told through the eyes of Margru, one of the few children aboard the Amistad.  Due to a famine in Mendeland, West Africa, Margru’s father was forced to pawn her out to feed the rest of the family.  From there, Margru is taken captive and put upon a slave ship with many other people heading for a plantation in the Caribbean.  But on the journey, the captive men rebelled against their captors and took over the ship, attempting to sail it back to Africa.  Deceived by the ship’s navigator, they landed in Long Island, NY and the adults were put on trial.  The children were kept as witnesses to the crimes aboard the ship.  Margru longed for her African homeland but also ended up learning not only to read but graduating from college as a teacher.  This is Margru’s story of fear, bravery, slavery, captivity and freedom.

Edinger beautifully captures this famous moment in history from Margru’s point of view.  The use of the first person perspective makes the book read as easily as fiction, but throughout the reader can also feel the weight of the historical research behind the story.   The use of historical information throughout the book is very helpful and combined with that first person view it is a book that is compelling reading with a heroine who is equally fascinating.

Byrd’s art is stunning.  He uses moves gracefully between historically-accurate images that capture important historical moments to more stylized pictures that flow with lines and dream of Africa.  He starkly contrasts the worlds of the greens of Africa and the cold, formality of the United States. 

Beautifully written and illustrated, this book gives a first-person account of the Amistad, looking beyond the revolt into the trial and what happened to one little girl caught in history.  Appropriate for ages 8-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

dont spill the milk

Don’t Spill the Milk by Stephen Davies, illustrated by Christopher Corr

Penda lives in a tiny village in Niger with her family.  Her father has headed up into the grasslands with the sheep.  Penda volunteers to take her father a bowl of milk and has to try not to spill any along the way.  She puts the milk on her head and starts to walk.  She has to walk along the sand dunes and between the dancers at the rainy-season mask dance.  Then she takes a boat across the Niger River with the milk still on her head.  After that she has to climb one last mountain and there is her father.  She’s almost there when…  You will have to read whether Penda delivers the milk successfully or not.  

Davies has traveled extensively in Africa and carefully chose the setting of the Niger River thanks to its varied landscape and intriguing animals.  All of the landforms in the book exist in this area as do the animals too, including the unusual and endangered pale giraffes.  Davies writes with a lovely rhythm that moves the book along quickly.  Penda speaks to herself as she walks, reminding herself to pay attention in couplets of natural verse.

Corr’s art is eye-poppingly bright with yellow skies, orange hills, and blue water.  Against those bright colors, the characters wear even more color filled with designs.  The book evokes the vibrancy of Africa and the bustle of its villages. 

Expect small children to want to try to carry bowls of liquids on their own heads after this beautiful introduction to Africa.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

deep in the sahara

Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

Released October 8, 2013.

Lalla wants to wear a malafa just like the other women in her family do.  Lalla tells her mother she wants to be beautiful just like her, but her mother says that a malafa is about more than beauty.  Lalla tells her sister that she wants to be mysterious just like her, but her sister says that a malafa is about more than mystery.  Seeing all of the women in their malafa, Lalla tells her cousin that she wants to be like all of them, but she replies that a malafa is more than that.  Her grandmother too says that a malafa is about more than tradition.  Finally, Lalla goes back to her mother and explains that she wants to be able to pray like her mother does.  Her mother agrees, saying “A malafa is for faith."  And the two face east and pray together in their malafa.

Set in Mauritania, this book celebrates the Muslim faith in a very beautiful way.  Written in the second person, readers are invited to see themselves as Lalla and learn about her faith and her world.  Cunnane writes beautiful descriptions of both the malafa themselves and also the community where Lalla lives.  There are donkeys, camels, and other exotic things, but Cunnane goes deeper than that and paints a world with pink houses shaped like cakes and silver heels that click on tiles.

Hadadi’s art is jewel toned and filled with details.  She has created a warm and loving community for Lalla to explore with the reader.  The beauty of the malafa are shown, the colors of the rooms, and the tangible love of an extended family.

An accessible and beautiful look at a Muslim community that dazzles.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.

busy busy little chick

Busy-Busy Little Chick by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Mama Nsoso and her chicks needed a new home.  They spent each night shivering and cold in their dark, damp nest.  So Mama Nsoso said that tomorrow they would start work on their new home.  But the first day, Mama Nsoso found worms to eat and decided to eat rather than build a house.  The family shivered through another night.  The next day there were crickets to eat and no work was done.  Except by Little Chick who set out to gather grasses and mud to create their new home.  His hard work resulted in a fine new home for them, and then he was off finding himself some delicious bugs to eat. 

