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Yesterday I was over the moon after learning that Africa is My Home had been honored with a 2014 Children’s Africana Book Award (also know as CABA). I have long been familiar with these awards and have often discovered new books through them. So to be honored with one myself is amazing.
Here’s more about them:
In 1991, Africa Access in collaboration with the Outreach Council* of the African Studies Association created the Children’s Africana Book Awards with three major objectives (1) to encourage the publication of children’s and young adult books that contribute to a better understanding of African societies and issues, (2) to recognize literary excellence, and (3) to acknowledge the research achievements of outstanding authors and illustrators. The first CABA was presented in 1992. Today over seventy-four titles have been recognized and more than 100 authors and illustrators are members of our Winners Circle. Each winning title has been vetted by our awards jury which is composed of African Studies and Children’s Literature scholars.
There will be an award ceremony on Saturday, November 8, 2014 the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. From this cool slideshow of last year’s celebrations, I’m expecting that it and the other related activities are going to be wonderful.
My great thanks to the committee for honoring Africa is My Home this way.
Two friends who also served in Sierra Leone in the Peace Corps recently returned for a visit bringing along several copies of Africa is My Home as gifts. But what a gift they gave me by sending this photo of Peggy reading it to the people of Kenema Blango. I get weepy every time I look at it.
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In honor of Black History Month, we sat down with Noel Erskine to learn more about the Plantation Church—the religions that formed on plantations during slavery—and its roots in the Caribbean.
How was the Plantation Church formed?
The Plantation Church was formed through the traffic across the Black Atlantic of Africa’s children, packed like sardines, and treated as human cargo, to work on plantations in the Americas. The plantation was at first a site of human bondage, and provided the context for chattel slavery, where the entire family was brutalized as they realized that there was a connection between higher sugar prices and cruel treatment of slaves. In plantation society the political power of the African chief was transferred to the white master, except in the context of the plantation, there were no safeguards for women and children. The entire family was dehumanized. Plantation etiquette required submission to the wishes of the master and failure to comply would often elicit a violent response. The will of the master applied to every aspect of plantation life. The master had the right to whip, sell, or trade members of the family whenever or for whatever reason. Africans found it difficult at first to mount a credible form of resistance against the violence perpetrated against them on plantations.
Slaves being transported in Africa, 19th century engraving. From Lehrbuch der Weltgeschichte oder Die Geschichte der Menschheit by William Rednbacher, 1890. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Why was the Plantation Church formed?
It is often forgotten that Africans who were captured and brought against their will to work on plantations in the New World left institutions of their clan and tribe behind. The creation of the Plantation Church was an attempt to hold body and soul together in an alien environment. In the Plantation Church, which was at first an African Church, Africans “stolen from the homeland” had to compensate for the loss of language, culture, and the constant change of environment as they were often sold and separated from members of their families. The cruelty meted out to Africans who traversed the Black Atlantic on route to the Caribbean and North American colonies for work in plantation society is beyond compare in the annals of the history of slavery. The Indians and Spaniards had the support and comfort of their families, their kinsfolk, their leaders, and their places of worship in their sufferings. Africans the most uprooted of all, were herded together like animals in a pen, always in a state of impotent rage, always filled with a longing for flight, freedom, change, and always having to adopt a defensive attitude of submission, pretense, and acculturation to the new world.
What characterized the Plantation Church?
Enslaved Africans on plantations “a long ways from home”, remembered home, and the memory of Africa became a controlling metaphor and organizing principle as they countered the hegemonic conditions imposed on them by their masters. There was a tension between their existence on plantations here in the New World and there in Africa, their home of origin. Here in plantation society they longed for there, their home, Africa – the forests, the ancestors, family, Gods and culture. They remembered the forests and they relived their experience of forests through the practice of religious rituals in the brush arbors, often down by the riverside. The memory of ancestors and a sense that their spirits accompanied them served as sites of a new consciousness on the plantations in which the struggle for survival and liberation took precedence. This awakening convinced them that they would survive through running away to the forests or through suicides that would reunite them with families and the Africa they remembered. It was primarily through religious rituals and the carving out of Black sacred spaces that enslaved persons were able to affirm self and create a world over against plantation society which was created for their families by the master. With the creation of the Plantation Church, the African priest and medicine man/woman were able to prevent the enslaved condition from dominating their consciousness and rob the children of Africa the freedom to dream a new world. It was the community’s memory of Africa that provided hope for dreaming the emergence of new worlds whether in Haiti, South Carolina, or Cuba.
Why is the Caribbean so important to the Plantation Church?
There were more than eleven million enslaved persons who were transported across the Black Atlantic and forced to work on plantations in the New World. Of this number, about 450, 000 arrived in the United States and all the rest went south of the border to the Caribbean nations and South America. More than twice the number of Africans who landed in the United States arrived in each of the islands of Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba. Additionally, it must be noted that slavery began in the Caribbean as early as 1502, well over a hundred years before the first twenty Africans landed in James Town Virginia in 1619. The historical priority and the numerical advantage point to the Black religious experience being born in the Caribbean and not the United States of America. W.E.B. Du Bois puts this in perspective, “American Negroes, to a much larger extent than they realize, are not only blood relatives to the West Indians but under deep obligations to them for many things. For instance, without the Haitian Revolt, there would have been no emancipation in America as early as 1863. I, myself, am of West Indian descent and am proud of the fact.”
Noel Leo Erskine is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Candler School of Theology and the Laney Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Emory University. He has been a visiting Professor in ten schools in six countries. His books include Plantation Church: How African American Religion Was Born in Caribbean Slavery, King Among the Thologians, and From Garvey to Marley.
