Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.
I’ve been on an Africa kick with the kids. It’s been fun discovering some really good kids’ books about modern, Amazing Africa.
Atinkue is a Nigerian writer who moved back and forth between Nigeria and the UK as a child and who has written two series set in current-day Africa that we have been reading aloud and loving: Anna Hibiscus and The Number One Car Spotter. The chapters are fairly short and Lucy, my seen year old, has been enjoying reading them aloud to me. They’re great both as a family read aloud and for giving to early-readers who are ready for easy chapter books.
Anna’s mother and father and aunties and uncles drive to work in their cars. They send text messages and emails around the world, and call from the market on their mobile phones to see what shopping needs doing. But the clothes they wear are made from colorful African cloth, waxed and dyed and printed. The languages they speak are African as well as English.
Anna Hibiscus is a little girl who lives in a big white house in a big city in Amazing Africa with her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The family seems very joyful. They defer to Grandfather and Grandmother who both are very concerned about keeping to traditional African ways even as they live in the modern world. (The books never specify which city or which country, which was a deliberate choice on the part of the author who wanted her readers to understand that Africa is very much a modern place.)
In the first story we learn that Anna’s mom is Canadian when she reminisces wistfully about having had her own room growing up– which the African family all think sounds terrible. But you can see that Anna’s father wants to try to give her a bit of personal space so they try to go on vacation to the beach with Mom, Dad, Anna and the twin baby boys, Double and Trouble. The family soon realizes how much more WORK it is not to have all the aunties and uncles and grandparents and cousins to help with cooking and childcare. So bit by bit Anna’s father invite everyone in his family to join them at the beach and they all have a wonderful time. This… this really resonated with me. I would have loved to have a big extended family to share the burdens and joys of infant care and cooking and laundry, etc.
In the second story Anna has an aunt, Auntie Comfort, who is working in America who is coming home for a visit and everyone is afraid she won’t be very African anymore. So Anna borrows her uncle’s cell phone and texts her auntie reminders of all the African things she needs to remember that Grandfather is afraid she will have forgotten. Like bringing presents for everyone, eating with her hands instead of a fork, wearing traditional clothing…
My favorite story is probably the one in which Anna Hibiscus gets bored and picks oranges from her family’s garden and sells them on the street. The upshot is she outsells the girls who regularly sell food there to support themselves and their families and they end up going home with no money to buy food for their dinners that night– and some of them support younger siblings and handicapped family members. Anna’s father and uncles come home to find the usual vendors crying. But no one yells at Anna or punishes her. she’s just a little girl. Rather, the next day Grandfather has Anna walk to the market with him carrying her basket. She and Grandfather spend all the money she earned the previous day buying produce for the girls who sell food at the gate. Back and forth to and from the market all day long. Anna and Grandfather are both exhausted and sore, but the vendors sell more than they ever have and are very happy. Anna learns the meaning of hard work by experience, not from a lecture. I really loved the gentle justice, the wisdom of Grandfather, the importance of family and community.
I’m looking forward to reading all the Anna Hibiscus books.
Number One Car Spotter, on the other hand, lives in a rural village where almost all the men have gone to the big city to work. His favorite pastime is spotting cars on the road that passes by the village– that’s how he gets his nickname.
My favorite story is one in which Grandmother gets sick and they send a message to Number One’s dad in the city to send money so they can take her to the doctor and buy her medicine. But they can’t find his dad for several days. When he finally comes home, he has lost his job as a gardener and is so sad because he doesn’t have money to buy his mother medicine. Then Mike the NGO guy comes through and gives the village three wheelbarrows to improve village life. Number One’s dad grabs two of them and runs off to the city to start a delivery business to make money to buy Grandmother medicine. Number One is afraid the NGO guy is going to be mad because the wheelbarrow is meant to improve village life, not to go to the big city. But then his uncle helps him to see that when grandmother was sick things in the village didn’t work so well. All the women had to take the babies to the fields because grandmother couldn’t watch them .Grandfather was sad all day, etc. So getting grandmother medicine does improve village life.
The kids love all of these stories by Atinuke. They’re funny and sad and human and really make Africa feel like a real place where kids play and live and have adventures.
Atinuke was an oral storyteller before she became an author. We found some of her videos online and they’re worth checking out as well:
Atinuke tells the story of Tipingee.
Here is Atinuke reading Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus.
Atinuke telling the beginning of the story of “The Hunter and the Chief’s Daughter“.
Atinuke reads from The Number One Car Spotter.
Another book about Africa we recently enjoyed was Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savannah by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton. It is a firsthand account about growing up as a Maasai warrior. Lekuton goes to a missionary school where he gets a Western education, becoming the only one in his immediate family who can read and write, and where because of the encouragement of one of the missionaries begins to dream of going to college in the United States– which goal he eventually realizes. he goes to a secondary school and then works in a bank before being accepted to a college in the States. He straddles the gap between two incredibly different worlds going back and forth between school, and then work, in the big city and then returning to life as a nomadic warrior protecting his family’s cattle herds from lions.
There are many humorous anecdotes and details of daily life. Many of Lekuton’s experiences were foreign, but many were quite familiar. This book was a huge favorite.
We read Facing the Lion at the same time as we were reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel Warrior Scarlet , a novel about a boy in Bronze Age Britain. We were delighted to discover many parallels between the two worlds from the scarlet cloth that the warriors wear to the warrior training and ethos and initiation rites. (The initiation in Facing the Lion does detail the narrator’s circumcision and that chapter might be one parents should preview, it’s a little graphic and caught me off guard.)
All in all, we’ve been enjoying our explorations of modern Africa from authors who are themselves Africans– and we hope to continue to find more books about Amazing Africa. We’ve also been reading some books about ancient Africa, but I’ll get to those another time.
Previously I wrote about other explorations of Africa here: Geography: Africa Trek and other Children’s Books about Africa