Musa and Dada take the daladala to the shore, but the bus stops for a lot of others along the way. How many people can they fit inside? First there is one old man and his bicycle. Next a herder with two little goats. Then vendors with their three baskets of fruit. And on it goes counting upwards until it gets to ten swimmers with snorkels and fins. Somehow everyone fits into the daladala and everyone gets to the beach successfully. Though it takes a lot of wiggling and giggling along the trip.
This picture book offers a glimpse of life in East Africa, filled with kindness and care for one another as people squeeze together to make sure there is room for everyone. The counting structure of the book works well, but it is the boy’s response to each person and his doubt that they will fit that adds to the humor of the book. The rhyming is well done, adding to the pace of the book and the building pressure inside the daladala.
The illustrations are full of bright, hot colors that make heat of the day apparent to the reader. There is a playfulness to the illustrations with lots of stacking, moving, shifting and wiggling to make room as each new stop is made.
Funny and full of community kindness, this is a great trip to the beach. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
This picture book forms a way for younger children to benefit from the information shared in The 1619 Project. In this story, a Black girl is given an assignment in class to trace her family history. She can only trace three generations back and tells her grandmother that she is ashamed. So her grandmother shares the history of her family before slavery when they lived in West Central Africa. Her family spoke Kimbundu and were good with their hands and used them for growing things, inventing, mixing herbs, building tools, and caring for babies. They danced to offer worship, to share joy, and to mourn. Then they were stolen, taken from their families and lands, stamped with new names. They fought back, some refused to eat and chose to die on the journey, others survived. They had to learn a new language, form a new people, and survive the brutality of slavery. From that history have come generations of Black Americans who have changed our nation for the better. There is nothing to be ashamed of, take pride in this history of resilience and hope.
The focus of this picture book is to share the history of Black Americans in this country, showing how a deep history in the cultures of Africa are their origins. The book doesn’t flinch from the darkness of the Middle Passage or the horrors of slavery. These are also sources of pride for children reading the book, who may have been made to feel ashamed of where they came from. Written with a poetic touch, the entire book is filled with hope even in its darkest points. Throughout there is a sense of resilience and power, a knowledge that ancestors survived.
The illustrations carry readers through history. They show the rich cultures in Africa and the beauty of what was lost. They show slavery but not without hope shining in the sky above. They share connections, new families forming, and children who are a promise for the future. They show resistance, an insistence on change, a focus on the future continuing to carry us forward.
Powerful and important, this book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Based on a true story, this picture book shows the immense connection and love that can come from saving elephants. Lawrence Anthony and Francoise Malby owned an animal sanctuary, Thula Thula, in Africa. In 1999, they rescued a herd of wild elephants who were causing damage where they had been living. But it was not as simple as creating a space for the elephants and moving them in. The elephants were not sure they wanted to stay, and certainly didn’t want to be penned in. They made that clear after destroying their first enclosure and escaping. Lawrence and Francoise had to act quickly to avoid the elephants being slaughtered by hunters, so they called in the help of a helicopter, who found them and managed to move them back to Thula Thula. Lawrence decided to camp with the elephants, forming a bond with their matriarch, Nana. Once that happened, they were able to leave their enclosure and head into the full Thula Thula sanctuary with the other animals. They could visit the farmhouse whenever they wanted too. It was when tragedy struck though that the true connection to the elephants became clear.
This incredibly moving story shows the connection that can happened between human and animal, one that goes both directions through gentleness, protection and a deep understanding of one another’s value. The patience that Lawrence shows through the book is notable and is what allows him to bond with the herd. People who already love elephants will find new knowledge here about conservation, protection and how very intelligent they are.
The art feels like a series of prints, each created with watercolor, ink and printmaking. The colors are magnificent from the blues of late night to the dusty oranges of African day to the lush greens of Thula Thula itself. The elephants are drawn with real character, their hugeness and their emotions clear in each image.
A remarkable story worth enjoying with your own herd. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Lami is the best chicken catcher in her small Nigerian compound. Happily, the compound is full of all kinds of chickens and she helps out by catching them for everyone. She may not be fast at spelling like her sister or fast at braiding hair like her friend, but she is the fastest at catching chickens! But one day, Lami moves too fast to catch a chicken, ignoring everyone telling her to slow down. She chases the chicken right up a baobab tree, toppling from a branch and falling. Her ankles swells up, and now she can’t catch any chickens at all. But her Nana Nadia sits down with her and gets Lami thinking of a new way to catch chickens without the wild chase.
Atinuke is the author of the Anna Hibiscus series and several picture books set in her native Nigeria. Her skill as an oral storyteller always shines in her picture books. This one also reads aloud beautifully, building in pace to a great crescendo before the literal fall. Atinuke uses repeating phrases and sentence structures to create a warm energy throughout the book.
The illustrations will work well for sharing the book with a group. Done in mixed media, the move from long distance images of the compound to being right in the mix of the action with Lami as she dashes after chickens. These are energetic illustrations that perfectly suit the story.
Clever and fun, head on a wild chicken chase with this picture book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
This graphic novel memoir takes readers directly into the heart of a huge Kenyan refugee camp and the life of one boy who lived there. Omar and his brother Hassan lost their parents in Somalia when their village was attacked. Omar still hopes to find his mother, who was separated from them in the chaos. The brothers live together in their own hut in the camp and are watched over by their guardian who lives next door. When Omar has a chance to go to school, he must make the gut-wrenching decision of whether to leave Hassan, who doesn’t speak, behind. Their time in the camp is spent waiting, waiting for a UN interview, waiting to see if they can finally be moved to another country, waiting for water, waiting for food. It is also a time filled with doubts and hope, requiring true resilience for Omar to see a way forward.
