10 Picture Books About Africa That Teach Empathy

10 Picture Books About Africa That Teach Empathy

I received so many great picture book suggestions for my first list, 10 Great Picture Books to Learn About Africa, that I had to include them on a new list. So here it is. Part Two: 10 More Great Picture Books To Learn About Africa.

This new list highlights seemingly ordinary people who find ways to help people in extraordinary ways. Other books on this list showcase empathy and helping others. It is my hope that this list inspires kids that they can change the world.

10 Picture Books About Africa That Teach Empathy

10. 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez 

Willson Kimeli Naiyomah of Kenya

In Kenya, Kimeli comes home to his Maasai village after studying abroad. He has something important to discuss with his village elders. He remembers 9/11 and the suffering in New York. To the Maasai, the cow is life. Kimeli offers his only cow Enkarûs; others join him in this ultimate sacrifice. Together they gift fourteen precious cows for America “because there is no nation so powerful that it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small that they cannot offer mighty comfort.” This is based on the true story of Kimeli Naiyomah. [picture book, ages 5 and up]

9. Growing Peace: A Story of Farming, Music, and Religious Harmony by Richard Sobol

J. J. Keki

In a village in Uganda, farmers work together at a coffee growers co-op called Peace Kawomera (Delicious Peace). What is unusual is this is an interfaith farming cooperative with Christians, Jews and Muslims all working together.

Not too long ago, Uganda had a series of civil wars and people of all religious faced persecution. When Ugandan musician, J. J. Keki  visited the United States, he witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attack, and it prompted him to start this farming co-op. As of 2016, there were more than 1,000 farmers growing and selling their coffee collectively through Peace Kawomera. [advanced nonfiction picture book, ages 7 and up]

8. The Water Princess by Susan Verde and Georgie Badiel, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

This story is based supermodel Georgie Badiel’s childhood in Burkina Faso, where water has to be collected miles away and carried back on the heads of the women and girls. The heroine in her story, Princess Gie Gie, dreams of day when her village will have cool, crystal-clear water of its own. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Georgie Badiel foundation for clean water in Africa

The backstory of this picture book is the chance meeting between Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, The Museum) and model/activist Georgie Badiel at the Women in the World Summit in New York City. He suggested that she meet with his Museum collaborator, author Susan Verde, and the trio brought her story to life. Georgie Badiel started a foundation to provide clean water to the people of Burkina Faso and Africa, including digging wells, restoring wells, and supporting education for women and children.

7. The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin

Leo in America has worked hard to earn a bicycle he names Big Red. Now that his bike is too small for him, he decides to donate it to a country that really needs it. Big Red ends up in Ghana where a young girl, Alisetta, uses it to help her family bring crops to the market. When Big Red’s spokes break from a runaway pig, she donates it to a local medical clinic where it’s turned into an ambulance bike. The gift of a red bike from America has a new life, helping others in Africa. [picture book, ages 8 and up]

Interested in donating a bicycle too? Check out Bicycles for Humanity.

6. Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Wangari Maathai

In the shade of the big mugumo, her mother teaches her that a tree is worth more than its wood, an expression that Wangari never forgets.

In Kenya, the British colonists grow rich by cutting down trees to plant tea. Wangari witnesses the destruction of the trees as a child, and returns from education abroad to find that this practice has changed the ecology. Wild animals are rare now, food-growing farms scarce, and the rivers are muddy from erosion.

She creates the Green Belt Movement to reforest her country, recruiting women to help. It’s dangerous to oppose the government officials who have made fortunes from razing forests, but Wangari is not deterred. Her trees help to build bridges between tribes, and she becomes the assistant minister of the environment, after helping to bring down the President Daniel arap Moi. Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]

5. Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini

This picture books reads like a charming African folk tale but it’s set in modern day Nigeria. When Anyaugo wakes up in the middle of the night, she finds a giant chicken in her kitchen and fears for the cooking her mom and aunts have done for the New Yam Festival tomorrow. Is this a friendly chicken, and how does she get rid of it? [picture book, ages 4 and up]

4. Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema

This rhyming story shows the dependence of all the creatures living in the Kapiti Plain on the rain. Without the rain, the grass turns brown, and the cows are hungry and dry. It falls to Ki-pat the herd boy to change the weather, which he does with the help of an eagle’s feather. His shot pierces the storm cloud, releasing the rain. Referencing this picture book can help kids understand famine in Africa. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

3. The Butter Man by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli

While Nora waits for her father to prepare couscous for dinner, she tells him that she’s starving. He wants her to save her appetite for dinner so he tells her a story about his childhood when there was famine in Northern Morocco. His family had to sell the cow which gave them milk and butter and his father had to leave them in search of work.

When he asked for butter, his mother told him to wait for the butter man (a merchant who walked through their area) to ask for a bit of butter. The butter man never came, but soon his father returned with flour, vegetables and meat, and eventually his family was able to buy a new cow that gave them butter.

This picture book tells the story of the Bergers or Imazighen, the native people of North Africa. [advanced picture book, ages 6 and up]

2. Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya by Mary Chamberlin and Rich Chamberlain, illustrated by Julia Cairns

As Mama Panya and her young son Adika walk to market, he invites all the friends he meets to share in their pancakes at dinner. Mama Panya worries how she will feed a crowd with just money enough for food for the two of them. This is a heartwarming story about sharing, and the rewards that it brings creating community. The back matter pages have more information about life in Kenya, plants and animals Adika and Mama Panya saw on the way to market, and how to speak Kiswahiki. Mama Panya’s pancake recipe is also included! [picture book, ages 4 and up]

1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Anna Hymas

In William’s village in Malawi, there is no money for lights, and a drought throws the country into famine. William’s family can’t afford his school fees, or even more than one meal a day. At age 14 with free time on his hands, he goes to the library, a gift from the Americans, where he finds books on machines including a windmill. He gets the idea to build it to bring up water from below ground and makes it from trash: a tractor fan, shock absorber, broken bicycle, and plastic pipes. This is a true story. William studied at Dartmouth, and returned to Malawi to work on renewable energy for electricity and pumping water. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Here’s his TEDTalk:

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10 Picture Books About Africa That Teach Empathy

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. These are amazing! Just added a few more books to our Africa study!
    Mother of 3 recently posted…Art Project #86- Woven CD Garden DecorationsMy Profile

  2. Katrina

    Thanks for including ‘Chicken in the Kitchen’ on this great list! We’re thrilled! You might want to check out our 2 new books about Africa, both #ownvoices. ‘Sleep Well Siba and Saba’ by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl (author), and Sandra van Doorn (illustrator) is set in Uganda and is about two forgetful sisters dreaming of a bright future. ‘The Wooden Camel’ by acclaimed filmmaker and TED Fellow Wanuri Kahiu (author) and Manuela Adreani (illustrator) introduces the lives of the Turkana people of northwest Kenya through the story of Etabo, who dreams of becoming a camel racer. You can find both books on http://www.lantanapublishing.com/shop/ , on Amazon and The Book Depository. Thanks again!

  3. You’ve featured several here that I love. Now I need to go find the rest!
    maryanne recently posted…10 Sensational Sound Activities for Preschoolers – Explore the Science of SoundMy Profile

  4. What a great list! Many of the titles are new to me – I’m looking forward to reading them. I loved ‘The Butterman’ and so did my children. It’s a fascinating story of life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. And it provides insight into what hunger really is.

  5. Thanks for sharing this wonderful list! I love that most of the books feature ordinary people taking initiative to create positive change. #ReadYOurWorld
    Svenja recently posted…Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018My Profile

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