Inside: Discover the best picture books about Africa, perfect stories to read with kids! Get a full scope of life in Africa to share with your child.
When my kids studied Ghana in 2nd grade, one frustration for their teachers was that the kids had the impression of Ghana as a rural environment. They didn’t really get to experience or understand that Ghana also has cities.
I wasn’t able to find enough books on Ghana to make a book list, so I’ve included picture books set in The Gambia, Mauritania, Malawi, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania on a variety of diverse themes.
Top 10 picture books about Africa
What books on Africa do you recommend? Thanks for sharing!
10. Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
Grace’s parents are divorced and her father moves to Africa where he re-marries and starts another family. Grace is nervous to go all the way to The Gambia with her grandmother; it’s so different from what she knows. There are sheep on the roadside and the market is filled with open-air stalls.
Though she feels like she doesn’t fit in at first, her stepfamily is kind to her. She realizes that her unconventional family which isn’t what she reads about in books should be in one. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
9. Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
The people in Mauritania, West Africa are Muslim and the women wear a malafa. Lalla wants a malafa too but it’s not for beauty, or to be mysterious, or to look like others, or to be like royalty. When Lalla hears the evening call to prayer, she realizes the malafa is so that she can pray like the others.
And then she gets a malafa of her own to go to the mosque with her mother. A malafa is for faith! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
8. Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli
Wangari Muta Maathai changed Kenya tree by tree, becoming the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.
This gorgeously illustrated picture book tells the inspirational story of Wangari Maathai and how she founded the Green Belt Movement; an African grassroots organization that empowers people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation.
Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
7. Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
With persistence and ingenuity, Kondi, a 7-year-old boy, goes off in search of odd bits of wire to build a galimoto. He trades, requests, searches, bargains, and scavenges to find the wire that he needs. Finally, he’s ready to build his toy pickup truck.
It takes him all afternoon, but his car is done in time for his friends to play with him by the light of the moon. Tomorrow, he thinks, he will use the wires to build something different. An ambulance? An airplane? A helicopter?
This gentle story conveys the rhythms of life in a contemporary village in Malawi, where toys don’t come in a box from a store. With ingenuity, persistence, and creativity, anything is possible. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
6. Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by
This is the true story of a remarkable young man, Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who was born disabled in Ghana. Despite having only one leg, his mother encouraged him to reach for his dreams and made sure that he got an education even though he had to hop to school two miles each way.
He learned to play soccer and ride a bicycle. He left home at thirteen to provide for his family. Eventually, he rode a bicycle across his entire country with just one leg, becoming a hero for his people.
He continues to work on behalf of the disabled for his country, teaching that being disabled does not mean being unable. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
5. I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakite, illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite
Amina is flying with her family to visit relatives in Bamako, Mali. If she loses her tooth in Africa, the African Tooth Fairy will bring her a chicken! During her visit, Amina gets two chickens and is even able to watch her chickens hatch eggs!
This story was originally penned by Penda Diakite after a visit to Mali when she was just 8 years old. The vibrant ceramic tile illustrations are by her father.
The daily routines of life in a village in Africa are portrayed, along with family traditions like morning greetings and blessings by Amina’s grandmother. The rich culture of Mali shines through this story of the close-knit ties of a family on two continents. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
4. Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter
Nine-year-old Beatrice lives in a village in Western Uganda and dreams of going to school, but her family can’t afford the cost of a uniform and books. Then one day, a gift of a goat changes her life. She doesn’t realize that at first because a goat means building a shed and planting pastures.
Once the goat arrives, it means a long walk to the stream for water for her goat. But her goat gives the family milk to drink and sell, and soon the milk money adds up. Beatrice can finally go to school! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
For anyone who wants to learn more about how Beatrice got her goat, here’s the link to Heifer International. To teach kids that they can make a difference, consider organizing a Read To Feed fundraising program at your school.
3. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Plastic bags litter the ground in The Gambia which causes problems for both man and beast. The goats die from eating them and mosquitoes flourish from the water trapped and spread malaria. Isatou has an idea. By cutting the plastic bags into strips, Isatou and her friends roll them into spools of plastic thread.
They teach themselves to crochet them into bags. Some people in the village laugh at them; others call them “dirty” but the women prevail. They bring them to the market and sell them. With this money, Isatou can replace her grandmother’s goat.
But even more than that, Isatou has created a cottage industry for women that, by upcycling plastic bags, also helps make her people healthier and more self-reliant. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
2. Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Anyone short of stature — I can relate — will love this picture book of little Imani who gets teased for her size but fosters big dreams thanks to the role models her Maasai mother presents to her in the form of African folk tales.
There’s Olapa the goddess of the moon who defeated the god of the sun, and Anansi, the small spider who captured a snake. But it’s the older boys who are young warriors performing adumu, the jumping dance that inspires Imani the most.
She decides she can reach the moon by jumping, jumping, jumping high into the sky. And, because she believes in herself, she does just that! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Maasai people of East Africa live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.
1. My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa Mollel and E. B. Lewis
In Tanzania, Saruni helps his mother with market work, pushing a squeaky old wheelbarrow loaded with goods. His mother gives him an allowance for helping but he isn’t tempted by toys or sweets at the marketplace. His goal is to buy a bicycle to help his mother on market day.
When he goes to buy a bike, he’s disappointed to learn he doesn’t have nearly enough money, but his mother is touched by his generous gesture. When his father gets a motorbike, Saruni is able to buy his father’s old bike in exchange for his savings. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
More Great Children’s Books To Learn About Africa
The Very Best Sukkah: A Stroy from Uganda by Shoshana Nambi, illustrated by Moran Yogev
Did you know that there is a Jewish community in Abauyudaya in Uganda? Sukkot, a seven-day event, is Shoshi’s favorite holiday and she is excited to build her sukkah hut and win the award for the most beautiful one in the village. The sukkah huts are decorated with local fruit including bananas, passion fruits, mangoes, pineapples, and jackfruits. The competition for the best sukkah is fierce! Everyone goes all out to decorate their sukkah with their own special touches. When a storm destroys her neighbor’s sukkah, all the villagers pitch in, including Shoshi. Their rabbi reminds them that Sukkot is all about community and helping each other. The winning sukkah is a reminder of this holiday! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Mayowa and the Masquerades by Lola Shoneyin, illustrated by Francis Blake
Mayowa wants to play computer games all day but instead has to go with his family to visit his granny in Ilisan, Nigeria. There, he meets another boy who shows him around. They catch a grasshopper, climb a tree, and dance with the masquerades, their ancestors who return to the world to dance with their loved ones. It’s the best day ever! [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Spirit of the Cheetah: A Somali Tale by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Julia Cairns
Young Roblay trains for the great race, a rite of passage, in which the three fastest are declared men. After a disappointing finish, his grandfather tells him the story of the cheetah who carries the spirit of their people. Inspired, Roblay studies the cheetah and her cubs as he trains alongside the mighty river Shabelle. Will he be able to leave his thumbprint on the cheetah’s coat? [picture book, ages 4 and up]
African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History by Tracey Baptiste
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“In a fashion similar to collective biographies about kings and queens of England, we are introduced to ten historical figures, ranging from rulers to writers to military leaders. Some, about whom little is known, may be new to readers (such as Menses and Meneith, Egyptian rulers, and Mansa Musa, the richest man of all time), and others (like Imhotep, Hannibal Barca, Terence, and Aesop) offer additional, thought-provoking information about well-known figures. Each short biography is accompanied by a beautiful illustration by Wilson, bordered in pages decorations based on extant artwork from that person’s culture.
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