Travel through Africa, with books

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We are eager to travel more in Africa, but in the meantime, here are new and favorite children’s books.

Read inspiring and original stories of contemporary life in Gambia, Malawi, Cameroon, Tanzania, South Sudan, Kenya, Mauritania, Botswana, and South Africa.

  • One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon. In a village in Gambia, discarded plastic bags pile up by the side of the road, bringing disease and causing goats to die. Isatou Cessay has a brilliant idea – she and her friends pick up the plastic bags, cut them into strips, and make purses. Everyone wants to buy a purse! (Picture book)
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. William Kamkwamba grew up in a very poor village in Malawi. During a time of famine and hunger, teenage William read books, scrounged bits of rubbish, and built a windmill to make electricity to light in his house. Now he runs projects to generate energy cheaply and improve schools. (Chapter book)
  • Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Camberlin, Julia Cairns. Mama Panya is making pancakes tonight, and on the way to market, her son Adika invites all their friends. Mama wonders how many pancakes she can make, but everyone brings milk, butter, plantains, fish, spices and it’s a feast under the baobab tree. A sparkling story that expresses Kenyan village life based on sharing, beautifully illustrated. (Picture book)
  • Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter. Wangari Maathai looks at the barren land where all the trees have been cut down, and she starts by planting nine seedlings. She convinces village women to the seeds of hope, and in time, a green umbrella spreads all over Africa. Vibrant illustrations capture Wangari’s vision and beauty and wonder of the Earth. (Picture book)
  • Facing the Lion by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton. Captivating childhood memories of Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, growing up today in a nomadic Maasai tribe, where cows are a way of life, clothing is a nanga and beads, and hunting lions with spears is every warrior’s challenge. (Chapter book)
  • The Market Bowl by Jim Averbeck. In a story from Cameroon, Mama Cecile makes bitterleaf stew to sell in the market. The stew must be made just right, but young Yoyo is impatient and her bowl is best left for the goats. Still, Yoyo takes her bowl to sell at the market, refuses a fair price, and angers the Great Spirit of the Market, Brother Coin. Will Brother Coin restore the blessing on Yoyo’s market bowl? Imaginative illustrations! (Picture book)
  • My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel and E.B. Lewis. Saruni lives in Tanzania, and helps his mother carry heavy produce to sell at the market. For his help, each week she pays Saruni a few coins. He could spend his money to buy toy trucks, a kite, roasted peanuts or rice cakes, but Saruni is saving up to buy a bicycle. Wonderfully illustrated, step into rural village life in Tanzania. (Picture book)
  • Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, Hoda Hadadi. Lovely story of women wearing colorful malafa (veils) in Mauritania. A young girl, Lalla, watches her mother’s veil fluttering as she prays, women in the marketplace robed in bright colors, her grandmother sipping mint tea under a red acacia tree. And then, Lalla has her own malafa, “as blue as the Sahara sky.” Gorgeous illustrations capture traditions of faith and culture in this Islamic community. (Picture book)
  • The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith. In Botswana, Precious Ramotswe wants to be a detective, and there’s a mystery to be solved – someone is taking the children’s snacks and sweets at her school. To catch the thief, she bakes a special cake with sticky glue. (Chapter book)
  • Who Was Nelson Mandela? by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso. Illustrated biography of Nelson Mandela, who changed South Africa. He grew up a traditional village, fought against apartheid, spent twenty seven years in prison, and became South Africa’s first black president. (Chapter book)
  • The Water Princess by Susan Verde, Peter H. Reynolds. Gie Gie lives in Africa – “My kingdom … the African sky, so wide and close, I can almost touch the sharp edges of the stars. But I cannot make the water come closer.” Every day she and her mother up before dawn, walk miles to get water, returning at sunset. Gie Gie dreams of clean, cool drinking water. Stellar illustrations capture rhythms of village life, and challenge of a life without water. (Picture book)
  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. South Sudan, a girl Nya goes to a pond to get water for her family, it takes eight hours every day. In war-torn times, Salva runs away from his village and becomes a “lost boy,” walking through Africa to find his family and safety. Two young people, two harrowing stories of hope and survival, and one meeting at a new village well. Good for older kids. (Chapter book)
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