Africa in the Curriculum
‘If Grandmommy is upset, soon everybody will be upset. Grandmommy passes on her moods faster than mosquitoes pass on malaria.”
We all know how one person’s mood can change the atmosphere for the whole family – and that is true all around the world, including Lagos, Nigeria, the setting for Too Small Tola, by Atinuke, a 2022 Children’s Africana Book Award winner. These winning stories can introduce young readers to a whole continent of culture, history, flavor and fun. Keep reading to find out more about this year’s winners, the November 4-5 celebration at the National Museum of African History in Washington, D.C. and more resources to bring Africa into the curriculum.
The Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA) are presented annually to the authors and illustrators of the best children’s and adult books on Africa published or republished in the U.S. Africa Access and the Outreach Council of the African Studies Association (ASA) created CABA in 1991 to encourage the publication of and use of accurate, balanced children’s materials about Africa. #CABAbooks. The Center for African Studies at Howard University manages the awards, founded by librarian Brenda Randolph. Each of these websites has additional resources, including videos, teaching materials and special events.
Here are the 2022 CABA winners and honor books –
Kwame Nkrumah’s Midnight Speech for Independence
by Useni Eugene Perkins, illus by Laura Freeman
Just Us Books
“Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa,” said Kwame Nkrumah as he marked Ghana’s declaration of independence in 1957. Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African nation to break free from colonial rule. Vibrant, dramatic illustrations complement this brief biography of Nkrumah, culminating in his speech for independence. Very useful backmatter, including a page of Adinkra symbols and their meanings.
Home is Not a Country
by Safia Elhillo
Make Me a World
Home is Not a Country, by young Sudanese American writer and poet Safia Elhillo, “is a tree of identities, of who we are and who we could be and the dangerous and beautiful place in between,” writes Christopher Myers, the acclaimed author and artist who now leads Make Me a World, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Nima doesn’t feel understood: how universal is that sentiment among young people? This novel in verse introduces us to Nima, her mother from Sudan, her close friend Haitham -
“his polo shirt hangs loose about him
years before the shoulders
To come & all they’ll have to carry.”
There is travel to and from Sudan including a sister from the world of magical realism who carries the name Nima was supposed to be given – if everything hadn’t gone wrong.
“& i feel my own smallness
As I try to fill her (Mama’s) life’s empty spaces”
Reviewer Lidwien Kapteijns (Wellesley College) calls this beautiful book a “literary gem and a profound, moving and delightful story by an immensely promising author.”
HONOR BOOKS/HONORABLE MENTION
Too Small Tola
by Atinuke, illus by Onyinye Iwu
“Too Small Tola does a wonderful job depicting the lives of this working-class Nigerian family while portraying the drama of daily life through the perspective of a young girl,” writes reviewer Lauren Parnell Marino (University of Wisconsin – Madison). Nigerian-born author Atinuke also wrote the CABA Award-winning Anna Hibiscus series. She is a traditional oral storyteller and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2023.
African Proverbs for All Ages
Collected by Johnetta Betsch Cole and Nelda LaTeef, illus by Nelda LaTeef
Roaring Brook Press
“It has been said that a proverb is a short sentence based on long experience,” writes Johnetta Betsch Cole, former president of both Spelman and Bennett Colleges and director of the National Museum of African Art. “With proverbs, every conversation is sure to be rich and memorable.” On each page, children choose which of 4 proverbs has been illustrated – and they are invited to illustrate the others and share proverbs from their own background.
Osasu and the Great Wall of the Benin Empire
by Tamkara Olayinka Adun
The Benin Empire flourished from the 900s until its fall to the force of the British Empire in 1897. “Adun’s retelling…is clear, cogent and creative,” writes reviewer Tolu Akinwole (University of Wisconsin-Madison). It is a “must-read for every child and teen interested in untold histories.” The colorfully illustrated story is told from the point of view of Osasu, a young Edo boy who enjoys the protection of the Great Wall built by his ancestors.
by Desaray Mnyandu ills by Jessica Gamboa
English-Zulu flip book
All the animals of the savannah are excited to finally get their tails. This African folk tale is told in English and Zulu. The wily little imbila – also known as a hyrax - tries to get his tail without leaving the comfort of his warm rock , only to learn a hard lesson and end up with only a stub of a tail.
by Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Random House Australia
Modern futures and family culture collide in this story of Layla, a teen born in Sudan growing up in Brisbane, Australia. “Sudan will always be home for Mama and me, Habiba,” says Layla’s father. “You kids shave to decide on home for yourself.” Layla is on the verge of losing a travel opportunity for young inventors when her grandmother falls ill and the family immediately returns to Sudan to be with her. Reviewer Lidwien Kapteijns (Wellesley College) notes that the “descriptions of Sudanese cultural norms…will make this a delight both for readers already families with the Sudan and those new to it.”
Sugar Town Queens
by Malla Nunn
A bi-racial girl living in post-apartheid South Africa is determined to unveil the mystery of her white mother’s hidden past – a mother who “totters between reality and the life she lost years earlier…The story takes wings when Amandla discover in her mother’s pocket book a large wad of cash with a strange address located in the mostly white city,” write reviewers Barbara Brown (Boston University) and Rehana Odendaal (University of Pennslvania). “The novel does an excellent job of conveying the naturalized levels of segregation that continue to permeate space in ‘the new South Africa.’” Middle school girls everywhere will relate to Amandla’s efforts to feel comfortable with herself, in spite of living “in a tin shack because of my skin, my face, my hair…”. Amandla learns that “words have power. String enough words together and you get a story. Sugar Town Queens is a powerful, beautifully written story.
Skin of the Sea
by Natasha Bowen
Random House Books for Young Readers
This first book of a fantasy series by debut author Natasha Bowen blends “West African history and Yoruban mythology to create a new fairy tale” (New York Times). A young Black mermaid collects souls of those who die at sea but, defying the gods, she saves the life of one living boy who is thrown overboard – and there is the dilemma that drives the story. Reviewer Patricia Kuntz calls the book “a wonderful read and a good introduction to the Yoruba religion, specific gods and their functions to maintain society.”
Crossing the Stream
by Elizabeth-Irene Baitie
Norton Young Readers
Twelve-year-old Ato faces many of the same issues in Ghana as his contemporaries in America: disagreements with parents while trying to measure up to their expectations - “He hoped he would make (his mother) proud of him and she would stop feeling sad and scared;” learning how to speak up, cope and succeed. Ato’s grandmother reminds him that “we all have spirits inside. Noisy spirits that should – You’re not good enough…Quietly tell them: Go Away.” Ato’s friend Dzifa counters adult criticism by announcing, “I don’t have a Spirit of Disrespect. I have a Spirit of me.” Ato frequently compares himself to a falcon, sometimes “spinning helplessly down to earth from the sky.” Reviewer Barbara Lehman (Ohio State University) recommends the novel for its universal appeal while convincingly portraying local culture “through her characters’ speech patterns, descriptions of street and community life.”
These 2022 Children’s Africana Book Award winners will be honored during a family celebration at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on November 5 -
The Gold Road highlights the people, places, and items related to the medieval Sudanic empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. Gold, the region’s most valuable resource, moved along regional and trans-Saharan routes reaching as far north as France. The Gold Road invites users to explore hundreds of topics related to the empires and their role in global history.
IKG Cultural Resource Center is an educational organization that is devoted to the re-discovery and application of ancient African history, culture and wisdom.
Africa Access Reviews provides descriptions and reviews of children’s and young adult books on Africa. Links to Read Africa and Research Starters.
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Karen Leggett Abouraya