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By: Jen Robinson
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Book: A Baby Elephant in the Wild
Author: Caitlin O'Connell
Photographs by: Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Age Range: 4-8
A Baby Elephant in the Wild is a nonfiction picture book that conveys facts about elephants by telling the story, with photographs, of the early life of a baby elephant named Liza. It's not clear to me who named the elephant Liza, but an author's note indicates that the author was a researcher studying elephants in Namibia who happened to be nearby when Liza was born. In any event, the narrative device of focusing the story on Liza works well, turning what could have been a dry recitation of facts into an engaging story.
I think that readers of A Baby Elephant in the Wild will find themselves thinking, as I did, "elephants are really cool." My own daughter, on her second read-aloud of the book, was eager to tell me that Liza could still stand underneath her mother's belly, that all of the elephants were part of Liza's extended family, and that the mothers form a circle to protect the babies from lions. These details stuck with her, perhaps because of the truly fabulous photos.
Here are a couple of snippets from the text:
"In this desert, a baby elephant named Liza takes her first breath after growing inside her mother for almost two years.
Liza is born weighing 250 pounds, the size of a grown black bear. Her mother weighs about 8,000 pounds."
"And within a day, she is able to keep up with the rest of her family: her mother, and aunt, and older brother, and a female cousin."
This second quote illustrates how the author keeps a very specific focus on Liza. She's not just some placeholder - she's a baby who has a brother and a cousin. I think this will help kids to relate to the story.
I did choose, spontaneously, to edit some of the later pages in reading this book aloud to my daughter. She is 3 1/2, and I'm not sure that she needs to know that elephants might not have enough food to survive in the wild, or that "poachers looking for either meat or ivory also threaten elephants". But that's obviously each parent's decision.
I do think, despite the universal appeal of elephants, that this would be a better book for elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It is fairly text-dense. A "Did you know?" page at the end of the book adds additional facts about elephants, perfect for feeding the hunger for information of a curious 7-year-old.
A Baby Elephant in the Wild offers young readers an in-depth look at the lives of African elephants, with stunning visuals. As it's clearly designed to do, it leaves readers with a sense of wonder about elephants in general, and a feeling of familiarity towards Liza in particular. It would make a nice addition to any elementary school library, or to the home bookshelves of those with a particular affinity for animals.
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).
© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.
Summer has come and gone so quickly, fortunately packed with a lot of amazing reads. Which made choosing this first Fall review hard! I decided to go with my fellow Vermont College friend and amazing writer, Melanie Crowder's first book, Parched
. You might argue that I'll be slightly biased in my review of this work, but this story, from its inklings to final version, won a few prestigious VCFA awards, landed Melanie her agent and first book contract. It doesn't need my bias. It stands... shines... all on its own.
Very succinctly, the story chronicles the struggles of a girl surviving on the parched African savanna and a boy escaping a d(r)ying city in search of water.
In only 160 pages, Crowder develops characters and situations so powerful they have followed me throughout all of my other reads. It's a little bit magical how she does this. It's as if she discovered Hemingway's secret for parsimony. The writing is sparse but fully packed. In some ways, it's as if poetic style has been applied to prose. For that reason alone, if you're looking for tricks of the trade, Crowder's work will keep you up nights deconstructing to figure out just how she does it.
POV is used extremely deftly. Whenever the story follows either child, POV is omniscient/close 3rd. However, this is interspersed with an unusual 1st person perspective from the POV of the main hunting dog. These short chapters are like a raw, direct, honest emotional punch that jolts the reader and pulls them deeper into story.
Finally, this story itself works like a dip into the pool of all the story that is going on around the characters. Crowder shows only what needs showing, while nevertheless belying a sense of extreme depth to her characters.
Spoiler Alert: Dogs do get hurt in this book. Yes, it is another dead dog book. My kids may never forgive me for buying it for them and urging them to read it. Protest signs against parental evilness line the walls of our house. I can think of no greater compliment for Crowder. She pulled them in. She made them care. She made them mourn and KEEP READING.
Move over Where the Red Fern Grows
. There is a new contender for greatness.
For more great reads, stroll over to Barrie Summy's site
. She's serving them up cool and refreshing!
Africa is My Home isn’t out till October, but marketing and publicity for it revved up yesterday with Candlewick featuring it at their NYC fall preview and having me do a signing of advanced copies at BEA.
I’ve been going to various publisher previews for years, but not as a featured author! It was strange and wonderful. They saved Africa for last and my editor Sarah Ketchersid did a wonderful job presenting it. After that I spoke a bit, several attendees who have been part of my long journey to publication did too and there was applause and a few tears, not all of them mine. I will say again, it has been a very long road to get here and I will never be able to thank enough all those who were there along the way.
Sarah and I then zipped over to the Javits Center. She went to meetings and I went to wander the exhibits until it was time for my signing. I’d been to BEA a few years ago, but it sure has changed since then in that most of the bigger publishers no longer have any books on display. That was mighty strange, but I’m not a bookseller so perhaps this works better for them and the convention is for them, after all, not for the likes of me. I happily spent time at some smaller publishers who DID have physical books on hand.
And then it was time for my signing. I arrived at Candlewick’s booth to discover this big poster:
They asked me what sort of pen I wanted to sign with and provided me with an assortment to choose from. Then the line began to form and I began to sign. And sign. And sign. I was incredibly touched by those I knew who came, but the majority were people I didn’t know at all. And many of them said such kind things about the book and the idea of the book. I so didn’t expect many to come to this signing so I was overwhelmed and very, very happy! (Candlewick did a great little Vine video of the signing you can view here as I can’t seem to embed it for some quirky wordpress-only-knows reason.)
Thank you, Candlewick, for my day as queen!
