“The African continent has a land area of 11.7 million square miles – enough to fit in the United States, China, India, Japan, Mexico and many European nations combined,” writes Jeff Desjardins in Visual Capitalist – and he provides this visual from the artist Kai Krause to show what he means.
In the United States we have a tendency to talk about Africa as a single, monolithic expanse – not an enormous and diverse collection of cultures, ethnicities and geography. Since 1991, the Children’s Africana Book Awards have been working to correct misimpressions about Africa by honoring children’s and young adult books that contribute to a better understanding of African societies and issues.
The 27th Annual Awards will be honored with a dinner on March 27 on the Howard University campus in Washington, D.C. (tickets available here) and a family festival (free and open to the public) the following day at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. You can meet many of this year’s authors and illustrators at both events – and read these books all year long!
THE MARCH 27 DINNER AND MARCH 28 FESTIVAL HAVE BEEN CANCELLED
DUE TO CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS - STILL A GREAT TIME TO KEEP READING!
BEST BOOK FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illustrated by Sandra Van Doorn
Lantana Publishing, 2019
“For one little Ugandan boy, no wish is too big. First he dreams of reaching the stars and then of riding a supernova straight to Mars. But on a rainy day at his grandfather's house, he is brought down to earth with a bump. Do adventures only happen in galaxies far away or can he find magic a little closer to home? A touching story of a grandfather's love for his grandson and the quiet pleasures of a rainy day.” Goodreads
HONOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Grandad Mandela by Ambassador Zindzi Mandela, Zazi and Ziwelene Mandela,Zondwa Mandela
Lincoln Children’s Books, 2018 (South Africa)
Nelson Mandela’s two great-grandchildren ask their grandmother - Mandela’s youngest daughter – 15 questions about their freedom-fighting grandfather.
“The narrative responds to important questions regarding growing up under segregation where the authoritative government punished anyone who defied the rigid laws of apartheid…. The story also shows how faith sustained the Mandela family – celebrating each of his birthdays without him. The sadness (as understood by grandkids) of growing up under apartheid highlights the spirit of “Ubuntu” that grandad Mandela fought all these years to see it through when he became the first black President of South Africa.” Fatima Barnes, Howard University
Full Africa Access Review
Mama’s Cover Cloth by Ruby Yayra Goka, illustrated by Edmund Opare
Sub -Saharan Publishers, 2018 (Ghana)
Do you know that the African woman’s cover cloth has many uses? In this delightful book that young children will enjoy, a little girl shares the many uses of her mother’s amazing cover cloth.
Animal Village written and illustrated by Nelda LaTeef (Niger)
Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2018 – African Books Collective distributor)
Animal Village is a folk tale from the Zarma culture of Niger, West Africa about a tortoise who saves her village from the ravages of drought with wisdom passed down from an “old story.” Nelda LaTeef’s colorful and strikingly brilliant montage of illustrations, in acrylic and collage, captures the richness and vibrancy of the sub-Saharan culture from which the story springs. The story is especially relevant to sub-Saharan Africa as it focuses on the devastation of drought and the importance of received knowledge. With its dual themes of wisdom and grit, the book happily entertains while it teaches the importance of hard work and persistence as keys to success.
BEST BOOK FOR OLDER READERS
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018 (Nigeria)
“(Tomi) Adeyemi’s ashe or power as a writer is expressed in the success of her debut novel Children of Blood and Bone (a debut novel for Adeyemi and a New York Times bestseller)… Adeyemi’s work has flow, excitement, and notable motives. She skillfully weaves in aspects of African historical and modern politics, culture, and spirituality. The main character Zelie, and her diviner class have been persecuted, most violently by the tyrant King Saran…. The deities and domains of the Orisha clans are refreshingly similar to reality…
“The levels of violence contained within this book are difficult to swallow, even for some seasoned adults…. Millions of people are ordinarily numb to the fact that hyper-violence and wretched Africanized worlds are hallmarks of modern media (esp. Hollywood), and accept it wholesale. Remarkably though, Adeyemi inserts a critical lifeline into this abyss–the concept that the Gods of one’s own ancestors (in this case the Orisha) provide salvation unlike any other.” Jaye Winmailawe, Ph.D., scholar, author and priest of the Orisha
Full Africa Access Review
HONOR BOOKS FOR OLDER READERS
Shakia Rising and King Shaka by Luke Molver
Story Press Africa, 2018 (South Africa)
“The graphic novels – Shaka Rising and the sequel, King Shaka – are imaginative, engaging, and innovative ways of narrating the legend of Shaka, the most renowned 19th century monarch in Southern Africa. Comic book writer-illustrator Luke Molver, a South African born in Durban, does an excellent job of telling and showing the rise of King Shaka and the Zulu nation in the wider context of individuals and groups in the region at the time….
“…what we knew of Zulu history from books during my formative years in apartheid South Africa was very biased and skewed. The content of what blacks needed to know then was supported by segregated laws and controlled by the ruling party. Molver’s novels written over twenty years after the end of apartheid are a testament to the great insight and sensitivity he brings to his work. As Mbongeni Malaba, professor of English at the University of KwaZulu-Natal wrote in the Foreword to Shaka Rising, “The Graphic Novel Series aims to make great African stories accessible to a world-wide audience of young readers, drawing on multiple sources to ensure balanced and credible accounts.” Fatima Barnes, Howard University
Full Africa Access Review
Mirage by Somaiya Daud
Flatiron Books, 2018 (Morocco)
“Mirage is a fictional novel that not only draws the reader into its story and prose, but challenges the reader to observe futurism and science fiction in a unique cultural context where it is not commonly used. Readers familiar with Moroccan culture find themselves constantly encountering values and traditions that are clearly Moroccan, while at the same time navigating the author’s magically engaging futuristic kingdom… The protagonist, Amani, grows throughout the book from a victim into a heroine and it is her culture and tradition that give her the strength to transform herself and to overcome the challenges laid in her path. For a generation of young readers who are faced with ever-accelerating globalization and pressures to disregard tradition, this novel tells a story of how holding on to your identity, traditions, and even language can be a source of strength in overcoming adversity.” Suzanne Moyer Baazet, African Studies Association
Full Africa Access Review
BEST NEW ADULT BOOK
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Penguin Random House, 2016 (South Africa)
The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.
Read more here – 27 years of winning books plus videos, future award nominations process, Africa Access database, teaching resources - and make plans to celebrate the Children's Africana Book Awards, in Washington, D.C., in your classroom and with all children everywhere.
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Karen Leggett Abouraya