Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Reading Around the World in Picture Books 2014-2015: Africa

These are the picture books we read when Reading Around the World with a focus on the continent of Africa. Oh so long ago, my children were in fifth grade, second grade, kindergarten, and diapers. My fifth grader usually did not sit with us while we read these books, but he was around and they hung out with our library books for the full month we had them.

** I've used these two asterisks to mark the books we enjoyed most of all.

The Storytellers by Ted Lewin (Morocco) tells of Abdul and his grandfather in the market in Fez, Morocco, lavishly illustrated by Lewin. (His illustrations always make me want to travel.) (library copy)

The Butter Man by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli (Morocco), is a story of hunger told within a loving family. It's authentic and touching. Though young children may be distressed to hear of a hungry child, it's good to introduce these themes to children over time so they understand our obligations to care for all people. (library copy)

** Mirror by Jeannie Baker (Australia and Morocco) - Baker shows a family in Australia on the left and, turning pages the other way, a family in Morocco on the right. The illustrations are beautiful and I love how she attempts to show the similarities and differences between the families in an understanding way. (library copy)

Ali, Child of the Desert by Jonathan London, illustrated by Ted Lewin (Morocco), is the story of a young boy who is separated from this father in a sandstorm while traveling in a caravan. He is offered hospitality and invaluable aid by a Berber and his grandson. (library copy)

Bintou's Braids by Sylviane A. Diouf, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (West Africa), is told in the voice of young Bintou who desperately wants braids for her short fuzzy hair. At the baptism of her baby brother, she sees all the other women and their beautiful braids, and wanders off sadly only to discover boys in need of help. Her quick thinking earns her some beautifully decorated hair of her own. This is a sweet book for young girls with all kinds of hair. (library copy)

** Tug of War by John Burningham (Nigeria) is a retelling of a Nigerian folktale of wisdom and strength, and inspiring lots of laughter. (library copy)

** The Hatseller and the Monkeys retold and illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite (West Africa) - Many may be more familiar with this tale as it is shown in Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business, but I love this West African version. The illustrations are delightful. (library copy)

** I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Pende Diakite, illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite (Mali) is a book written by the illustrator's daughter, hoping desperately to lose her tooth while she's visiting extended family in Africa so the African tooth fairy will bring her a chicken. It's a nearly perfect book for showing children in America what family life and love looks like in Mali. (library copy)

My Baby by Jeanette Winter (Mali) tells of a woman making a bogolan, a cloth painted with mud, for her baby, depicting the natural world in the painting. (library copy)

** Rain School by James Rumford (Chad), written by a man who taught school in Chad when a member of the Peace Corps, tells of a school built by the community at the beginning of the year that is broken down by the seasonal rains after nine months. It's a celebration of education, beautifully illustrated. (library copy)

** My Name Is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock (Sudan and the United States), is the story of a young boy who immigrates to the United States to escape the war in Sudan that killed his father. Bewildered by his new surroundings, he finds it impossible to explain to his new classmates how to properly pronounce his name...until he discovers a creative solution. Catherine Stock's illustrations are wonderful, as always. The themes of the book are a big deeper and harsher than most picture books, but I think the value is worth the risk. Read ahead and decide for your own family. (library copy)

** The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa by Christina Kessler, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins (Ethiopia), is the story of Almaz, a girl who wants to keep bees and collect the best honey. Turned away by the male beekeepers of her village, she is encouraged by the young Orthodox priest. It's a brilliant book of problem-solving and perseverance. (library copy)

The Perfect Orange: A Tale from Ethiopia by Frank P. Araujo, illustrations by Xiao Jun Li (Ethiopia), is a tale of a young girl who travels to her ruler to share with him a perfect orange. Her generosity is rewarded while the greed of another is thwarted. (library copy)

Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber, illustrated by Scott Mack (Kenya and Somalia), is the story of an orphan who shows himself to be adept at caring for camels and in so doing finds a place for himself in the world. (library copy)

** Head, Body, Legs: A Story from Liberia by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Liberia), is a fun tale describing how arms, legs, a head, and a boy joined together. (library copy)

** Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Liberia), is the hilarious story of a chicken who outwits a crocodile. (library copy)

** Koi and the Kola Nuts: A Tale from Liberia by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Liberia), is a tale of wisdom and goodness, wonderfully illustrated. (library copy)

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (West Africa), is based on a true story of a young boy who takes out a loan to buy a hen, the beginning of a flourishing egg business. It's text-heavy for younger children, but a fascinating introduction to micro-loans for older elementary students. I also ask my children to read this book in third grade when they do a little financial literacy study. (library copy)

The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente Cloth by Margaret Musgrove, illustrated by Julia Cairns (Ghana), is a brilliantly illustrated origin tale of kente cloth, common in many African nations. (library copy)

** The Village that Vanished by Ann Grifalconi, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (unspecified country or area), features a young girl who courageously leads all the people of her village across a hidden bridge to escape marauders searching for people to sell as slaves. The text is a bit long but it's worthwhile for those ready for it as it portrays some of the fear and tragedy of slavery in a successful escape from it altogether. Nelson's realistic illustrations are presented uninterrupted by the text, which appears on white space next to them. (library copy)

** Once Upon a Time written and illustrated by Niki Daly (South Africa), is the sweet story of a young girl who struggles to read but flourishes in the imaginary escapades with her Auntie Anna. With perseverance and practice under the supporting gaze of her Auntie, she succeeds in achieving fluency. The setting of this book gives glimpses into life in Africa while connecting us with the familiar school setting. (Even though we homeschool!) (library copy)

Mama Wangari (Kenya) is an inspiring woman who deserves a place in any picture book study of Africa. She attended college in Kansas which gives us an even more personal connection here on the Range. There are quite a few books featuring her life and work. In addition to reading a few picture books, we watched this video (more than once).

** Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler, is probably my favorite, if you can only read one, though young children may tire of the amount of text. The colorful illustrations will delight children of all ages. Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is a more lyrical book with less details. The illustrations fill the pages with vibrant color. Even I enjoy looking through this book again and again. Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter, is less detailed story with more gaps. The illustrations are not as lavish as those of Nelson, simpler but suited to the setting. (all library copies)

*The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore with collages by Susan L. Roth (Eritrea), tells the true story of a scientist who guided the people of a village to improve their lives by planting mangrove trees. Ecology, botany, creativity, generosity, and perseverance...all presented in poetic repetitive text for younger listeners and more detailed text for older readers. The collages contrast the bright clothes of the villagers against the browns of the land before it's transformation. (library copy)

** The Most Important Gift of All by David Conway, illustrated by Karin Littlewood (unspecified, but I think Kenya),  is a beautifully illustrated book about a little girl who goes in search of love to give to her new baby brother. It's African, but her family is as lovely a family as you'd want to meet anywhere. (library copy)

** My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tolowa M. Mollel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Tanzania), is one of my favorite picture books and also appears in our third grade literacy study. It's about family and perseverance, prudence and joy. Read it! (library copy)

First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch (Kenya) is an encounter between a Maasai boy and a Kikyua boy, from two cultures who employ land differently and yet find common ground. It is an decent story for the presentation of overcoming differences, but the illustrations are merely adequate. (library copy)

** Ah, then we read the Elizabeti books, just wonderful books! Elizabeti's Doll, Mama Elizabeti, and Elizabeti's School by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Christy Hale (Tanzania), all feature Elizabeti and are definitely among our favorite pictures books! (We own Elizabeti's Doll and checked the other two out from the library)

** The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, pictures by Elizabeth Zunon (Malawi), is based on the true inspiring story of a young boy in Africa who builds a windmill from scraps to power a light bulb using only his ingenuity and a book from the library after he's been forced to leave school. I love the illustrations for this book, a combination of collage and paintings. For those who want to learn more, the middle grade book of the same name is also excellent. (library copy)

** How the Guinea Foul Got Her Spots retold and illustrated by Barbara Knutson (a Swahili tale) - another favorite picture book. (library copy)

Jamela's DressHappy Birthday, Jamela, and Where's Jamela?, all by Niki Daly (South Africa) share the life of Jamela in a sweet fun way, especially for little girls. She gets into exactly the kind of trouble an American girl might find, but always manages to come out on top. There are other Jamela books as well, but these are the ones our library had. (library copies)

** Where Are You Going, Manyomi? by Catherine Stock (Zimbabwe) is one of my absolute favorite books! You can find the book online here. (owned, from a member at

** Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe (Zimbabwe, mostly) is like a fairy tale in which the more generous daughter receives her just reward. My daughter loved this book so much, she insisted we buy our copy, albeit a much loved and repaired one from a library book sale. (owned)

Gugu's House by Catherine Stock (Zimbabwe) is another Catherine Stock book, this one sharing the beautiful painting and sculpture of Gugu, Kukamba's grandmother, as well as a story of recovery. It's based on an inspiring woman in Zimbabwe. (library copy)

The Herd Boy by Niki Daly (South Africa) tells the story of a day in the life of a young goat herder. We see his world and his bravery, and his dream of being president. (library copy)

Under the Baobab Tree by Julie Stiegemeyer, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (unspecified, but maybe southern Africa) is mostly the musings of a brother and sister as they walk through the African countryside for a gathering "under the baobab tree." We see a bit of what sometimes happens under the tree and therefore glimpses into the lives of the Africans who live near-by. In the end, they are gathering to worship God. (library copy)

We also read a book of poetry called Off to the Sweet Shores of Africa and Other Talking Drum Rhymes by Uzo Unobagha, illustrated by Julia Cairns. The poet was born and raised in Africa and the illustrator lived in Botswana for nine years. It's a lovely book we've enjoyed many times.

I'm sure there are many new picture books set in African countries. When I was first putting this list together, I copied a list of all the countries in Africa and then searched our library catalog for each country's name. That's how I found most of these books. Do that yourself and you'll find not only potentially lovely new picture books, but a wealth of picture books set in Africa you can check out of your library for only the cost of your taxes, which you've already paid!

The links above are all affiliate links to Amazon, which means if you click on one, put something in your cart, and order it within a specified length of time (whatever Amazon decides), I receive a small commission. You can also find these books by searching by title on Amazon or at your library.

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