african, social studies, social-emotional

Book List: Africa

Anansi and the Golden Pot (DK Children)
Written by Taiye Selasi
Illustrated by Tinuke Fagborun

For ages: 3-5
This remarkable retelling of an Anansi story centers on a little boy named after the fabled spider trickster. Anansi, the boy, travels with his family on a plane to Ghana, where the family’s relatives live. While staying at his nana’s seaside home, Anansi meets the actual spider, who gives him a golden pot. This magical pot will fill itself with whatever the boy desires most. However, there’s a catch; he must share the pot with the people he loves the most. This is a fantastic introduction to the stories of Anansi, one of the most well-known African folklore characters. I went in expecting just another simple retelling but placing this in the present day does a lot to freshen up some retold tales.

Room For Everyone ( Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
Written by Naaz Khan
Illustrated by Mercè López

For ages: 3-5
A daladala (minibus) travels through a Tanzania community headed for the beach. Musa and her father are excited to spend the day playing in the water. However, the driver keeps stopping to pick up more travelers, even ones not looking for the bus but needing a lift. Musa keeps thinking this will ruin their trip to the beach with so many stops, but dad assures her that this is fine. Eventually, Musa learns a lesson in collective responsibility and how important it is to look out for others in need. The illustrations here are dynamic, energetic, and bold, beautiful colors. This is an excellent text to remind our children of how vital community is for everyone to live whole & happy lives. 

The Water Princess (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Susan Verde
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

For ages: 4-8
Gie Gie is a little girl growing up in Burkina Faso. She likes to pretend she is Princess Gie Gie ruling over the land & sky around her. There’s a problem, though, every day, she and her family must take a long journey to have clean water for drinking & washing. Even though the water is murky & muddy, it is all Gie Gie & her family have. The book is filled with French words and local color, which will help your young readers immerse themselves in the place. While Gie Gie dreams of fresh, clean water, the book is based on the efforts of Georgie Badiel (the real Gie Gie), who founded a clean water foundation to get all West Africans this vital resource. 

Deep in the Sahara (Schwartz & Wade)
Written by Kelly Cunnane
Illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

For ages: 4-8
Set in Mauritania, this book follows Lalla, who envies her mother and older sister. They get to wear colorful malafas, veils that correspond with the teachings of Islam. Told in rhyme, Lalla investigates why they wear them while she does not and discovers the connection between the garment and her religion. The illustrations here are stunning, done by Iranian artist Hoda Hadadi through collage. The different ways of wearing the veils are also on display, showcasing how each woman makes the garment a sign of their personality & view of the world. 

Nya’s Long Walk: A Step at a Time (Clarion Books)
Written by Linda Sue Park
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

For ages: 4-8
Nya notices her little sister Akeer becoming listless as they walk back to their village after fetching water. As they journey through South Sudan, Nya realizes her sibling has water sickness that is becoming more common from drinking out of unfiltered wells. This means the walk becomes even longer as they must travel over three days to a clinic. Nevertheless, Nya is determined to get her sister the help she needs and makes it. From there, the book shows us the real-life Water for Sudan organization, founded by Salva Dut. Shifting from fiction to nonfiction, the text explains what had happened to Akeer and how the new clean water systems being put in place would help her and many others.

Wangari’s Trees of Peace (Clarion Books)
Written & Illustrated by Jeanette Winter

For ages: 4-8
When Wangari returns home to her native Kenya, she discovers something horrible. Where there were once tall, majestic forests sits a sea of stumps. The Kenyan women walk hunched over, made to haul wood on their backs while male government members laugh. Wangari begins an effort to reforest the land while protesting her government’s actions. That gets her jailed, but that doesn’t stop Wangari. This book is based on the real reforestation activism of Wangari Maathai, which won her a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. This isn’t just a problem in Kenya, as the world’s demands for lumber have led to swaths of forests being cut down. It’s a crisis that demands our immediate attention because as we lose these forests, we lose oxygen, and animals lose homes & food.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah (Anne Schwartz Books)
Written by Laurie Ann Thompson
Illustrated by Sean Qualls

For ages: 5-9
Emmanuel was born in Ghana with a deformed leg. His mother was one of the only people not to dismiss him as worthless. So Emmanuel set out to prove his disability didn’t stop him from having worth. He would go on to hop two miles to attend school, learn to ride a bike, and eventually leave home at thirteen to make money for his family. Then, as an adult, he achieved his dream of becoming a professional cyclist, a feat most people who saw him when he was born couldn’t even fathom. This is a fantastic text on what it means to be disabled and how people born without these body parts are still capable of tremendous things.

Africa Is Not a Country (First Avenue Editions)
Written by Margy Burns Knight & Mark McInicove
Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien

For ages: 5-9
One of the most infuriating things in the United States is how Africa is often seen as one single place when it is a massive continent with 54 different & diverse countries. This book provides a beautiful overview of what life is like across Africa, from the tiny islands of the Seychelles and Comoro to the bustling cities of South Africa to the beaches of western Africa and the desert people of North Africa. It’s a wonderful display of how many different cultures populate one of the most critical land masses on the planet. I’m a big believer that even our elementary students need to have a developing sense of global geography & Africa is sorely neglected in our social studies units when we touch on this. I would make this a part of my classroom library. It is lengthy, so selecting a different two-page spread a day would be a fantastic way to grow your children’s knowledge of Africa.

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