Theme: Depictions of families

Baba’s gift

Author: Beverley Naidoo & Maya Naidoo (2003)
Description: In South Africa, Lindi and her brother go to the sea with their grandmother, taking with them a little wooden boat their grandfather has made. They quickly make a new friend and play together with the boat in the sea and then have a picnic. No one notices the sea creeping in until it has taken their boat away. The children are upset but find a special shell to take home for their father to make up for the loss of the boat he had given them. He says he can always make another boat but that he could never make anything as beautiful as the shell.  © Africa Access

Beatrice’s goat

Author: Page McBrier (2003); Karin Littlewood (illus.)
Description: Beatrice’s Goat is the result of the Heifer Project director’s request for Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoeter to create a children’s book. In order for the author and illustrator to comprehend the linkages between rural Perry, Arkansas and Kisinga, Uganda, they traveled to Uganda to document the true story of Beatrice and the Heifer Project goat. Beatrice’s goat, Mugisa, has brought many new things to the family. The story describes how the sale of Mugisa’s milk and two kids financed a new house, roof, furniture, and schooling for Beatrice. The steady income from the goat enables the family to buy medicines, clothing, and needed supplies. Soon Beatrice’s friend will also have a goat. The book illustrates positive results of a non-profit organization; since so much news from Uganda is negative, it is important for readers to learn that Ugandans are working to improve their lives. The book also focuses on children, their schooling, and responsibilities, rather than on what adults do to or for children. © Africa Access

Boundless grace

Author: Mary Hoffman (2000); Caroline, Binch (illus.)
Description: In the picture book Amazing Grace, children were introduced to a spunky little African American girl named Grace. In this sequel, she travels to Gambia, West Africa to visit her father and his new family. This is a simply told story with the subtle message that parents should maintain family bonds despite divorce. The pivotal issue for Grace is the absence of her father. Grace lives in a warm extended family with a mother, a grandmother and a cat called Paw-Paw. Yet, as she tells Nana, “Our family’s not right. We need a father and a brother and a dog.” At times, Grace even denies that she has a father. A trip to Banjul, Gambia helps Grace come to terms with her father and understand that there are many types of families. At the conclusion of her trip to Gambia, she resolves to find books about families like hers and write her own story. Teachers will have to help students see commonalties between Gambia and the U.S. as Grace focuses on activities and objects that are different from home. Teachers should encourage students to study the illustrations for similarities (e.g. there are trucks, sodas, telephones, an airport). The Gambian setting is not essential to the events in the story. © Africa Access

Desmond and the very mean word

Author: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams (2013); A.G., Ford (illus.)
Description: Desmond was very proud of his bicycle. He was the only child in the whole township who had one, and he couldn’t wait to show it to Father Trevor.  When Desmond takes his new bicycle for a ride, his pride and joy turn to hurt and anger when some boys shout a very mean word at him.  No matter what he tries, Desmond can’t stop thinking about what the boys said.  Based on a real life experience from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s own childhood in South Africa, this book eloquently shows a child’s realization that true forgiveness comes from within and that all people deserve compassion, whether or not they say they are sorry. © Author

Fatuma’s new cloth

Author: Leslie Bulion (2002); Nicole, Tadgell(illus.)
Description: Fatuma’s New Cloth is a charming story about a little East African girl who visits the market with her mother in order to purchase kanga cloth for a new dress. During her trip to the market, Fatuma helps us explore the East African perception of the world as she learns about her people’s culture and traditions. Fatuma also comes to learn that different people have different opinions and that they may interpret things very differently. This is especially apparent in her experiences in buying the kanga cloth and her favorite drink, chai, a tea that is commonly prepared and served amongst East Africans. We learn the importance of the market in the life of Fatuma’s community and see how she interacts with each of the vendors at the market, where in time, she will learn the skills she needs to bargain and purchase goods to take home to her family. We also learn about the social importance of kanga cloth in East Africa. Kanga cloth is a colorful printed cotton cloth with traditional motifs that is usually bought in pairs to be worn by both women and men in East Africa (predominantly Kenya and Tanzania) as part of their daily dress. © Africa Access