Harrington writes like a storyteller.  Her words flow beautifully when shared aloud.  She has reworked a classic fable from the Nkundo people of Central Africa and throughout has woven in Lunkundo words from their language.  She has also added lots of sounds to the book, so there are wonderful patterns that emerge as the hen and her chicks move through their day.  She clearly enjoys wordplay and creating rhymes and rhythms, all of which make for a great book to share aloud.

Pinkney’s art is large and bold, filled with warm yellows and oranges.  He has created images of the hen and her little family isolated and floating in cold blues.  They are brilliant orange, evoking the warmth of family and shelter.  His art is simple but filled with moving lines and playfulness with white space. 

A great pick for spring story times, don’t be chicken to share this one.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

herd boy

The Herd Boy by Niki Daly

Malusi looks after his grandfather’s sheep during the day, taking them grazing and also protecting them from predators.  Malusi has to be able to work in the heat of the sun, keep the sheep away from the ravine, and keep close watch for snakes and baboons.  His friend Lungisa is also a shepherd but he has his own dog, something Malusi wishes for.  He also dreams of becoming something more than a herd boy, maybe even president! 

Daly weaves in African details to create a setting and society in this picture book.  The details are small but vibrant such as the food, the animals out in the wild, the landscape, and language.  She uses a few words and phrases of throughout the book, just enough to add some African spices to the tale.  Using poetic language, she draws the strong character and large dreams of Malusi clearly.  He is a young hero with large responsibilities and a willingness to lead.

Daly’s art embraces the landscape of Africa with ravines and hills framing the page, eagles soaring in the sky, and distinctive plants in the foreground.  There are full color images but also sepia toned ones that show small touches of the story as well.  The large format of the full-color images make this book good for sharing with a group.

Thanks to the beauty and depth of Daly’s writing, this picture book trends a little older than many.  It will also lead to interesting discussions with slightly older children.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

laugh with the moon

Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg

After her mother dies, Clare’s father takes her to Malawi where he had worked as a young doctor.  Clare is determined to never speak to her father again.  She has lost not just her mother, but her best friend and the potential for her first boyfriend at school.  Now she is stuck in Africa where there is little hot water, mosquito netting over the bed, and monkeys screaming outside.  As Clare starts to relax into life in Africa, she begins to make incredible friends at her new school.  Memory, a girl from the local village, quickly becomes her closest friend.  Memory too has lost her mother, though the girls don’t speak of their losses together.  Memory makes sure that Clare has things that she can eat, explains the school day to her, and even warns her of the bully in class.  As Clare faces her new school with its new language, visiting chickens, and scurrying insects, her relationship with her father starts to get better.  Clare still has big issues to face, including teaching English, putting together a play, and another large loss in her life.

Burg truly brings Malawi to life with its strong culture, the stark differences between America and Africa, and the warmth of the people.  Her writing is an invitation to explore Africa.  She celebrates both the differences in cultures and the universal aspects of life, filling the book with details that paint a full picture. 

Clare is a complex character, grieving from the loss of her mother, at first she seems remote and difficult to relate to.  Happily, she soon grows past that, becoming a vivacious personality with opinions and skills.  Her art forms a connection between her and other people who may not speak the same language, but it is her open personality that does the rest. 

The book would make a good choice for reading aloud in a classroom setting since it explores so many themes and topics.  There is plenty to discuss from death and grieving to dealing with living in another part of the world.  The glorious cover will get this moving from the shelf into young hands directly too.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Delacorte Press.

great cake mystery

The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrations by Iain McIntosh

The author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series has written his first children’s book.  This one too stars Precious Ramotswe and is the story of her very first mystery as a child in Botswana.  When her father tells her a favorite story about when a lion got into their village, he notices that she has several characteristics of a detective: she asks a lot of questions and she can tell when people are telling the truth.  So when food starts disappearing at Precious’ school, she gets involved in solving the mystery.  She is shocked when one of her friends accuses another boy of being the thief because he has sticky fingers, literally.  It makes her even more determined to figure out exactly who is stealing the food. 

Told in very simple prose, sometimes a bit too simple, this story has a certain charm about it.  The book begins in a rather stilted way thanks to the wording, but quickly moves on to a more natural cadence that works much better.  I am pleased to see a mystery set in Africa with a young female protagonist who manages to solve the mystery without any adult help.  Smith captures the differences between societies as well as the special setting of Botswana.

McIntosh’s illustrations are block prints done in a limited color palette of red, black and gray.  They have a quality about them that speaks to the setting clearly.  They have a delicate and yet unfinished quality that is very appealing.

