Region: West Africa

General West Africa

Abina and the important men: A graphic history

Author: Getz, R. Trevor and Clarke, Liz (2016)
Type: Graphic novel
Illustrations: Some
Description: Abina and the Important Men is a compelling and powerfully illustrated “graphic history” based on an 1876 court transcript of a West African woman named Abina, who was wrongfully enslaved and took her case to court. The book is a micro-history that does much more than simply depict an event in the past; it uses the power of illustration to convey important themes in world history and to reveal the processes by which history is made. Following the graphic history in Part I, Parts II-V provide detailed historical context for the story, a reading guide that reconstructs and deconstructs the methods used to interpret the story, and strategies for using Abina in various classroom settings. ©Author

Africa is my home: A child of the Amistad

Author: Edinger, Monica (2013); Byrd, Robert (illus.)
Description: When a drought hits her homeland in Sierra Leone, nine-year-old Magulu is sold as a pawn by her father in exchange for rice. But before she can work off her debt, an unthinkable chain of events unfolds: a capture by slave traders; weeks in a dark and airless hold; a landing in Cuba, where she and three other children are sold and taken aboard the Amistad; a mutiny aboard ship; a trial in New Haven that eventually goes all the way to the Supreme Court and is argued in the Africans’ favor by John Quincy Adams. Narrated in a remarkable first-person voice, this fictionalized book of memories of a real-life figure retells history through the eyes of a child — from seeing mirrors for the first time and struggling with laughably complicated clothing to longing for family and a home she never forgets. Lush, full-color illustrations by Robert Byrd, plus archival photographs and documents, bring an extraordinary journey to life. © Author

Bintou’s braids

Author: Sylviane A. Diouf (2004); Shane W Evans (illus.)
Description: When Bintou, a little girl living in West Africa, finally gets her wish for braids, she discovers that what she dreamed for has been hers all along. The great charm of this book is the way that Bintou is presented in her surroundings, both the real and the imaginary. In her real world, Bintou is observant and takes the reader through some of the important events that mark her life as a young West African girl: hair braiding and decoration, baptism ceremonies for babies, young women dancing, and grandmother’s special friendships with granddaughters. Other interesting themes that run through the story include the importance of age grades or age cohorts in West Africa, the closeness of family and community, the positive fanfare associated with the birth of a baby, girls’ bravery, and the special place that grandparents can play in a child’s life. An added bonus of this tale is the presence of a visitor from the Diaspora, making it truly a work of the twenty-first century. © Africa Access

The captive

Author: Joyce Hansen (1995)
Type: Young-adult novel
Description: This perceptive historical novel won the 1995 African Studies Children’s Book Award for Older Readers. It contrasts two cultures, the Asante kingdom of Ghana and New England during the era of slavery. Inspired by the life of Olaudah Equiano. This novel, inspired by a journal written in the late 1700s, is about the capture of Kofi, a 12-year-old son of an Ashanti chief. The boy is taken and subsequently sold after his father is betrayed and murdered by a trusted family slave. He makes two friends on the trip across the ocean; one is a white indentured servant, the other is another black slave. Once they reach America, they are all sold to a Puritan farmer in Massachusetts. Eventually, the boys run away. They are chased onto a ship and discovered by its captain, who agrees to help them. © Africa Access


Why monkeys live in trees and other stories from Benin

Author: Raouf Mama (2006)
Description: Benin, formerly Dahomey, is in West Africa. It is a country rich in oral stories, passed on from generation to generation. Raouf Mama, a storyteller himself as well as a teacher and orator, draws on this rich tradition and includes stories from many of Benin’s indigenous groups. Mama is wise enough to include many types of stories in his collection, tricksters, fables, heroes, sacred stories and other types of stories, each with its own moral. The stories include: Come and hear my story — Blessed are the storytellers, for they are the keepers of the word — Why monkeys live in trees — Why the sun shines by day and the moon by night — Why bee makes honey and snake crawls on its belly — How goat got out of trouble. © Africa Access



My heart will no sit down

Author: Rockliff, Mara (2012); Ann, Tanksley (illus.)

