by Barbara Thompson-Book, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN
Welcome back to those of you who have been traveling with me around the world and exploring places we may never see ourselves, but can visit because of the wonderful writing and artwork of authors, illustrators, and photographers sharing their corner of the world. I’ve been pairing books with sources from the World Wide Web, as our world ever expands. To those of you who are just joining me on this adventure, welcome!
This week we are looking at books set in Africa. Keeping in mind Kathy Short’s post, I tried to make sure that the books shared here do not stereotype Africa as a world of poverty. I have to say, that this presented a challenge, first because there is, in fact, so much poverty in Africa, and second because authors have in many cases chosen to highlight the plight of African children. I will try to present a realistic view of Africa, although I have never personally been there. In looking for books to highlight I looked for stories that represented modern Africa or reflected some of the struggles that the African continent has undergone.
The most current book that contrasts the life some children experience in the city versus life in African villages is City Boy by Jan Michael. The story is set in Malawi. It begins in an unnamed city, where Sam, a preteen has just buried his mother who died of “the Disease.” Whether or not this disease is AIDS is not mentioned. His father died three years earlier of the same illness. His father’s cousin debates with his mother’s sister, where Sam, now an orphan, should live. He says, ”Mandingwe. Quite so. It is out in the bush, many miles from here. Your nephew has been brought up to expect better. He has always lived here in town. He has been having a good education, he has smart clothes, he is used to television and computers. His parents have brought him up the modern way. They are buried here, too, in the modern way” (p. 8). Thus the conflict begins. It is decided that Sam will go to Mandingwe to live with his aunt and cousins. And so, leaving his computer behind, and taking with him a precious pair of leather sneakers, a great deal of clothing he has been told he will now share, and a Gameboy, Sam leaves the city and moves to a small village. What follows is a coming of age and an understanding of where his mother’s roots were.
Basic information about Malawi can be found at Map Zones. The CIA maintains a Web page for children (although it’s not very kid friendly) with condensed information on Malawi. Malawi has been in the news recently because Madonna adopted children from the country.
Another novel demonstrating both the modern side of Africa and yet its troubled history is Beverly Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth. Set first in urban Nigeria, the book chronicles the journey of Sade and her brother Femi as they have to flee the country after their mother is murdered in the driveway of their home because their father, a journalist, has written negative pieces about the Nigerian government. As they are whisked away from their father, the author includes details that give the young reader a view of a modern Africa with telephones, chauffeurs and electronic gadgets. Entering the United Kingdom on forged passports, and abandoned by the woman paid to take them to their uncle, a professor at a university in London, the children are forced to accept the help of the foster system of London when it becomes apparent their uncle has disappeared. However, because their father is still in harm’s way in Nigeria, they are afraid to tell the authorities the truth about what has happened to them. The plot becomes more entangled once their father arrives in London and is sent to prison for illegally entering the country.
National Geographic kids has a Web page with pictures and video on Nigeria. The video may reinforce stereotypes with students as it is of a tribal ceremony of a nomadic people.
Time for Kids also has good, simple information for students. One interesting feature includes translations of phrases in English with an audio of the Nigerian pidgin.
The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants has a very interesting Web site. Here you can find information about refugees all around the world. It is an aid organization, so they do have a button for giving, but the information on the site is very nicely presented (if information on refugees can be nicely presented).
Two books about Sudan introduce students to the issue of civil war in that country. Year of No Rain by Alice Mead is a novel about the Bahr el Ghazal region of southern Sudan. In 1999, Stephen’s family is forced to send him and two other boys into hiding when the army approaches the village, so that the boys will not be forced to become soldiers. When the boys return to their village, it has been destroyed. This sends them on a journey to find refuge. All the while, Stephen is hoping that his older sister Naomi has survived the attack and will return to the village.
Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Gregory Christie is a fictionalized story of what actually happened to young men in southern Sudan during the civil war. The story begins with eight year old Garang Deng fleeing to Ethiopia. There he meets an American named Tom. Circumstances in the camp demand that he leave, this time for Kenya, where again he meets up with Tom. Tom leaves, only to return when Garang is 21. Tom explains he has told Garang’s story around the United States, and that Garang will be able to immigrate there. This picture book has beautiful acrylic paintings depicting the African landscape. An afterward explains the facts of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” stating that 3,800 young men have been brought to the United States after having to flee their native Sudan.
A Time for Kids article details the facts of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. The Time for Kids Web site has a search feature which allows you to use keywords to find past articles on whatever topic you’re investigating.
The Alliance for the Lost Boys has a Web site that, while graphic at times, has detailed information about the Sudanese civil war and it’s affect on the people of Sudan. While it is a fund raising site, you don’t need to click on those links. A word of warning, if you click on the video clip on the home page, you will be taken to a YouTube video about genocide. While it’s moving, it’s not for young students, however if you teach high school or college, it would be a good supplement to the books above.