Fatuma’s new cloth

Author: Penda, Diakite (2006); Baba, Wague Diakite (illus.)
Description: I Lost my Tooth in Africa is a vibrant, lively story about eight-year old Amina, who takes a long journey from Portland, Oregon to West Africa, to visit her father’s family in Mali. When Amina loses her tooth in Mali, places it under a gourd and tangles with the African tooth-fairy, she learns that growing up is also about responsibility. Teachers can benefit a great deal from using this book, especially in their Social Studies classes, when teaching about African culture (food, family, language and traditions) or celebrating Black History Month. The book’s appendix includes a glossary of the Bambara words, a goodnight song in Bambara and an authentic recipe for African onion sauce from Mali. © Africa Access

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. © Africa Access

Author: John Steptoe (2008)
Description: Steptoe’s last offering is an adaptation of a Xhosa tale from South Africa. Steptoe has changed the setting of the story from Xhosa land to old Zimbabwe. As in the old tale, the focus is on sisters with opposite natures. One is kind and gentle, the other bad-tempered and selfish. Each hopes to be chosen by the king to be his wife. In addition to learning that good behavior is rewarded and ill deeds are punished, children soak up the atmosphere of rural and city life in an ancient African kingdom. The book can serve as a useful means of introducing children to the variety of architectural structures in ancient Zimbabwe. Thatched houses and massive stone structures are both featured in the illustrations. The drawings of buildings and people are detailed and stunningly realistic. Storytellers searching for a good read aloud will find this book ably fills the bill. © Africa Access

My father’s shop

Author: Satomi Ichikawa (2006).
Description: In My Father’s Shop, we follow the adventure of young Mustafa as he learns about his father’s trade as a rug seller in a southern town in Morocco and about communicating with others, in this case tourists from around the world. After asking for and receiving a rug of his very own, Mustafa goes through the village to show his friends his new acquisition. However, in the company of a local rooster, he meets up with friendly tourists who teach how to “speak rooster” in French, Spanish, English and Japanese. Excited to share his new knowledge with his father, he returns to the rug shop, bringing all of his new friends along with him. The rich colors and patterns of Moroccan carpets mix with vivid drawings of local village life, snapshots of the marketplace and the presentation of a variety of international tourists who make up the customers of the rug shop. © Africa Access

My rows and piles of coins

Author: Tololwa, M. Mollel (1999); E. B. Lewis (illus.)
Description: In this story set in Tanzania, the protagonist is a Maasai boy, living in a rural northern area. His father grows an export crop (coffee), his mother markets other crops, and he, Saruni, helps them both, especially his mother. Using an old squeaky wheelbarrow he hauls his mother’s beans, corn, pumpkins and other crops to market. Industrious and thrifty, he saves the coins he earns helping mother, patiently waiting for the day he can buy the bicycle he has his heart set on. Eventually, he gets a bike but it is not new and it comes to him in a surprising way. He shows no disappointment. He is delighted he has a bike of his own, one that he can use to help his mother. The story presents opportunities for discussing a number of topics. We learn, for example, that some parts of Africa are chilly during North America summers, that women play important economic roles in the family and community, and that a bicycle can be an important economic asset. A glossary of Maasai terms and author’s note about Tanzanian currency complete the book. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

The Butter Man

Author: Elizabeth Alalou & Ali Alalou (2008); Essakalli, K Julie (illus.)
Description: Nora, a young girl of Moroccan heritage, hears a story about her father’s childhood in a small Berber village in the Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco while her father prepares her family’s usual Saturday dinner, couscous. She hears how her father and his family, and his village, lived through both drought and plenty in their agricultural region. Reflecting the contemporary realities of the Moroccan Diaspora around the world, the book suggests the passage of family history and tradition within a modern household. Elizabeth and Ali Alalou balance the two worlds without relying on sensationalism or an orientalizing of rural Morocco. Includes educational notes on Berber culture in Morocco. © Africa Access

Welcome Dede: An African naming ceremony

Author: Ifeoma Onyefulu (2004).