It’s always a delight to see a new graphic novel by Jamieson, author of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. It’s all the more impressive to see her take on the challenge of a more serious topic and to do it as a biographical piece, telling the true story of Omar Mohamed and his time in the refugee camp. Jameison crafts the story in a way that truly reveals the plight of those in the camp, the horrors of what they experienced in the past, and the dullness of the routine days. She fills the pages with Omar’s deep caring and worry for his brother, his only remaining family member, and the reality of his sole responsibility to not only keep him safe but offer him a future.
As always with Jamieson, the art is wonderful. In particular, she offers glimpses of the beauty of the night sky in the camp and the warmth of the community of people who have been thrown together by tragedy. It is marvelous that Mohamed worked with her to tell a true story of the camps, that truth resonates on the page, lifting this new work to a different level.
Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Nya’s Long Walk by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9781328781338)
This is a companion picture book to the author’s novel A Long Walk to Water. It shows the plight of people in the South Sudan as they search for clean and safe water sources within walking distance of their homes. The book focuses on Nya and her little sister Akeer. The two head out on a two-hour walk to get water for their family. But today, Akeer is not merry and active along the way. She drags behind and eventually is revealed to be sick and unable to walk any farther. It is a two-hour walk back home, and Nya has to dump much of the precious water back out to be able to also carry Akeer on her back. She finds that even when she thinks she can’t make it all the way back to the village, she can take one more step.
Park’s writing is captivating in picture book format, a lovely combination of pared down writing with dramatic content. Readers will believe that Akeer is simply going slowly at first, until her waterborne illness is revealed. The difficult decision to leave just enough water behind to make the walk possible is gut wrenching. The long and difficult walk is a gripping series of pages that show human resilience and strength vividly.
Pinkney’s art is full of movement and lines. They twirl around the characters who stand out on the page that has bright sunlight and brown dirt. The lines form halos around both of the girls, dancing on to mark their path and show the way.
A look at the impact of unclean water and the health crisis happening in South Sudan, this book also offers solutions. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
On an alphabet adventure, Adanah heads out to visit her grandfather in Modakeke, Nigeria. The book starts in school with Adanah heading on break. She packs her bags and camera. Her Dad drives her to her grandad’s house out in the country with lots of animals around. The two of them spend time together, having lunch that is invaded by insects, drinking juice, and cleaning the kitchen. At night, Adanah sleeps under a mosquito net. Water is fetched in kegs, more work and cooking is done, and stories are told in the evening. Finally, Mom is there to take Adanah back home to share her adventures with her little sister, Zainab.
This alphabet book works really well as it shows life in modern Nigeria. It is that exploration of Nigeria that really shines in this book, allowing readers to see a fascinating mix of modern and traditional parts. The strong structure of the alphabet helps keep the book focused and while X will always be for something like xylophone almost none of the other letters are a stretch at all. The text feels free and unforced, which is impressive in this sort of book.
The art is bright and fresh, filling the pages with color and glimpses of home life and the landscape. On each page, there are other items that start with that same letter of the alphabet. The art is structured so well though, that it is easy to miss that these elements are even there until you are encouraged to look for them at the end of the book.
An alphabet picture book focused on family and Africa. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Cassava Republic Press.
A little girl and her Daddy are making her birthday cake, a chocolate one. As they bake the cake, her father tells her about Grandpa Cacao who lives in the Ivory Coast and has a cacao farm. The book looks at the importance of the right soil and weather to grow cacao as well as the skill to know when precisely to harvest the crop. The process of harvest and then scooping out the white beans, curing them in the ground, and then drying them is shown in detail. All the while, the girl and her father are baking together, the smell and taste of the chocolate bridging the two story lines. In the end, as the cake is finished, the little girl gets a special birthday treat.
Zunon’s picture book tells the important tale of where chocolate comes from and the fascinating process of going from farm to product that is not at all what one might expect. The framing of the chocolate farming process by a girl about to celebrate her birthday with a chocolate cake is lovely. It is strengthened even more by her family connection to the Ivory Coast and her grandfather’s farm. The treat at the end makes that even more firmly and tangible for readers.
The illustrations by the author are cleverly done. The little girl’s world is done in full color collages filled with rich touches of patterns and textures. The African farm is done in a more flat format with the people simply white outlines against the landscape. When the two worlds come together, they both become full color and lush.
Everyone loves chocolate and this book explains how it comes to our tables. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
B Is for Baby by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank (9781536201666)
Told in a series of “B” words, this book tells the story of a baby who climbs into a basket of bananas. Unnoticed by her busy brother who has headphones on, the basket is loaded onto the back of his bicycle and he heads off across the African landscape. They pass baobab trees, see a baboon, bird and butterfly. The road is bumpy and carries them across a bridge until they reach Baba’s bungalow where Baby is discovered amid the bananas much to her brother’s surprise. The three enjoy a snack together and then the two children journey back together to their mother.
Once again, Atinuke shows the beauty of Africa through a small child’s eyes. With only the simplest of words, she delights in the naughtiness of the baby climbing into the basket and then gives a merry journey for her to experience. Ending with a cookie, what could be sweeter! The illustrations are bright and large, perfect for sharing aloud with a group of toddlers. Filled with animals, people and sweeping landscapes, the illustrations capture the beauty of Africa and its people.
Another big beautiful book by Atinuke, this one is just right for the littlest ones. Appropriate for ages 1-3.