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.
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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.