When my kids studied Ghana in 2nd grade, one frustration for their teachers was that the kids had 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 diversity themes.
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 the roadside and the market is filled with open air stalls. Though she feels like she doesn’t fit in at first, her step family 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 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 pick up 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 for the disabled for his country, teaching that 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 of Africa are portrayed, along with family traditions like morning greeting and blessing 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 that cause 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 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 inspire 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]
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