Children’s Books About Africa That Parents Will Enjoy

By Mark Rausch AFKI Original Published: June 2, 2014, 8:45 am

Here are 10 children’s books about Africa that parents will enjoy, all imbued with the spirit of Africa.


“My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me” by Maya Angelou and Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Everyone knows Maya Angelou’s timeless spirit and lyricism through her poetry and novels. In “My Painted House,” Angelou’s voice speaks through Thandi, a young South African girl of the Ndebele tribe. Photographer Margaret Courtney-Clarke took rare photos of the tribe — which normally prefers to remain outside the public eye — showing its colorful garments, beads, and traditions. Family values matter in this book, as do the creative powers of the tribe’s women.

“Abiyoyo” from Pete Seeger’s Storysong. Illustrated by Michael Hays

American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger used the power of song to make a children’s book based on a South African fable about a father and a son exiled to the edge of their town by its citizens. With the help of a ukelele they tell the story of Abiyoyo, a monster that kind of looks like the Iron Giant. They end up controlling the beast (not as threatening as he seems to be) and becoming the heroes of their town. Hays’ pictures are warm and unique. Seeger’s theme song comes accompanied with a CD. This is a great book about community.

“Galimoto” by Karen Lynn Williams and Catherine Stock

Hard work and self discipline are the lessons conveyed to young folk through this tender little story about Kondi, a young boy living in Malawi who strives to make a “galimoto,” or a toy vehicle, out of junk spare parts. Along the way he is discouraged and encouraged. The outcome is enough to promote perseverance in the face of limited means.

“Beatrice’s Goat” by Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoeter

Uganda is the setting for this wonderful picture book based on a true story. Real-life Beatrice Biira wants more than anything to go to school. The donation of a goat by the non-profit Heifer International allows Beatrice to help pay for her tuition by tending to the goat and earning money from its milk. It’s an amazing story of how the world can change by a small gift, and how hope shines when given a space to do so.

“My Rows and Piles of Coins” by Tololwa Mollel and E.B. Lewis

Saruni is a Tanzanian boy whose story illuminates the fragility of the economy in many rural African settings. His family survives by growing produce and selling it at the market. Saruni saves some coins little by little, with the hopes of buying a bicycle so he can help his mother get her crops to the market. The book is beautifully illustrated in watercolors by E.B. Lewis.

“African Folk Tales” edited by Hugh Vernon-Jackson

Dover Children’s Thrift Classics published this great volume of classic African tales in 1999 with 18 stories from different tribes and cultures. These include cautionary tales, animals that act like humans, and community life in villages. You’ll meet “The Boy in the Drum,” “The Magic Crocodile,” and “The Hare and the Crownbird,” among others, illustrated with simple black-and-white sketches by Yuko Green.

“The Great Tug of War” by Beverley Naidoo

Mmutlu is a tricky hare in the Southern Africa grasslands who challenges some slower animals to a tug-of-war fight in a wildly unique book that first defines roles and stereotypes (the sly hare, the slow hippo and elephant), then overturns them. A baboon and a wise old turtle come into the picture as well to take Mmutlu off his high horse. Piet Grobler’s illustrations are done in pen and ink. Naidoo, a well-known anti-apartheid activist, retells the classic “Tortoise and the Hare” tale with charm and flare.

“Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” Abridged by Chris Van Wyk

Nelson Mandela wrote his autobiography in 1995 about growing up during apartheid, spending 27 years as a prisoner on Robben Island, his release and triumphant journey to become the first black president of South Africa. Chris Van Wyk has made a version for children’s literature, with a simple timeline of Mandela’s conflicts and successes illustrated by Patty Bouma.

“Head, Body, Legs” by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret Lippert

This is a classic Liberian tale of creation but it also tells about human anatomy and the dynamism of the body. Body parts roll around in this book, joining together or separating in order to find their right matches. Julie Paschkis’s illustrations are stunning and simple with body parts dancing all over the pages. The story starts like this: “Long ago, Head was all by himself,” and it just gets better from there.

“My Father’s Shop” by Satomi Ichikawa

Japanese children’s author and illustrator Satomi Ichikawa takes the reader to Morocco, to the carpet shop of Mustafa’s father in a bustling bazaar. The young protagonist Mustafa is bored and restless sitting around all day long with his father, listening to his father’s droning lessons and watching him try to sell carpets. His diversion through the city streets introduces him to groups of foreign tourists — new friends and possible customers! This is a great foray for kids into the Arab world.



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