Tag: Africa

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

city-of-saints-and-thieves-by-natalie-c-anderson

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (9780399547584)

Tina has returned to the place where her mother was murdered to destroy the man she knows killed her. An experienced thief, she must break into one of the most highly guarded and defended homes in Sangui City, Kenya. But things do not go as planned and Tina is discovered by the son of the family, someone she had once been close childhood friends with. The two of them begin to work together to solve the mystery of her mother’s murder, Tina to prove the father guilty and his son to prove him innocent. Their search for the truth will take them back to Congo, the place that Tina and her mother fled as refugees. Soon Tina is learning more about her mother than she ever knew, pieces to the puzzle of her life and death. Danger is ever-present in their journey and in solving this mystery even more secrets need to be defended and exposed.

From the very first page, Anderson draws readers into this African murder mystery. Filled with tension and threat, this novel also shows the life of a refugee in Africa, the beauty of small village life in the dangerous Congo, the risks of traveling into a country at war, and the wealth that can be made by spilling blood. The setting is amazing, moving from Sangui City and its urban gangs to Congo village life, each is drawn with precision and both are filled with beauty and menace.

Tina is a fully drawn character in search of the truth. She knows who killed her mother and she is driven primarily by revenge. The book’s pacing is exactly right, allowing readers to experience the various settings and Tina’s changing situations fully as each clue and piece of information is revealed leading them onward. Tina is a great mix of intelligence, cunning and force. She is a criminal with a cause, a character that is compellingly written and understandable.

A thriller of a teen novel, this book has a unique setting and one dynamic female protagonist bent on revenge. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Water Princess by Susan Verde

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The Water Princess by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Gie Gie imagines herself to be a princess with a kingdom as big as the African sky. She can tell the wind when to blow, the grass when to sway. But she cannot move the water closer to their home. Every day, Gie Gie and her mother walk to get water, a walk that takes almost the entire day. As they walk, they sing and dance together, stop under the shade of a large tree for a snack. When they reach the water, others are there and Gie Gie plays with her friends as her mother waits in line. Soon it is their turn and they start their long walk back balancing the water in pots on their heads. Back home, Gie Gie finally gets a drink of the precious water and falls asleep, knowing she must make the same walk the next day.

This picture book is based on the childhood of supermodel Georgie Badiel, who has a foundation working to bring clean water to Burkina Faso and other African countries. Verde writes with a poetic touch throughout, the prose light as a breeze carrying the story forward. There is no lecture here about clean water, rather it is a look at the hard work and endurance it takes to bring clean water to African villages.

The illustrations by Reynolds are done in his signature style with a flowing beauty that works particularly well here. He uses deep colors that show the dry landscape in yellows and oranges that are occasionally punctuated with greens and blues, the colors of water and hope.

A light feeling picture book that has a deep story to tell, this is a compelling read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith (InfoSoup)

This riff on the Little Red Riding Hood story is filled with humor and twists that will delight. Little Red’s auntie has woken up with spots and so Little Red must cross the Savannah to bring her some medicine and some doughnuts. Little Red makes it past all sorts of animals until she stops in the shad of a tree. That’s when the Very Hungry Lion appears. When he asks Little Red where she is off to, the Lion hatches a plan that involves pretending to be her auntie and then eating both Little Red and her aunt. Little Red though is not fooled at all. So when she sees the Lion in her auntie’s clothes and in her bed, Little Red launches into action. Soon the Lion has a new hairstyle, has brushed his teeth and changed into a ruffled dress. The Lion though has had enough and roars. Little Red does not back down and soon a friendship is starting, with some strict rules in place.

Little Red is a great heroine. She is smart and fearless, facing down a hungry lion with stern warnings. It is also the humor of this book that works so well. The braiding of the Lion’s hair is a wonderful moment as is his changing clothes once again at Little Red’s insistence. It is in those moments that story becomes something new and fresh and where the audience will understand that this is a very different Little Red Riding Hood than in the original tale.

Smith’s art is zany and bright. The look on the Lion’s face is lovely, particularly when Little Red is forcing him to do things. Little Red pops on the page with her red dress and arching braids. She is particularly small next to the huge lion and still manages to hold her own on each page. Filled with humor and color, these are images that will work with groups of children very well.

One to roar about, add this to your twists on well-known tales or in any story time about lions. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke and Lauren Tobia

I’ve been a big fan of Anna Hibiscus since the first titles were released. Those books were chapter books and it’s great to see the transition to picture books about Anna continue. In this book, Anna wakes up one morning to discover that her mother has given birth to two baby brothers. Her cousins inform her that baby boys are trouble and Anna Hibiscus quickly sees that that is true. When she wants to snuggle with her mother, she is sleeping. Her grandmother too is sleeping after being up all night helping with the birth. Her uncle is too busy making food for her mother to get Anna her regular breakfast. Her aunts are busy rocking the babies. Finally, it is too much for Anna Hibiscus to take and she starts to yell and cry. After all that fuss though, Anna Hibiscus quickly realizes that while things may take longer now, her family is still right there beside her.

The story deals directly with the mixed emotions that come from having new siblings, from the surprise of their arrival to the lack of attention for the older sibling. These classic emotions are shown clearly here, despite Anna Hibiscus having such a large family around her. Readers will notice that she has lots of support, though she is not noticing it at all. The emotions build quickly and steadily to a breaking point and the resolution of Anna Hibiscus’ outburst is filled with understanding and kindness.

