Children’s Picture Books Set in Africa

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Children’s Picture Books Set in Africa

I chose this topic for my eight-year-old self who wanted to read books with characters that came from where she came from, ate the foods she ate, and looked like her.  
 
Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke and illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
The saying "it takes a village" comes to life in this book. Set in contemporary southeast Nigeria, this book is a cute story detailing the love a baby receives in a typical African community, where everyone takes an active part in bringing up a child. I love how the illustrations take me back to the market in Ghana, and the foods the baby is gifted with are exactly what you could see in a typical market in West Africa. 
 
Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight and Mark Melnicove and illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien
I was sold on the book as soon as I saw the title. I don’t know how many times I've heard people say "I'm going to Africa!" -- no country named, just Africa. The book starts out stating the very simple fact that Africa is indeed not a country and explains how vast and diverse the continent is. Each page is set in a different country and tells of an everyday occurrence there: kids getting ready for school in Eriteria or playing with friends in the streets of Cairo. When Africa is written about, it's always the extremes, like famine or violence, so it’s refreshing to see a book that beautifully and simply shows African kids being kids.
 
Deron Goes to Nursery School by Ifeoma Onyefulu
The first day of school always causes jitters of excitement and nervousness in the stomachs of little kids all around the world. Nigerian author Ifeoma Onyefulu takes us to Ghana in Deron Goes to School and shows how Deron and his family prepare for his first day of nursery school. I really liked the specificity of the book; it's set in Ghana instead of being set in the general unknown African landscape that some authors like to create. There are no illustrations but actual pictures of Deron and his family which is another plus from me.
 
Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Caroline Binch
I picked this book up being a fan of Mary Hoffman's Princess Grace and thought this would be another great read -- plus Grace’s smiling face on the cover with her two Afro puffs was too cute to resist. I was so surprised once I started reading to find out that Grace is going to visit her father in his home country of The Gambia! As someone who is also half Gambian I was beaming with joy because this was the first fiction picture book that I've read that is set In The Gambia AND has a Gambian character. I can tell Mary Hoffman did her research because the names of the foods and Grace's siblings are spot on. This is a beautiful book that I strongly recommend for any child who is struggling being in a blended family. 
 
Grandma Comes to Stay by Ifeoma Onyefulu
Much like Deron Goes to School, Grandma Comes to Stay is an ordinary story of a grandmother coming to visit. Also like Deron Goes to School, there are no illustrations but rather pictures of an actual Ghanaian family preparing for their grandmother to visit. It was really nice seeing pictures of Stephanie’s home, family, and her neighborhood. My favorite part was when grandma showed Stephanie how to tie a lappa, a long piece of cloth that has a million and one purposes -- can be a skirt, used to hold a baby on your back, and a safekeeping for money while shopping.  My one critique would be that I did not like Onyefulu's choice of omitting the local dialect. I highly doubt that Stephanie and her grandma would solely use English in their conversations instead of their native language of Twi, Fante, or Ga, etc. At the very least they would mix English with one of those languages. 
 
Happy Birthday, Jamela! by Nikki Daly 
From the title I was expecting a boring story about a girl and her birthday party, but the birthday party was the backdrop to how amazing Jamela is. Jamela’s creativity and quick thinking helps her get out of trouble while making her mother proud. Daly’s Xhosa phrases and an explanation of each at the end of the book are a nice inclusion.  
 
Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
In this title set in Nigeria before the New Year Festival, Anyaugo is trying to figure out what this mysterious chicken is doing in her house. She gets help from The Wood spirit who can’t help but enjoy watching her scramble. I like the addition of The Wood spirit because in many cultures, plants and other members of nature are viewed as living creatures having their own spirit and personalities. I particularly liked that Okorafor explained that the chicken could be an ancestor of Anyaugo who simply wanted to dance with Anyaugo before the New Year Festival. In many African cultures, the ancestors are a living part of the community and play an active role in our everyday lives so that little piece in the story was a nice addition and a great cultural teaching moment.  
 
Sleep Well Siba and Saba by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra Van Doorn
These Rwandan sisters can’t seem to keep track of their belongings and only in their dreams do they find what they lost. The illustrations are brightly colored but they don’t pop out at you and, combined with the intentional lullaby-like rhyme, they help to create the calming tone of the book. Sleep Well Siba and Saba also has a slight humor to it if you pay attention to their little cute dog seemingly hidden in the background. Lastly, I loved the author’s inclusion of the Luganda language, one of the native languages of Rwanda. 
 
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
Kapiti Plains is experiencing a drought where the green grass is turning brown and the fat cows are slimming down. A tale originating from the Maasi people and set in an ABAB rhyme scheme, this is a fun book to introduce your young ones to rhyming and the vast plains that the Maasi people inhabit.
 
I Lost My Tooth in Africa
by Penda Diakité and illustrated by Baba Wagué Diakité
Little Amina, and her loose tooth, is on a family trip to Mali, the homeland of her father where she tries and tries to get her tooth to fall out. In Mali when you lose a tooth, you get a chicken. I can’t put into words how I feel when I read a book and immediately say “We do that too!” I was reminded so much of my own culture and the traditions that my mother taught my sisters and me so many times when reading this book. I said “We do that too!” when I saw Amina eating dinner from a bowl in a circle with her family and greeting her grandmother first thing in the morning while receiving her daily blessings. Definitely one of my favorite books on this list!