A passport to the second-largest and second-most-populous continent, these picture books will transport children to the landscapes and lifestyles of Africa through enjoyable stories and delightful art.
Catch That Goat!
By Polly Alakija
Catch That Goat! takes us to a vibrant street market in Nigeria where little Ayoka is fretting about the family goat that has just absconded from her care. She wanders around asking the vendors on the street—Mama Kudi, Baba Akinade, Auntie Wemimo, Oga and so many more. While they haven’t seen the goat, they seem bewildered about something else!
A hide-and-seek plot and a counting-down lesson are rolled into a simple suspense-filled storyline. I was thoroughly amused the first time I read this book. Needless to say, my kids find it comical every single time.
Author and illustrator, Polly Alakija, is a Montessori teacher who lives (or has lived) in Nigeria with her family and a horde of animals in her own backyard. This justifies the authenticity of the illustrations. They wonderfully capture the sun-drenched market setting. Children, especially in cities, will be intrigued by the sight of women pounding grains or frying snacks on the street side. We also see great detail, like woven baskets, native produce, elaborate storefront signs and bold, cloth patterns. Amidst all this, is a story about a missing goat—this book is a delight, and through a little girl’s awkward predicament, we glimpse a slice of Africa, full of color and chaos!
Another West African read and a Nigerian story we love is Amadi’s Snowman written by Katia Novet Saint-Lot and illustrated by DimItrea Tokunbo.
Mama Panya’s Pancakes – A Village Tale from Kenya
By Mary and Rich Chamberlin, Illustrated by Julia Cairns
Similar in theme, “Mama Panya’s Pancakes” is yet another journey to Africa. However, this time we’ve landed in Kenya!
“Mama Panya sang as she kicked sand with her bare feet, dousing the breakfast fire.”
Thus begins the story as Mama Panya prepares for a quick walk to the market with her son Adika. As they discuss Mama’s few coins and the possibility of shopping for ingredients to make pancakes that night, Adika invites Mzee Odolo to join them for dinner. The list of invitees grows as Adika calls out to Sawandi and Naiman shepherding cattle, his school friend Gamila at the plantain stand, Bwana Zawenna selling flour and Rafiki Kaya at the spice table. But Mama Panya is extremely worried. Will she have enough ingredients to make pancakes for all? But a lovely gesture from the guests alleviates her concerns.
The story presents the big-heartedness among friends and neighbors, a quality more prevalent in villages than in modern times. I realized this when my four-year-old son found the whole thing hard to digest as he drew a parallel in his own life. He ended up with, “How come we don’t do that, amma?” But this was all the more why I loved reading this book to my children!
The illustrations are typical of glorious ethnic art, with bright hues and busy patterns. A note on Kenyan lifestyle, a map, Mama Panya’s pancake recipe, a couple of pages on the foliage and animals we see in the artwork, and the meaning and pronunciation of Kiswahili greetings, adds value and interest to the book.
More from East Africa, the Elizabeti series written by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and illustrated by Christy Hale has stories set in the backdrop of a Tanzanian village.