While I can’t show you Robert Byrd‘s gorgeous interior art for Africa is My Home, I can show you the cover in the following book trailer. (And if you are at BEA, do stop by the Candlewick Press booth for a more comprehensive look or, even better, come to my Thursday 3:30 signing of F&Gs of the complete 64 page book.)
|Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013|
It's going to take me a while to have anything coherent to say about Chinua Achebe
now that he has died. Not just because he was a great writer — and he was a great writer, as Aaron Bady says, "full stop"
. But because, right now at least, I can't think of a more deeply influential writer in our era. Not just for Things Fall Apart
, though that book certainly did a lot. But for so much else — his work as an editor for the African Writers Series
, his essays on Conrad, his championing of Amos Tutuola after Tutuola's work had gone out of fashion, etc. etc. (If you ever needed evidence of the irrelevance of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the fact that Achebe never won it is Exhibit A.)The best writing I've seen so far on Achebe in the wake of his death comes from Keguro Macharia.
You should read the whole, beautiful essay, but here is a taste:
His departure now – euphemism must be used, if only once – feels much like an encounter with his work: it was unexpected because it had been possible to believe that he was beyond mortality. Achebe simply was. He existed in the world and the world existed because he did. I could afford to take his existence for granted, could afford not to teach or discuss or write about his work, because he simply was. His being in the world made certain things unnecessary. Because he was. Certain figures inspire a kind of faith that they have transcended death, and their deaths hit all the harder – most recently for me, Adrienne Rich who, like Achebe, simply was. When they die – euphemisms can no longer work – we continue to call their names, hoping that they will return to us, that their ghosts will continue to energize the labor they started and sustained and that we now feel unable to continue. So it is that we continue to call for Audre Lorde. Believing, as we must, that she can still provide the right words, the necessary words, the transforming words.
Simon Gikandi has written that Chinua Achebe “invented” African literature. This is not a claim about who wrote first – other Africans wrote before Achebe. Nor is it a claim about the volume of his work – others have written more. It is a claim, I think, about Achebe as an institution builder, as one who made possible a certain kind of imagination and, in his role as editor with the African Writers Series, made possible many other imaginations for African literature. Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be given to a writer is this: that a particular book has been written. A particular imagination explored. A room populated. And multiple other rooms made possible.
Few contemporary Africans, if any, feel the need to write another Things Fall Apart. Indeed, by the mid-1960s, Things Fall Apart could not be written again. Achebe’s work had given African writers the permission to pursue their geo-histories, to take multiple paths, to pursue the mystical and the routine, the profane urban and the perverse rural, the unending past and the foreclosed future. Things Fall Apart had been written, and African writing pursued its multiple afters, with Achebe as inspiration, as guide, and as champion.
Abina and the Important Men is a compelling and powerfully illustrated “graphic history” based on an 1876 court transcript of a West African woman named Abina, who was wrongfully enslaved and took her case to court. The book is a microhistory that does much more than simply depict an event in the past; it uses the power of illustration to convey important themes in world history and to reveal the processes by which history is made.
The above is from the publisher’s description of Trevor Getz and Liz Clarke’s Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History which has just been honored by the Africana Awards as one of its “2013 Best Books for Older Readers.” It is an outstanding presentation of the complexities of slavery in late 19th century West Africa as well as remarkably clear and thoughtful consideration of the difficult work of doing history. Additionally, it also brings to us one of the “silenced,” the many in history we just don’t learn about because there isn’t enough of the primary source paper trail that we tend to rely on when piecing together the past.
Here’s what I just wrote about it on goodreads:
Outstanding. This book seems to have gone under-the-radar in the broader world and it shouldn’t have. I had seen something about it a while back and finally had the time to read it and it is fantastic. It is, as the subtitle indicates, a graphic history. That is, it is a history book and one unapologetically didactic. And as far as I know, pretty unique.
The book consists of several parts. The first is an illustrated “graphic history” (so described in the flap copy) based on the 1876 court transcript of an attempt by Abina, a young West African woman in what is now Ghana and was then termed the Gold Coast to convince the “important men” of the court (jury, judge, lawyers, etc) that she was a free woman not enslaved. It might seem to have been a simple case, but it was not. What the author and illustrator do remarkably well is articulate the complexity of the situation. That is, while slavery by then had been long ostensibly been outlawed in the British Empire (of which the Gold Coast was part) there had also been tacit overlooked versions of it being maintained by wealthy men who helped supply the palm oil then eagerly wanted in Europe. The graphic novel part of the book is moving, compelling, and riveting. The art is well done and artist and author have done an excellent job weaving together what they know with what they imagined about the case and Abina. ( The author says this isn’t historical fiction and I suppose it isn’t a novel, but he and the illustrator have had to imagine things so I’m not sure what it is then.)
But that isn’t all. it is followed by a facsimile of the transcript, and then a section titled “Historical Context” that provides a clear series of essays on a variety of relevant topic such as “The British Civilizing Mission,” “Slavery in the Gold Coast,” and “The Atlantic Slave Trade and Abolition.” Next comes a section titled “Reading Guide” that is fantastic. The author unpacks the many troubling aspects of attempting to consider the many aspects of the story. And so he considers “Whose Story is This?,” “Is this a ‘True’ Story?,” and “Is This ‘Authentic’ History?” Finally, there is a section on “Abina in the Classroom” with different ways of using it. While the focus is on college teaching, it is clearly accessible to high school students too. The book closes with excellent back matter including the preliminary sketches by the artist for the comic.
There are many, many reasons to find and read this book and to get it into the hands of teens, those who teach high school world history, and more. Not to mention it seems perfection for those needing to address Common Core issues. (For those interested in classroom use I recommend exploring H-Net’s Abina Forum which has a number of posts related to its use in the colleget classroom.)