CBS news also has an interesting story on the Lost Boys. It is on the CBS regular news Web site, so there are a lot of ads (the first time I went to the site the banner ad was for Viagra, so you might not want to use this with your students). The site links you to the CIA Factbook information on the Sudan.
The final two novels I examine are by Beverley Naidoo. They are an interesting case of how fiction can shift genres. Written in 1986, Journey to Jo’Burg: A South African Story and its sequel, Chain of Fire written in 1989, were originally contemporary fiction. Both books examine the issue of apartheid in South Africa. In fact Naidoo had been imprisoned in South Africa in the 1960’s and was forced into exile in 1965 because of her involvement in the resistance to apartheid. Journey to Jo’burg was originally banned in South Africa. Given the political change in South Africa, these novels would be considered Historical Fiction, however, they do give the middle age reader a view into what a segregated society was/is like, and what South Africans went through to achieve a majority government. In the first book, 13-year-old Naledi and her brother Tiro travel from their village to Johannesburg, to find their mother, who works as a maid in a white household, when their baby sister becomes extremely ill. On this journey they come face to face with what apartheid means to them. In Chain of Fire, the family is to be “relocated” to their “homeland.” Naledi and her friend Taolo, whom she met in the first book, organize resistance to the relocation.
Beverley Naidoo maintains a Web site with her biography, information on her books, links to relevant sites and a link to Bookbox, where you can find more biographical information and listen to her talk.
For a detailed and informative Web site on South Africa, visit South African History Online.
Turning now to picture books about Africa, one that is near and dear to my heart is Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBride and illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter. It is the story of what happens to a family in Uganda when they are given a goat by a relief organization. Beatrice is at first skeptical that one goat can change her life, but after receiving the goat (who then has twins), the family has fresh milk, first to provide nutrition to them and then enough left over to sell to their neighbors. With the extra money earned from selling milk, Beatrice is able to attend school for the first time, and her family is able to repair their home and buy clothing and blankets.
Heifer International is the organization from which Beatrice’s family received their goat. This is a wonderful opportunity for your students to get involved in a service learning project. For $20 you can buy a flock of chicks. Currently a goat is $120, or you can buy part of a goat. Although the holiday season is over, this is the perfect gift for that someone who has everything. (My brothers and sisters-in-law each received a share in a family goat for Christmas!) Beatrice is featured on the Web site under Africa success stories. She graduated from an U.S. college in 2008 and is currently working on a masters degree — all because her family received a goat when she was nine!
Rehema’s Journey: A visit in Tanzania by Barbara Margolies and My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa Mollel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis are both set in Tanzania. Rehema’s Journey takes us literally on her journey as she leaves her village for the first time to travel with her father to the Ngorongoro Crater. She visits a big city for the first time and we see through Margolies’ photographs two sides of Tanzania — a rural village and an urban city. Along the way we also see the wildlife for which Tanzania is so well known. My Rows and Piles of Coins is a memoir of Mollel’s life in Tanzania in the 1960’s. Saruni wants a bicycle and saves all the money his mother gives him each week when they go from their village to the market to sell goods (dried beans, maize, bananas, pumpkins, spinach, firewood, and eggs). He keeps the money in a box where he arranges what, in his mind, is a fortune. Unfortunately his fortune is not enough to buy the bicycle. But with a little trading, there is a happy ending. In the afterward Mollel writes of the currency Saruni is saving and how important bicycles were to the people of Tanzania in the 1960’s.
Time for Kids also has good student-friendly information about Tanzania. Cyberslueth for Kids has some interesting links for those seeking additional information. One link in particular takes you to Tanzania’s currency which you can view on-line.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Web site features history, pictures and video of the region, including the Ngorongoro Crater.
Finally Rutger University has a wonderful Web site devoted to children’s books that teach economics. The site lists a book of the month and the top five books to teach 22 economic concepts. Both Beatrice’s Goat and My Rows and Piles of Coins are listed under the top five books on saving.
I want to end our journey with three picture books by Ifeoma Onyefulu. She grew up in Nigeria and moved to England where she became a photographer. A is for Africa is an alphabet book. At first I was leery of this approach — lumping all of Africa together, however after reading her note in the beginning of the book, I was reassured. She says, “The alphabet is based on my own favorite images of the Africa I know. I come from the Igbo tribe and grew up in southeastern Nigeria. It was in Nigeria that these photographs were taken, but the people and things pictured reflect the rich diversity of the continent as a whole.” Emeka’s Gift: A Counting Story is listed on the Rutger’s site under resources and commodities. It too, is specific to Nigeria and documents objects that Emeka finds at a local market as she makes her way to her Grandmother’s home. A Triangle for Adaora is the least successful of the books I reviewed. The story is one of two children looking for a triangle in common objects. The place of the story is undisclosed — just identified as an “African village.” This leads to looking at all of Africa as interchangeable. Perhaps because it is one of her later books, she felt it unnecessary to be specific about where the story takes place.
Next week we’re off to India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Afghanistan!
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