Description: After Kedi’s teacher shares his worries about people in New York City—his home–starving because they have no money for food, the young Bulu girl asks the adults in her village if they can help. But her community has so little it seems there is nothing they can do. Or is there? The next day, the villagers turn up at Kedi’s school with a small but significant offering of coins, explaining that “Our hearts would not sit down until we helped.” Mara Rockliff’s fictional story set during the Great Depression is based on an actual event detailed in her author’s note: In 1931 the mayor of New York City received $3.77 from Cameroon to feed the hungry. Rockliff’s note explains more about the Great Depression, and how she conjectured people in Cameroon may have heard about it from a teacher at one of the schools run by American missionaries. She also provides cultural details of a story she set among the Bulu ethnic group in the south of Cameroon, and concludes with examples of other instances when people in places around the world have sought to help strangers in need. Ann Tanksley’s illustrations provide a vibrant, arresting backdrop for Rockliff’s lyrical storytelling. © Africa Access

Author & Illustrator: Averbeck, Jim (2013).

Description: Mama Cécile and her small daughter Yoyo make their living by selling bowls of their delicious homemade bitter leaf stew every day at the local market. When Yoyo is certain she is ready to make the stew on her own, she takes a few shortcuts. Mama Cécile declares the results only good for the goats. But proud Yoyo is determined to sell her stew, so she takes it along to market. She and Mama Cécile have asked Brother Coin to bless their market bowl, binding them to accept any fair price they are offered. When Yoyo is offered much less than she hoped for her own bowl of stew, she refuses to sell it, angering Brother Coin. It’s up to Yoyo to use her wits and her culinary skill—without shortcuts this time—to appease Brother Coin and regain the blessing for their market bowl. This clever, original story draws on the cultures and customs of Cameroon, and a recipe for bitter leaf stew, Cameroon’s national dish, is included at the back of the book. Although the story is timeless, details in the illustrations place it in a contemporary Cameroonian village. © Africa Access

The sacred door and other stories

Author: Makuchi (2008)
Description: Makuchi shares the oral narratives from her childhood in Cameroon, infusing them with riddles, songs, proverbs, myths and legends. The 33 tales in this book cover universal themes, but acknowledge the differences between human cultures.






The Gambia

One plastic bag: Isatou Ceesay and the recycling women of The Gambia

Author: Paul, Miranda (2015); Zunon, Elizabeth (illus.)
Description: Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use.  But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed?  In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went their way.  One plastic bag became two.  Then ten. Then a hundred.  The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads.  Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease.  Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell.  Some were buried, but they strangled gradens.  They killed livestock that tried to eat them.  Something had to change.  Isatou Ceesay was that change.  She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community.  This inspirational true story shows how one person’s actions really can make a difference in our world. © Author


Emmanuel’s dream: The true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Author: Laurie Ann Thompson & Sean Qualls (2015)

Description: Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s inspiring true story—which was turned into a film, Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey—is nothing short of remarkable.
Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Thompson’s lyrical prose and Qualls’s bold collage illustrations offer a powerful celebration of triumphing over adversity.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Akosua’s gift

Author: Christian, Angela & Kathy Knowles; Edmund Opare (illus.)
Description: In the Ashanti village of Tafo women made their pots from clay. Akosua is the youngest daughter in a family well known for their pots. Her sister, Abena, is getting married and Akosua wants to give her something special. She decides to make the biggest pot she has ever made even though she has never made one without a crack. Will she accomplish her wish and give her sister a wonderful present? Read and find out.

One hen: How one small loan made a big difference


Author: Katie Smith Milway (2008); Euginie, Fernandes (illus.)
Description: Milway’s book does a wonderful job of presenting a positive, simple story of Kojo, a level-headed, hard working boy happy to lend a helping hand to his family and his extended village. Latching on to a loan his mother obtained, he is smart enough to figure out a way to multiply the little his family has, and later share with others around him. Kojo seems to have created a modern variation of the ‘susu,’ an economic and cultural practice among the Akan in Ghana where several people contribute to a joint fund which is then loaned to one of the group. As this person pays back the loan, someone else in the group then benefits from the expanded loan. This continues with everybody at some point benefiting as the pot grows. It is a form of what is now popularly called ‘microfinance,’ a way for usually poor and moderate income people to have access to small, sustainable credit as a way to live decently. Kojo uses the small loan to buy one hen and sell the eggs that the hen lays. Soon, there are more hens and more eggs, and the rest is an appreciable experience in success and growth for everybody connected with Kojo. © Africa Access

Ivory Coast

Aya of Yop City

Oubrerie, M. Abouet; Oubrerie (Author), Clement (illus.); Dascher, Helge (Translator)

Type: Graphic novel
Illustrations: Yes
Description: Aya tells the story of its nineteen-year-old heroine, the studious and clear-sighted Aya, her easygoing friends Adjoua and Bintou, and their meddling relatives and neighbors. It’s a breezy and wryly funny account of the desire for joy and freedom, and of the simple pleasures and private troubles of everyday life in Yop City. An unpretentious and gently humorous story of an Africa we rarely see-spirited, hopeful, and resilient–Aya won the 2006 award for Best First Album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. Clément Oubrerie’s warm colors and energetic, playful lines connect expressively with Marguerite Abouet’s vibrant writing.