The most important reason for me is that this is a smart and beautifully done attempt to bring to life one of the silenced. As the author notes, history is told by use of material that we have about the past and too often we don’t have anything about so many because they did not leave paper trails. We happen to know about Abina because someone left a transcript of her court case. And because Getz made it his mission to get it out to us.
Highly, highly HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Our class, "Culture and History of South Africa," read Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences
last week. The author, Joseph Mbele came to visit us on Tuesday. It was unanimously considered a DELIGHT.
The book is a fast read, and Joseph Mbele writes in a converational, welcoming style that sucks you right in, keeps you laughing, and keeps you reading.
In person, Joseph proved to be one of the most brilliant, funny, warm, and gentle human beings I've ever met. My students loved him; the two hours with him flew past. Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences
by Joseph L. Mbele
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was the most delightful read about the differences between Africans and Americans and how we relate to each other. My students loved it, found it fascinating, and flew through it.
If you have students, friends, neighbors, classmates, ANYBODY you know from Africa, this book is for you. If you are traveling to Africa, like my students and I are, it's a MUST.
Best part? Now whenever I am late (no, that never happens), I can say I'm on AFRICA TIME. View all my reviews
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For most of the modern world, ancient Nubia seems an unknown and enigmatic land. Only a handful of archaeologists have studied its history or unearthed the Nubian cities, temples, and cemeteries that once dotted the landscape of southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Nubia’s remote setting in the midst of an inhospitable desert, with access by river blocked by impassable rapids, has lent it not only an air of mystery, but also isolated it from exploration. Scholars have more recently begun to focus attention on the fascinating cultures of ancient Nubia, prompted by the construction of large dams that have flooded vast tracts of the ancient land. These photos by Chester Higgins Jr., photographer of Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile, reveal the remarkable history, architecture, culture, and altogether rich legacy of the ancient Nubians.
Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile attempts to document some of what has recently been discovered about ancient Nubia, with its remarkable history, architecture, and culture, and thereby to give us a picture of this rich, but unfamiliar, African legacy. It is edited by Marjorie Fisher, Peter Lacovara, Sue D’Auria and Salima Ikram, photographs are by Chester New York City, and the foreword by Zahi Cairo. It is published by American University in Cairo Press.
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Image credit: All images used with permission of American University in Cairo Press. All rights reserved.
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Oh Dear, Geoffrey! by Gemma O’Neill is a tale of friendship, finding out about yourself and what suits you best.
Geoffrey is a giraffe, keen to make friends. But when he reaches down low to say hello to the meerkats he stumbles, when he tries to make friends at the watering hole he slips and slides and makes a huge splash. Needless to say, Geoffrey hasn’t quite found his niche. Fed up with being clumsy and unappreciated, he sets off to find some comfort in food, with a nibble of his favourite leaves in a tall tree.
And here, where giraffes are at home, with their neck high up amongst the branches, Geoffrey is able to find friends; monkeys and birds, who also love tall trees, where “You can reach as high as the sky…and see as far as the stars!”
This is an easy book to enjoy reading aloud, with lots of sentence internal rhyme, and great use of onomatopoeic words. Both the text and the illustrations reminded me somewhat of Catherine Rayner‘s Solomon Crocodile (which I reviewed here); not just the theme of finding the right friends, but also the use of scale and splatter in the illustrations. In one spread, we only see the lower half of the giraffe’s legs, so tall is he that he can’t fit on the page. In another the giraffe’s nose manages to peer over the edge of the page, again giving us readers and viewers a sense of just how large the giraffe really is. Compared to Rayner’s illustrations, O’Neill’s pictures are glossier, with more intense jewel tones (rather than softer watercolours), and may appeal more to those who like crisp edges and a digital aesthetic.
Seeing as we’re starting to warm up for the forthcoming Edible Book Festival we set about baking some giraffe biscuit, taking inspiration from the patterns on a giraffe’s hide.
Ingredients for giraffe biscuits
150 g plain flour and 60 g cocoa (for brown biscuits) or 110g plain flour plus some yellow food colouring (for yellow biscuits)
1 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
200 g caster sugar
60 g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g icing sugar plus either some cocoa (for brown topping to go on yellow biscuits) or yellow edible dusting colour like this (for yellow topping to go on brown biscuits)
1. To make brown biscuits with yellow patterns, sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and sugar into your food processor’s bowl. Add the butter and mix in the processor until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
2. Add the egg and vanilla to the food processor bowl and mix into the “breadcrumbs”. The ingredients will come together to form a sticky mass. Put the bowl into your fridge for 30 minutes or thereabouts to firm up.
3. Preheat the oven to 200°C (Gas Mark 6). Line two baking trays with baking paper.
4. Sift the icing sugar and yellow edible dusting colour into a bowl. After 30 minutes in the fridge, shape the dough into walnut-sized balls and drop into the now yellow icing sugar, tossing until well coated. Place on the baking trays, leaving about 5 cm between each. Bake for 10–12 minutes or until just set when lightly touched. Cool on the trays for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
Although the dough goes into the over completely covered in icing sugar, it “cracks” as it cooks and cools, and so when the biscuits come out of the oven they have this pattern that is a little like that you find on giraffes.
To make the yellow biscuits with brown patterns, use 110g of flour instead of the flour/cocoa mix, but add yellow food colouring (preferably the thicker paste like this) to the food processor bowl to get the desired yellowness of dough. When the dough has set a little, roll it in a mixture of icing sugar and cocoa.
We were delighted with the results, both visually and gastronomically!