This book for young readers has plenty of mystery, detective work and an appealing heroine.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

mother of monsters

The Mother of Monsters: A Story from South Africa by Fran Parnell, illustrated by Sophie Fatus

This second in a series of monster tales features a story from South Africa retold for young readers.  It is the story of Ntombi, the mischievous and brave daughter of the chief, who is determined to see the dangerous Ilulange River with her own eyes.  Her father allows her the trip to the river as long as she takes the other girls along with her.  When they finally reached the legendary river, the girls are disappointed.  Instead of danger, they have found a river that looks perfect for swimming.  Leaving their clothes on the bank, the girls splash in the water.  Then they discover that their clothes are missing.  It could have been the Mother of Monsters who took them!  One-by-one the girls pled with the monster to return their things, and the monster does.  But Ntombi is not willing to beg for her clothing, so the monster swallows her whole.  But that is not the end of the story!  You must read this book to find out how Ntombi survives the Mother of Monsters.

Parnell has broken the story into chapters, making it all the more pleasant for beginning readers who can take the story a bite at a time.  The chapters are short and filled with action.  The star of the book, Ntombi, is both brave and foolish, often at the same time.  Throughout the story, she learns about humility but also about love.  The book is clearly from another culture, which makes it all the more interesting to read.

Filled with bright colors, the paintings by Fatus have an intriguing folk quality to them.  The scenes of the girls without clothing are handled with skillfully placed leaves, hands and flowers.  The illustrations have humor to them, which makes the book very playful, something that is welcome with a monster devouring people.

A welcome addition to folktales, this is a story I had never heard before and really enjoyed.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Barefoot Books.

my heart will not sit down

My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Ann Tanksley

Inspired by the true story of a village in Cameroon donating $3.77 in 1931 to the city of New York to help feed the hungry during the Great Depression.  In this picture book version of the story, the main character is Kedi, a girl who learns from her American teacher that people in his hometown of New York City were going hungry due to the Depression.  Kedi could not stop thinking of the hungry children in America, even though they lived so far away.  Her heart would not sit down until she did something.  So she talked with the grownups in her village and all of them told her at first that nothing could be done, they had no money to spare.  But then, one by one, all of the adults gave coins to help the hungry children. 

The author’s note at the end of the book, tells more about the Depression and about the donation too.  It explains that even in the Depression, this small amount of money would not have had a large impact.  But for the villagers who sent the funds, it would have been a fortune.  This book is a lesson in following your heart, finding compassion for others, and making an important difference in the world, even if it is just $3.77. Children will easily understand both the sacrifice made by the villagers and the meager amount that was raised.  It makes the story all the more haunting.

Tanksley’s illustrations have a roughness and organic quality that really grounds this story in reality.  Done in watercolor, pen and ink, and oils, they are filled with rich color and show the poverty and the beauty of Cameroon.

Throughout the book, the phrase “my heart would not sit down” is used.  It evokes a yearning, a calling, an inner distress that could only be quieted by doing something to help.  It’s that feeling that we need to cherish in both ourselves and our children.  It would also make a very good discussion book about what makes children’s hearts “not sit down.”

Based on a true story, this book is a call to follow our unquiet hearts.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.

under the baobab tree

Under the Baobab Tree by Julie Stiegemeyer, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Brother and sister, Moyo and Japera, travel to a neighboring village to gather under the baobab tree, the tree of life.  Different people gather under the baobab at different times.  Sometimes the market wagon is there selling pots, pans and cloths.  Other times, the elders are gathered there talking.  Sometimes it’s a storyteller sharing stories.  As the children walk to the tree, they see all sorts of wildlife like weaver birds, gazelle, and a termite mound.  The siblings reach the baobab tree and more and more people join them, along with the minister and his Bible for church under the tree.

The setting of this book is clear from the very moment you open it.  For some people, from reading the title.  The setting stays true throughout the story, as details about Africa are woven into the story.  The children pass all sorts of creatures as they travel.  The different people under the baobab tree are shared in detail as well.  Clues about what will happen under the tree today are also shared in the text, so religion is tied nicely throughout as well.

Lewis’ art really make this book appealing.  He uses soft lines and almost gauzy colors to tell the story.  The watercolors seem to shimmer in the heat of Africa.  At times there is clarity in the images and great detail, other times the reader is moved further back and the scene itself is captured in its vastness and heat.

A picture book that embraces religion with a gentle touch, this book is a heartfelt welcome to Africa.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

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