I have discovered some amazing children’s books where African countries play an essential part in the story. In some cases, those African countries act as a character itself. Whether it is an early reader book that tells a folklore lesson or a coming-of-age story that highlights the endurance of a person’s will to survive, I have always found that the stories are impactful to the reader.
Some of my favorite books are Sulwe and Mama Panya’s Pancakes. I appreciate Sulwe because it takes a layered and important topic like colorism and presents it in a way that children can understand. It’s a lesson to both the readers and the listener and to me, that is the perfect making of a successful book.
But if you take a book like Mama Panya’s Pancakes, you would think it’s about food. it is, but it is also about patience, community, and understanding. It is critical for children to understand the importance of being mindful and to have pride in their culture.
There is always something to be taught in children’s books. Whether it’s a fantasy or a historical timepiece, there is always an important message that the reader can apply to their everyday life. Here are eight children’s books where Africa is a major character in the story.
The Bones Of Ruin By Sarah Raughley
Set in a different reality than our own, Iris is a daring tightrope walker from Africa. She tightropes as entertainment for the British, but they don’t know that she has a secret: she can not die. Despite her immortality, she has no idea who she is. She can’t remember her family or anything from her past. One day she’s given the opportunity to unlock all the secrets from her past if she agrees to participate in a fiery tournament. However, when some of her memory starts to unlock, she questions if she wants to expose her truth.
Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya By Mary And Rich Chamberlin and Julia Cairns
A delicious story about community, love, and food. Mama Panya delivers a beautiful story on the importance of love. Everyone loves Mama Panya and her pancakes, even the elders in the community. It certainly is a sweet treat and with the recipe included in the book, you and your child can share the same sweet joy.
Sulwe By by Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison
This stunningly illustrated book serves as an important lesson on colorism for young readers. Sulwe is self-conscious because is the darkest person she knows. Her parents and friends are all lighter than her and she wishes she wasn’t so dark. But after hearing a folklore story about the sisters Night and Day, she slowly learns to embrace the skin she is in.
Bonyo Bonyo The True Story of a Brave Boy from Kenya by Vanita Oelschlager, Kristin Blackwood, and Mike Blanc
Based on a true story, Bonyo is about a boy from Kenya who wanted to be a doctor. The story follows his life growing up in Kenya and how his parents and his community made sacrifices to ensure he become a medical professional. Dr. Bonyo recounts how leaving his village was hard but all the work paid off when he received his schooling and was able to return to the village with resources to help his people.
Aluta by Adwoa Badoe
This YA story centers around a girl named Charlotte who loves being a college student. She is embracing her newfound freedom as a new adult and that pleases her because her father is too strict. She finds herself welcoming all the attention she gets from men. Charlotte becomes increasingly aware of the politics in Ghana and decides to pursue political science and follow her new crush who is also an activist. But her political interest and new activist friends put her in the spotlight with the government in Ghana and she’s forced to make a decision that will change her life forever.
Makeda: Queen Of Sheba by Marlon McKenney
A promising young Ethiopian princess named Makeda has the life everyone dreams of. She’s born in a royal family and has everything she could ever want. Suddenly, her father, the king, dies and now her remaining family has to learn to survive. Makeda is determined not to allow the patriarchy to remove her from her birthright and she is willing to fight to the end to keep her family in power.
AFRICAN TOWN by Charles Waters and Irene Latham (January, 2022)
This upcoming title, written in verse, is about a town in Alabama called African Town. The name stems from being confirmed as the home of one of the last places where a slave ship named Clotilda was found. The boat carried over one hundred enslaved people from Nigeria to the United States. This novel is written in verse and includes over 14 different points of view from some of the last enslaved people to reach the shores of America.
The Water Princess By Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Based on the life of supermodel Georgie Badiel, this is a story of a young girl who has only one wish. She wishes she could drink and have clean water in her village. She and others in her small village carry water jugs on the top of their heads so they can walk miles to bring back water to drink and clean with.
If you are interested in other tales from around the world, check out this post on popular children’s books from different parts of the world.