Whilst baking and munching we listened to:
Joshua Giraffe by Raffi
Gertie the Giraffe (not the greatest song writing ever but somehow it will get probably get stuck in your head)
The Giraffe by Rockin’ Rocky
Other activities which would be fun to do alongside reading Oh Dear, Geoffrey! include:
Putting a giraffe sandwich in your kid’s lunchbox – take inspiration from this post by bentoriffic
Raiding your washing line to make a giraffe out of clothes pegs, like this one on Parents.com.
Building a giraffe out of recycled boxes and tubes, as per this idea from the National Wildlife Federation.
And if you work for the council, perhaps you could persuade them to install these giraffe swing powered lights at bus stops – I think this would do a lot to encourage people to get out and use public transport!
Do you have a favourite fictional Giraffe?
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Oh Dear, Geoffrey! from the publisher. I was under no obligation to review the book and received no payment for this review.
Sundiata: King of Mali
An inspiring tale of courage and determination...This is the story of Sundiata, who overcame physical handicaps, social disgrace, and strong opposition to rule Mali in the thirteenth century.
If you liked this, try:
The Girl who Spun Gold
Ashanti to Zulu
I've voiced my qualms about the Caine Prize for African Literature before, particularly in terms of the stories that often end up winning the award, and so I found this statement by this year's Chair of Judges, Bernardine Evaristo, encouraging:
I’m looking for stories about Africa that enlarge our concept of the continent beyond the familiar images that dominate the media: War-torn Africa, Starving Africa, Corrupt Africa — in short: The Tragic Continent. I’ve been banging on about this for years because while we are all aware of these negative realities, and some African writers have written great novels along these lines (as was necessary, crucial), isn’t it time now to move on? Or rather, for other kinds of African novels to be internationally celebrated. What other aspects of this most heterogeneous of continents are being explored through the imaginations of writers?
I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with individual Tragic Continent stories — I like tragic stories! — but rather with the accumulated, repetitious weight of them, the monotony and predictability. (I wouldn't say "time to move on" — that implies we've "covered" the wars, the child soldiers, etc., and now we can read about happy things; I think it's vastly more complex than that, and I'm sure Evaristo does, too.) There have certainly been plenty of tragedies and atrocities that need to be represented and explored in fiction, but Evaristo voices my concerns exactly: why does African fiction have to be less diverse and heterogeneous than any other fiction? Is it because that's what publishers think European and American readers will read? Should the Prize really be governed by European and American stereotypes of the continent? The great potential of the Caine Prize is that it doesn't have to adhere to publishers' opinions about what Europeans and Americans think is "proper
" African fiction.
Evaristo's final paragraph almost had me jump up out of my seat to exclaim, "Yes!":
For African fiction to remain more than a passing fad on the world stage it needs to diversify more than it does at present. What about crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, more history, chick lit? To be as diverse as, for example, European literature and its myriad manifestations. Imagine if the idea of ‘European Literature’ only evoked novels about the holocaust, communist gulags and twentieth century dictatorships. I’m looking forward to the time when the concept of ‘African literature’ also cannot be defined; when it equates to infinite possibilities and, as with Europe, there are thousands of disparate, published writers, with careers at every level and reaching every kind of reader.
an idea of "African literature" I can get behind.
By: Aline Pereira
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Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia,
Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus
Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus
Kane Miller, 2011.
Ages: 5 – 9
Atinuke, a Nigerian-born storyteller, is the author of the award-winning Anna Hibiscus series. Anna Hibiscus is a precocious, curious young girl who lives in a “big white house” in “Africa…[a]mazing Africa” with her big, sometimes overbearing, but always loving, family. While Atinuke has not identified a specific African country for the setting of her books, she has successfully captured the beauty of the African continent through her playful short stories.
Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus and Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus both focus on Anna as she prepares to visit her grandma in “Canada…[c]old Canada.” Both books are divided into short chapters, each of which is like participating in an intercultural exchange. From cuisine to familial hierarchy and even linguistics, Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus and Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus present a glimpse into the life of a child who is discovering two different cultures while also identifying her place in the world.
Each chapter also has a lesson to be learned, from the power of forgiveness to the unconditional love of family to more difficult topics, such as the breaking down of stereotypes and the prejudice and poverty that is present in both African and Canadian society. Atinuke doesn’t look in-depth at these issues, but she frames it in such a way so young readers can understand it and note its importance to Anna and her friends and family.
The illustrator, Lauren Tobia, has created what look like rough sketches to depict certain scenes throughout the book. She doesn’t use color, but instead opts for small details, such as small animals hidden within the plants or adding patterns to items of clothing to complement Atinuke’s colorful descriptions and storytelling.
The Anna Hibiscus series will tickle the senses of both young and old readers thanks to the colorful writing of Atinuke and the drawings by Tobia. Readers will take away not only a better understanding of the world, but also a better sense of what it means to live in an increasingly diverse world.
By: Aline Pereira
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Brave Music of a Distant Drum
Red Deer Press, 2011.
There are some stories that touch you and some that change you. This is what Kwame Zumbi discovers after a visit with his blind mother. Initially turned off by her physical condition and what Kwame sees as a sinful lifestyle (she refuses to call him by his Christian name and she doesn’t attend a Christian church), he eventually learns of a past that he has long forgotten and indeed that he has chose to forget. Ama has a story to tell, one that “lies within me, kicking like a child in the womb” and she summons her son, Kwame, to write it down as she dictates to him. Kwame is impatient with Ama and finds her “old and blind…unwell and…ugly,” but as her story unfolds, he realizes just how amazing her journey has been. From Ama’s comfortable beginnings in her hometown to her relationship with a Dutch governor that brought her across foreign waters to the hardships she faced while on the English slave ship, The Love of Liberty, Kwame learns not only about his earlier life, but ultimately just how powerful and influential his mother’s story can be.