Segu: A Novel

Author: Maryse Conde (1998)
Type: Historical novel
Illustrations: Maps, family tree
Description: Segu follows the life of Dousika Traore, the king’s most trusted advisor, and his four sons, whose fates embody the forces tearing at the fabric of the nation. There is Tiekoro, who renounces his people’s religion and embraces Islam; Siga, who defends tradition, but becomes a merchant; Naba, who is kidnapped by slave traders; and Malobali, who becomes a mercenary and halfhearted Christian.

Based on actual events, Segu transports the reader to a fascinating time in history, capturing the earthy spirituality, religious fervor, and violent nature of a people and a growing nation trying to cope with jihads, national rivalries, racism, amid the vagaries of commerce.

Sundiata: Lion king of Mali

Author: David Wisniewski (1992).
Description: The story of Sundiata, who overcame physical handicaps, social disgrace, and strong opposition to rule Mali in the thirteenth century. Winner of the 1993 African Studies Association’s Best Children’s Book on Africa.






Author: Ron and Justine Fontes (2009); Sandy, Carruthers (illus.)
Description: Sunjata, the founder of the Mali empire, is celebrated in Sunjata : Warrior King of Mali. The legend is retold in graphic novel format by Justine and Ron Fontes and illustrated by Sandy Carruthers. The Fontes based their retelling of the Sunjata epic on tales in Epic Ancestors of the Sundjata Era recorded by David Conrad.




Ikenna goes to Nigeria

Author: Ifeoma Onyefulu (2007).

Description: Ifeoma Onyefulu is the award-winning writer of various children stories. In this story the reader sees the sophisticated images of a Nigerian urban setting with its architecturally complex landscapes, and also the less sophisticated pictures of the local culture, with flea markets, chickens running around in the village and the barefooted adherents of the river goddess. It is very rich in cultural contents and aesthetically appealing.


The African mask

Author: Janet Rupert (2005)

Type: Novel
Description: 900 years ago in the Yoruba land of present-day Nigeria, 12-year-old Layo spends her time working on her craft and honing her skills in pottery, a gift passed on to her from her grandmother. However, in this time and place, a woman must adopt the craft of her husband. When she is betrothed to5a bronze worker, Layo works hard to prove the match is a poor one. Rupert’s work with a Yoruba anthropologist enriches the text with meaningful accounts of ancient Yoruba culture and life.

Things fall apart

Author: Chinua Achebe (1958)
Type: Novel
Description: Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. © Africa Access

Yoruba girl dancing

Author: Simi Bedford (1991)
Type: Young-adult novel
Description: This book is a coming-of-age story about Remi whose life growing up in Nigeria is a celebration of love and family, eccentricity and old ritual. She feels confident in her privilege and grounded in the heart of her culture. But when she turns six, as if by some awful spell, she is sent away to a boarding school in England where she must learn to navigate her race and culture among strangers and figure out who she really is.

                                                          Sierra Leone

A long way gone: Memoirs of a boy soldier

Author: Ishmael Beah (2007)
Type: Autobiography
Description: This memoir offers an inside view of how lives are transformed when war sweeps through a country. Beah was living an ordinary life in a loving community with no personal knowledge of armed conflict. The only wars he knew of were those he heard about on the BBC, read of in books or saw in movies like Rambo. When war found Beah, he was traveling to a nearby community to perform rap music in a talent show. He and the other members of his group were abducted and forced to fight alongside other young teens in the government’s army. Beah details the difficult situation that the child soldiers face when released from the army, their homes destroyed and family members dead or missing. At fifteen Beah was selected to represent the children of Sierra Leone at a United Nations conference on children in conflicted countries.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

The bite of the mango

Author: Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland (2008)
Type: Biography
Illustrations: Maps
Description: As a child in a small rural village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Rumors of rebel attacks were no more than a distant worry. But when 12-year-old Mariatu set out for a neighboring village, she never arrived. Heavily armed rebel soldiers, many no older than children themselves, attacked and tortured Mariatu. As told to her by Mariatu, journalist Susan McClelland has written the heartbreaking true story of the brutal attack and its aftermath. © Africa Access