The art work is lovely, clear and clean. The beauty of African life is shown on the page as is the loveliness of the mixed races of Anna Hibiscus’ family.  As always, the warmth of the lifestyle that Anna Hibiscus grows up in is radiantly shown in the images.

Another winning Anna Hibiscus book, perfect for new older siblings who may have double or single troubles of their own. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Kane Miller.

Review: One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

one plastic bag

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Used to just dropping their baskets when they wore out, people in Njau, Gambia did the same thing with their plastic bags, but the plastic bags decayed like the baskets would. They also didn’t last nearly as long. Torn bags can’t be mended or used at all, so one by one, then ten by ten, and thousands by thousands they were thrown to the side of the road. They accumulated in heaps, poisoning the goats that tried to eat the garbage around them. Water pooled in them and brought more mosquitoes and diseases. Burying and burning them weren’t the solution either. Then Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the plastic bags and get jobs for her community by transforming them into something new.

This book speaks to the power that one person can have to change things, both for themselves and their entire community. The prose here is straight-forward but also has moments of poetry thrown in, showing the devastation the plastic bags were creating in the Gambia. The book also shows the way that an idea is born, comes to fruition, passes through being scorned and is finally embraced.

The illustrations by Zunon are remarkable. Using collage, they bring together the textures of the weaving and baskets as well as the plastic bags from photographs. The textiles of the Gambia are also incorporated and vibrate on the page. They are combined with painting and other more playful textures to create the natural setting and the people.

Strong writing and superb illustrations combine to tell the true story of how one woman transformed pollution. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson

emmanuels dream

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

Emmanuel was born in Ghana, West Africa, with a deformed leg.  His father left the family but his mother continued to encourage Emmanuel to make something of himself.  Emmanuel taught himself to crawl and hop, so he was able to hop the two miles to school and then hop all the way back home at the end of the day.  At school kids would not play with him at first, so he saved up his money to buy a new soccer ball that he shared with the others as long as they let him play too.  Soon he was playing soccer using crutches to get around.  It was at school that Emmanuel also taught himself to ride a bike.  Then his mother fell ill and Emmanuel had to leave school to support his family.  He headed for the big city of Accra where he looked for a job.  It took time, but he started working as a shoe shiner and for a restaurant that also gave him a place to stay.   He sent money home and two years later returned home because his mother’s health was failing.  After her death, he decided to follow his dream to bike around Ghana.  He worked to get help with his dream, becoming a spokesperson in his country for people with disabilities.  He completed his journey of 400 miles in just ten days, an amazing journey that proved that one person’s dreams could deeply change a culture.

Thompson’s writing is in stanzas and moves between feeling like poetry and prose.   This fluidity makes the book very readable, it also lets her make her points with a grace and brevity that is purely poetic.  Thompson’s text shines with her appreciation for Emmanuel and his achievements in life.  Where his culture told him that he was cursed and unworthy, he has become a hero.  It is also a sort of tangible heroism that children will completely understand.  They will know what his achievement is and how difficult it would be to accomplish.

Qualls’ illustrations are incredible.  Filled with beautiful people, strong color, patterns and light, the illustrations let the backgrounds fade to white and black and the people come forward and shine.  Bright colors ripple across skin, fill cheeks, and color the air around people.  There is a sense of life within these illustrations, one that can’t be contained.

A truly inspiring story that shows the creation of a national hero from his infancy through his achievements.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.

Review: Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

cartwheeling in thunderstorms

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Having loved Rundell’s Rooftoppers, I looked forward to reading this book.  I wasn’t expecting such a different read from her first novel.  Will has grown up on her father’s farm in Zimbabwe.  She plays with the boys on the farm, spending her days on horseback, hanging out with her best friend, and exploring the land.  Her days are pure bliss, filled with golden sunshine, fresh air, and freedom.  But that is not to last.  When her father dies and their farm is sold, Will is reluctantly sent to England to boarding school by her grandfather in a plot devised by her new grandmother.  But Will does not fit in with the girls in the school who torment Will because she is different, refuses to comb her hair, and can’t do the schoolwork.  There is only one choice for Will and that is to run away and try to survive on her own in the wilds of London. 

This book moved me over and over again.  First the beauty and the freedom of Will’s life in Zimbabwe is so beautiful and written with a tension.  It’s almost as if it is a bubble that must inevitably break, and it does.  The father’s death scene is one of the most poignant deaths I have experienced in books for children.  Will’s emotions are so strong on the page, that you literally ache for her and for the further changes to come that readers will see much earlier than Will does.  Going from such beauty to such loss is wrenching and masterful.

Rundell grew up in Zimbabwe and London, so Will’s time in England is equally well drawn.  From the bullying students to the kind teacher to the people she meets on the street, Will encounters all sorts of people.  As her situation grows more dire and one thinks she can’t go on, Will draws from the years of golden sun and freedom and continues on.  Through it all, that golden light continues to shine, hope glows even in the darkest of times. 

Will is a strong, wild heroine, a girl that you want to ride bareback with across Africa and one that all readers will fall madly head over heels for.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.