Award-winning author, Manu Herbstein, blends fact with fiction to create a rich story that not only tells a heartwrenching and powerful tale of friendship, love, and loss, but also chonicles the history of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the scars that it has left behind. The topics found in Brave Music of a Distant Drum can be hard to read about (rape, cruel and unusual punishment, religious persecution), but Herbstein uses the calm and steady voice of Ama to serve as a means of “introduc[ing] a new generation of readers to this history and encourage them to broaden their knowledge of it.” In this way, readers learn about a different, often forgotten, aspect of slavery’s history.
Eventually, the reader realizes that Kwame has been the “blind” one and only when Ama comes to the end of her story does he realize the true strength of family. Herbstein doesn’t give the story a tidy ending, but instead, he ends on a realistic note. In this way, he is encouraging the reader to continue the conversation on a “taboo” subject by asking questions or doing their own research.
Brave Music of a Distant Drum is an amazing story that gives a deep, and sometimes difficult, account of the slave trade. It’s not an understatement to say that Herbstein’s tale is a vital part of history and a key to understanding cross-cultural relations today.
This is my fourth post for the great 2012 Caine Prize blogathon. (See my first post for some details.)
With 2 stories remaining for our Caine Prize Blogathon of Wonder, I fell behind.
Thus, this post will be about the last two stories, "La Salle de Départ" by Melissa Tandiwe Myambo
and "Hunter Emmanuel" by Constance Myburgh
Both are solid stories with their own virtues and are, much to the jurors' credit, utterly different from each other.
"La Salle de Départ" tells the tale of a sister who has remained at home while her brother was sent to school in America; he returns home for a visit having become relatively successful in the States, engaged to an Egyptian woman who is a liberal Muslim and a scholar, and unable to relate to his own family anymore. It's true, in this story, that you can't go home again. The cultural and economic divides are nicely delineated, and this is a generally well-written story, carefully structured and balanced, a story with clear themes and unresolved tensions and psychological probing and sociological gesturing, a story that, of course, has an unresolved, dying-fall sort of ending. It's what I think of as a safe workshop story — a story that demonstrates plenty of talent and sensitivity and gives everybody around the table something to comment on and admire. It's also the sort of story that flatters its readers: we can feel good about our own sensitivities after reading it, because we have sided with the good character, we have identified the tensions, we have appreciated the dilemmas, we have nodded our head at the seriousness of it all, and we have felt the proper emotions.
And as you can probably tell from my tone, it's not a type of story I have much interest in. It's worth reading, it's even perhaps worth nominating for an award, but I just struggle to muster a lot of enthusiasm for a story that is so determined to be good for me.
"Hunter Emmanuel", on the other hand, is not a story that wants to be good for anybody. It is a deliberately pulpy tale, originally published in Jungle Jim,
"a bimonthly, African pulp fiction magazine" or "genre-based writing from all over Africa." The story is certainly pulpy and hardboiled, but not in a nostalgic or posturing way. The genre feels utterly appropriate for the setting and events. Rewriting the story in a different idiom would rob it of all its meaning.
It's a story that begins with a severed leg in a tree. Hunter Emmanuel is not a fairy tale character (which I assumed when I first saw the title), but an out-of-luck former police officer who has become a lumberjack. He finds the leg, and can't help but start an investigation on his own. What he finds surprises him. He's fine at getting to what happened, but he's not very good at understanding other people's motivations and desires.
The world of the story is dark and grimy, but there's a dream-world underneath it all, or at least underneath Hunter Emmanuel's perception of it all. A wonderful lyric passage in the middle of the story begins:
That night Hunter Emmanuel dreamt of corridors and mermaids, of seal women. Trees that stretched on and on, up and up, trunks wider than ten men's arms could reach around. Solid pine. It was no good. He'd spent enough nights similarly to know he couldn't sleep like this.
Unable to sleep, he goes out into the world, dragging h
Reporting on Africa Through Interactive Comics
via Color Lines:
I ask Bunmi Oloruntoba why he works in comics; his answer speaks volumes.
“In many ways, the medium is like the African continent itself: it’s misrepresented,” he says. “When it comes to the continent, you know, it’s the conflict, it’s war, it’s the famine. And in comics, it’s Spiderman, the Hulk, superheroes! One genre within the medium has grown so large that it eclipses the medium, and people can’t see the potential. Just like it’s hard to see the humanity, the complexity, the drive of all the things Africans are doing, because it’s been eclipsed.”
This eclipsing is what novelist Chimamanda Adichie has called the problem of the ‘single story.’ Oloruntoba, a Nigerian-born journalist and academic in Washington, D.C., is proposing a solution: collide Africa’s single-story problem against comics’ single-story problem, and see what interesting new particles appear. With literary editor Emmanuel Iduma, he runs 3Bute.com (pronounced tri-bute), adapting other writers’ stories about Africa into three-page comics — and then wrapping those comics in a ‘mashable’ layer that lets any reader dot the panels with their own public annotations. Mouse over a drawing of a laptop surrounded by partiers, and you can watch a Youtube music video of the Hausa hit they might be dancing to; mouse over a drawing of Charles Chikwanje boldly refusing to reveal the name of his gay lover on Malawi television, and get a recommendation for a biography of Bayard Rustin. It’s new-media innovation, historical context, Wikipedia rabbithole, and sometimes even loyal dissent, side by side. And all of it is a living antithesis to the single story.
FJP: What’s really neat is that 3Bute uses what they call a mash-up platform that lets writers and artists collaborate on the 3 page visualizations. Each works like a pinboard where readers can tag a story with relevant context. Visit the site and check it out.