Description: This photo essay describes the cultural significance of West African naming ceremonies. Click here for a lesson plan to accompany the book.



Author: Gaile Parkin (2010)
Type: Novel
Description: Set in an international apartment complex in Rwanda, heroine Angel Tungararza has moved from Tanzania with her husband, Pius, who’s taken a job at the local university; before long, she develops a reputation as a masterful baker and a sagacious friend. Though haunted by the deaths of her grown daughter and son, Angel plunges back into motherhood, caring for her five grandchildren, tending to Pius, baking cakes and dispensing advice. Meanwhile, the sour undercurrents of AIDS and genocide play quiet but instrumental parts in shaping Angel’s world. © Africa Access


Chanda’s secrets

Author: Allan Stratton (2004)
Type: Young-adult novel
Description: Sixteen-year-old Chanda Kabelo has secrets. She loves school and dreams of winning a scholarship one day, but people are dying around her. Everyone is afraid to say why, but Chanda knows: it’s because of AIDS. Chanda’s Secrets takes place in a nameless country that accurately resembles a place where over a quarter of the population is living with HIV. Chanda’s struggles are similar to millions of other children living in Sub Saharan Africa. Having lost her father, stepfather, three older brothers, sister and several community members, Chanda quickly moves from the playful ignorance of youth to an adult life, even though it is difficult for her to understand some of what is happening around her. Though the Hollywood ending makes the story slightly unrealistic, Chanda gives a face and a story to connect teen readers with the statistics they hear in the news. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

The heaven shop

Author: Deborah Ellis (2004)
Type: Young-adult novel
Description: Binti and her siblings are orphaned when their father dies of AIDS. Split up and sent to relatives all over Malawi, they suffer increasing hardship. Binti learns the hard way what is most important in life, and is forced to take a hard look at her own. Historically and culturally sensitive, The Heaven Shop is respectful and informative. It doesn’t shy away from dealing with difficult issues, nor does it sugar coat them. Instead, the story deals realistically with customs of inheritance without making gross generalizations or judgments about what is done. It is easy to envision life in Malawi because the story is filled with rich description of the Malawian landscape and day-to-day life, from second-hand clothing being sold on the side of a road to lines of women and children waiting to get water in rural areas. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

The middle of somewhere: A story of South Africa

Author: Sheila Gordon (1990)
Language: English
Type: Chapter book
Description: This contemporary novel, set in South Africa, reveals how that government’s policies affect a black child, her family and their friends. When plans are made to raze Rebecca’s village in order to build a new suburb for whites, officials try to force residents to move to a dismal settlement many miles away. Although her father and brother refuse to be intimidated, Rebecca is terrified that white men will bulldoze her house. Her fears increase when friends begin to disappear in the night and her own father is arrested after making a public speech. Gordon offers a graphic portrayal of life in a troubled nation as she depicts Rebecca’s experiences at home and in the white community, where her mother works as a maid. Rebecca is initiated into a world filled with prejudice, but before she grows as embittered as her older brother, she witnesses some signs of positive change. © Africa Access

Year of No Rain

Author: Alice Mead (2003)
Type: Young-adult novel
Description: Stephen, a young Dinka, lives in a village in Sudan with his mother and his elder sister, Naomi. His father has vanished, gone off to the war. Stephen’s concerns are those of any older child in such a village: his family, the cows he tends and on which the village depends, and his sister’s impending marriage. The echoes of the distant war build, until suddenly the village is raided by soldiers looking for food. Stephen and two other boys escape to the forest; his sister Naomi hides. The next day, Stephen and the other boys return to find the village destroyed, Stephen’s mother dead, and Naomi vanished.  The book ends on a hopeful but realistic note as the children start to try to re-establish life among the ruins.  © Africa Access