When I grew up, all of my picture books starred white kids (or animal characters). It was all very familiar- I can’t remember reading anything about people from other cultures, so I knew nothing about how they lived. I knew very well how white middle class American families lived. And I learned all about how animals lived in their houses and liked to dress in clothes and speak when we’re not looking. Oh yes, I know all about those crafty animals and their secret lives.
Now there are tons of books from different cultures all over the kid book market for us to read alongside our kids. This post focuses on African culture.
We All Went on Safari is a rhyming counting book that is set in Tanzania. It introduces African animals, names, and counting in Swahili! Written by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Julia Cairns, from Barefoot Books. Included is a map and facts about Maasai people, and lots of great animal illustrations.
I couldn’t dare leave Anansi out of this…
Anansi is a 1973 Caldecott honor book for ages 4 and up. It’s an adaptation of a traditional Ashanti folktale, and has remained extremely popular for decades.
Gerald McDermott’s book is a classic example of a favorite oral tale being handed down for years, finally being recorded on paper and retaining its appeal. The main character, Anansi, is a wonderfully mischievous folk hero.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace: Stunning, graphic illustrations by Jeanette Winter accompany this true story of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. It spans the time from when she was a girl in Kenya through her founding of the Green Belt Movement in 1977.
She returned to Kenya after 6 years away at college to find the trees and vegetation stripped away, and immediately started her mission to replant. I love the inspiring message and strong female character. 5 and up.
Handa’s Hen: This book is fun. The illustrations are playful, as is the story- full of numbers, animals, and a hunt for an AWOL hen. 3 and up.
A is for Africa: London-based Ifeoma Onyefulu has written and photographed a lovely alphabet book based on her favorite images of Africa. She grew up in Nigeria and presents lots of information about the customs and objects of Africa based on memories from her childhood. 4 and up.
Ashanti to Zulu: Amazing illustrations from Leo and Diane Dillon, written by Margaret Musgrove. And did somebody say Caldecott winner? I love this book not just because of the art, but also because you get to learn about a range of African cultures. Also because it appeals to adults, which is the hallmark of a classic picture book. 4 and up
Masai and I: A girl in urban America learns about East Africa in this book and dreams of what she would be like as a Masai. Her thoughts weave between the two cultures as the artwork does. The visual comparison is lovely, rendered in Nancy Carpenter’s dreamy, soft artwork. Written by Virginia Kroff.
I loved putting together this post of African Art projects for kids, so check ’em out.
Here’s a nice simple map of Africa to look at with your kids, if you want a reference point while you’re reading some of these books- click the link to take you to a bigger version.
8 thoughts on “7 Super African Culture Children’s Books”
Great idea for a recurring series! I don’t know any of these and I’m going to add some to my library request list starting with Anansi and Wangari’s Trees of Peace.
Cool! Let me know if you like them- maybe you’ll be inspired to plant trees!
girl i don’t remember books about other cultures when i was a kid at all. now i love books that share the traditions and religions of other cultures. this is a great collection. any recommendations for india? i think it would be educational for us all at home to learn more about where our ancestors came from. lol. all i know is what i read on blogs. 😀
I’ll do a post on India! So excited- this is a learning experience for me, too. I had so much fun putting together the Africa list.
We have a few of these books so you are reminding me to search for them! Isn’t it funny how we Americans think of Africa as one humongous “country” without really any distinction between countries and cultures? Or maybe that is just me.
I bet you have a few! You probably have a library going on in your house. And no, it’s not just you- Americans aren’t taught much about other cultures. It’s all memorizing the map and which countries are where- that’s probably why I always did so poorly in Geography!
Thanks for the great suggestions! Do you know of any children’s books depicting life before the transatlantic trade?
Hi Brandie- I am really not much of a book blogger, these just happened to be something I wanted to post about! My 2 favorite kid book bloggers are What Do We Do All Day and Pragmatic Mom, who might be able to help you. They’re both smarty pants.