Image: 3bute.com collaborated with the Caine Prize, Africa’s leading literary prize, to adapt all the stories shortlisted into comics. Above is a screenshot from Bombay’s Republic by Rotimi Babatunde.
This relates to our previous post on the state of editorial cartooning in Canada and the US, specifically about what was said regarding “journalistic cartooning” in other parts of the world (I’m paraphrasing).
Blog: The Children's Book Review
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By Shana Burg, for The Children’s Book Review
Published: July 28, 2012
Shana Burg is the author of A Thousand Never Evers (Random House, 2008) and Laugh with the Moon (Random House, 2012). Both novels are for tween, teen, and adult readers. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly wrote, “Gripping. Delivers an emotional wallop.” Kirkus Reviews calls Laugh with the Moon “A vivid work of art.”
Laugh with the Moon tells the story of a 13-year-old girl from Massachusetts whose father brings her to live in the bush in Malawi, Africa after the death of her mother.
Laugh with the Moon (Random House, 2012) grew out of one of the greatest adventures of my life. One week I was a graduate student studying public policy at the Harvard’s Kennedy School in Massachusetts. The next, I found myself in a Land Rover tooling through the bush in Central Africa with my driver, translator, and new friend Norman Mbalazo.
I went to Malawi under the guidance of a professor to investigate whether the girls in Malawi’s primary schools had the same access to learning materials like teachers, books, and pencils as the boys did. “I’m not qualified to do that!” I told my professor. But she convinced me that what was really needed was “a fresh pair of eyes.” Her eyes were tired. She had been visiting Malawi for many, many years.
Image courtesy of Shana Burg.
So there I was, in the African jungle, with Norman and my fresh pair of eyes, slowly being transformed by the people I met in this tiny, landlocked country that is one of the poorest on earth. What I saw in the rural schools fascinated me. Yes, sometimes there were 200 students packed into a single classroom sitting on the floor. Yes, often there were roosters walking around inside the schools. And yes, many of the students learned outside in the middle of the rainy season, which meant that whenever the rains came, class was over for the day.
Image courtesy of Shana Burg.
But with my fresh pair of eyes, I also saw the amazing ways that students and teachers were dealing with the cards they’d been dealt. Teachers taught students the alphabet by having them make letters out of termite hill mud, and draw with sticks in the dirt.
In some schools, older students helped teach younger students as the adult teachers roamed from room to room. If a teacher did not
Recommended for ages 9-14.
Having recently returned from my first trip to Africa, I was eager to read this new novel by author Shana Burg
which takes place in Malawi
. Thirteen-year old Clare has just suffered one of the worst losses a child can imagine--her mother has died, leaving her family consisting of just her and her father, a doctor who seems to care about everyone else more than Clare. At least that's the way she feels when he up and moves the two of them to rural Malawi for several months, where he will be working at the local hospital and she will attend the local village school.
But this novel is more than a "fish out of water" story as Clare struggles to adapt to a completely foreign environment and lifestyle, where she has no cell phone coverage, must wear a totally unfashionable school uniform, and live literally in the middle of the jungle, with no condos, buses, or restaurants. She's so angry with her dad that she's giving him the silent treatment. But eventually the people of Malawi break through her broken heart, helping her to heal.
Burg, who has worked in Malawi herself with Save the Children, does a terrific job capturing the many wonders of Africa--the spirit of the people, the beauties of the landscape and animals, and the crushing poverty. Young girls will identify with Clare trying to fit in with the local girls--gossiping about boys and who likes whom seems to be a universally popular occupation--as well as her sorrows and achievements during her trip. And they'll be amazed at how the children in the local school manage with hardly any textbooks (which must be taken for safekeeping from school every day so they won't be stolen), paper, desks, or other ordinary school supplies that we take for granted, even sculpting letters out of termite mounds. Clare, like everyone else who visits Africa, I suspect, is the not the same person when she leaves.
This novel manages to combine humor (naughty monkeys and pet chickens, in particular) with the poignancy of loss in a way which is appealing to the target audience. Burg also manages to teach many lessons about Africa in a subtle manner, without seeming didactic.
|author Shana Burg in Malawi|
An author's note explains about the author's trip to Africa to investigate conditions in schools in Malawi and also discusses the challenges of medical care in this very poor country. She also includes a recipe for a Malawi treat and a glossary of Chichewa words that appear in the text. I would have liked to see a map of Africa which would have situated Malawi for the young readers, and possibly a list of nonprofits that accept contributions for medical or school projects, in the case that young people are inspired to help out for these very worthy causes as part of the back matter.
This would be a great book to add to school and public library collections--it's a contemporary story in an exotic setting that should definitely appeal to tween readers.
By: Aline Pereira
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Cheryl Foggo, illustrated by Qin Leng,
Second Story Press, 2011.
Following the death of his parents, seven-year-old Maiko has had to leave all that was familiar, encapsulated in his memory of the ancient baobab tree in his village, to come and live with his aunt and uncle in their red brick house in a Western city. Maiko forms a special bond with a small fir tree growing outside the house. He listens to its whisperings, and confides his feelings and anxieties to it: his homesickness; and how Leonard, a boy at school, laughs at his ears. When his aunt and uncle decide that the tree needs to be cut down, Maiko tries to protect it by hiding the tools. Only when the inevitable day arrives, do his aunt and uncle realise the tree’s importance to Maiko, and an alternative solution is found.
The story is straightforward enough to appeal to young readers. They will appreciate the way his love of his two special trees helps him to emerge with confidence from the unsettling changes in his life. In addition, there is a subtle depth to the narrative that will make it appealing to older readers. When Maiko hides the tools, for example, his aunt berates his uncle for leaving them out to be stolen. The situation is not then tidily resolved – Maiko does not confess – and readers therefore find themselves asking questions that have no single straightforward answer. The same is true of Leonard. Something has certainly happened behind the scenes between Maiko’s telling his uncle about how he is being teased at school and our next encounter with Leonard. It is enough to hear explicitly that while Maiko is playing with his friend Li, “They saw Leonard. He did not laugh at Maiko’s ears.” Older readers will probably pick up on this and ponder it. The illustrations emphasise these key moments too. They convey Maiko’s emotions throughout the story: his sadness , worry and guilt, but also his happiness playing in the snow, for example, or his exuberant play with Li when dressed up as a baobab for his first Halloween.
Dear Baobab is a gentle story about settling into a new home and a new culture. It opens up many questions for young readers, who will be touched by its universally relevant themes of bullying and belonging.
African Library Project recently posted a link on their Facebook page to an interesting article published in the Nigerian Tribune: International Literacy Day: Promoting literacy to tackle insecurity. Literacy and Peace was the theme for this year’s International Literacy Day, which was celebrated on September 8, and in the article writer Adewale Oshodi examines the connection between literacy and peace in Nigeria.
According to UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report on Education for All, sub-Saharan Africa still has one of the lowest regional literacy rates, and not much is being done towards raising the level in this part of the world. This should, therefore, give everybody a cause for concern, especially the fact that there is a link between illiteracy and violence, and going by what is happening in most African countries, South of the Sahara, it is high time the authorities took the issue of literacy seriously.
Oshodi compares the rates of literacy, violence and poverty in different regions of Nigeria and concludes
With this analysis, it can be ascertained that there is a link between illiteracy and violence, and this year’s International Literacy Day’s theme, Literacy and Peace, should be taken seriously by those in positions of authority, thereby making it possible for a larger percentage of the populace to acquire education, and as a result of this, conflicts and violence are being eliminated in a way.
The article continues with Oshodi interviewing government officials on their thoughts about the correlation between literacy and peace and what steps and programs are being implemented to improve literacy in their regions.
To add your thoughts on the article, come join in the discussion happening on African Library Project’s Facebook page.
To learn more about our Spirit of PaperTigers Project which works to advance education through books and reading, and development through clean and accessible water, in various regions and areas throughout the world, click here .
I absolutely did not want to read this book. The advance reader copy sat on my shelf for months untouched as I assumed it was yet another book offering a simplistic view of Africa, one that focused on the plight of an exotic animal while barely acknowledging the complications of the people who lived around it. Having lived in Sierra Leone for two years in the 70s, I’m techy about how the continent is represented, especially by well-intentioned outsiders who focus on its animals at the expense of its people. That said, I know that it is very, very hard to even begin to present to anyone, much less to a young person, the horrible complicated conflicts such as what happened in Sierra Leone a decade ago and what is still happening in the Congo. It was only when I saw that the book was a finalist for the National Book Award that I finally picked it up. And then did not put it down again until I was done.
The story is from the point of view of Sophie, the product of a Congolese mother who runs a sanctuary for rescued bonobos and an American father. When her parents split up, because schooling would be better in the States she returned there with her father, coming back during vacations to be with her mother. As the book begins Sophie is traveling to her mother’s sanctuary when she spots a young bonobo with a trader and buys him, recklessly ignoring the Congolese sanctuary worker who tells her they never do that, it will cause problems, that they only rescue those that are brought to them.
At the sanctuary Sophie works to save the young ape whom she names Otto. It takes no time at all for the two of them to become permanently connected, Sophie functioning as the young bonono’s mother. Schrefer quickly and effectively gives us a sense of the sanctuary, of Sophie’s mother, the other workers, and the specifics of the bononos who are the closest of the great apes to humans. Schrefer, with remarkable effectiveness and without sentimentality, again and again throughout the book shows readers this commonality, making readers think hard about ourselves as humans and our relationship to others in this world.
Shortly after Sophie’s arrival the war arrives at the sanctuary. Schrefer does not shy away at his depiction of the horrors of this. In fact, it was this that won me over completely. For I followed closely the conflict in Sierra Leone, a place I knew well long ago, and there are many commonalities to what has happened in the Congo; the drugged child-soldiers, the frightened villagers, the many dreadful things that have been reported from both regions are all too familiar to me. Schrefer presents them truthfully, at times terrifyingly, and sensitively all steadfastly through Sophie’s eyes.
Unable to abandon Otto, instead of leaving the country with the UN, Sophie flees with him. At first she stays with other bononos, but eventually she has to leave them too and sets out on a difficult journey to find her mother who had been releasing bononos back into the wild in another part of the country when the war began.
Sophie is a remarkable character, full of grit and gumption, and readers are bound to be riveted as her efforts to save Otto and herself are tested again and again as they make their journey. Schrefer does an amazing job communicating their physical and emotional hardships, giving readers a feel for the community and ways of the bononos and how they link to us humans, and also a straightforward view of the way the conflict affects humans as well, both the victims and the transgressors.
By the end, I was completely won over. Schrefer has crafted an outstanding work about Africa, about bononos, and about the complexities of the relationship we humans have with the world around us.
I just heard about Kelvin Doe, a 15 year-old Sierra Leonean who is featured on the following video, part of an intriguing series about prodigies.
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Twelve Dancing Princesses, by Rachel Isadora
A Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator gives this classic fairy tale a brand-new setting!
Night after night, the twelve princesses mysteriously wear out their shoes. But how? The king promises a great reward to any man who can solve the mystery. Rachel Isadora has revitalized and reimagined this well-loved Brothers Grimm fairytale by bringing the story of the twelve princesses to Africa...If you liked this, try:
The Fisherman and his Wife
Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave
Puss in Boots
The Wild Swans