Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus Books

I am overdue writing this post about the remarkable, amazing, and wonderful Anna Hibiscus books by Atinuke. After reading Betsy’s review last summer I requested the books and fell completely and totally in love with them. Since then I’ve been delighted to see others in America become equally smitten, say the folks over at Horn Book who have just given two in the series well-deserved stars. My special thanks to reviewer and teacher Robin Smith who just now reminded me of them as she mentioned them on the ccbc-net discussion list as exemplars for raising issues of economic differences for children.

For those still unfamiliar with this charming series, the books are from the point of view of a young biracial child, Anna Hibiscus who lives in “… Africa. Amazing Africa.” In each of these early chapter books mostly set in an unnamed city, professional storyteller Atinuke gently, authentically, and lyrically strings together a series of episodes that present life for one extended Nigerian family.  There are threads tying each set of stories together — Anna’s anxiety about having to sing in front of an important audience or her visit with her Canadian grandmother — but it is the individual little stories that make these books so powerful.

Having lived and taught in Sierra Leone I’m fairly obsessed with bringing material to American children that communicate an authentic viewpoint of life in West Africa.  While she does not identify Anna’s home country, author Atinuke’s background is Nigerian and I can only say that what she describes rings true to me from my own experience a few countries to the west. (I’m going back to Sierra Leone this summer for the first time which will be quite an experience!) Like Robin, I too admire Atinuke’s deft handling of the class and economic issues that are familiar to me from my time in West Africa.

I’ve heard some complaining about the author’s decision not to identify Anna’s home country and I have to say I disagree. The choice to begin each story with a lyrical storytelling trope — that Anna lives in “amazing Africa” is lovely and clearly an artistic choice. Yes, some Americans have trouble understanding that the continent of Africa is not a country, but that doesn’t mean every book written for children and set in Africa must identify the country in order for American children to get the right idea. Even without naming the country, Atinuke does one of the best jobs I’ve seen giving a feel and sense of what life is like for one West African child. And because of that I’m looking forward to her new series, The No. 1 Car Spotter, this one from the point of view of a young boy living in an African village. 


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8 Comments

Filed under Africa, Learning About Africa

8 responses to “Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus Books

  1. I love your blog! Have been following it for a a long time. I just started a book review blog that I am using with my undergrads who are taking my Children’s and adolescent Lit classes. It is at http://ustudentreviews.blogspot.com/

    Hope you’ll check it out!

  2. Pingback: Fusenews: Your source for any and all Gene Wilder trivia « A Fuse #8 Production

  3. Monica,

    I hope this comment is not too late. I just reviewed Anna Hibiscus for Michigan Reading Journal. Of all the books that did not make our Notables list, the omission of Anna Hibiscus could be the most painful for me. So thanks for giving a shout out to this book and this series. I can see that we are very much on the same page with this series.

  4. Ed, never too late! I too was disappointed by its omission on the Notables list, but not surprised because the issue of the country not being named came up in your discussions. As it comes up in review after review and why I wanted to address it here.

  5. Zoe

    I’ve just read a couple of Atinuke’s books which have been shortlisted for a cybils award, and am now hoping to interview her in a couple of weeks’ time. My reviews of her books are here: http://www.playingbythebook.net/2011/11/01/cybils-nominees-three-books-by-atinuke-2/ and I’ve just received her follow up book about No. 1 – can’t wait to read it! If you’ve any questions you’d particularly like me to put to Atinuke, please get in touch :-)

  6. Pingback: Interview with the Sage and Talented Atinuke | educating alice

  7. Pingback: Interview with the Sagacious and Talented Atinuke | educating alice

  8. I’m so glad you addressed the issue of all the ridiculous fuss about using Africa instead of a specific country name. It is, as you say, a lyrical trope. It works rhythmically and for the alliteration. Why, oh why does everything have to be read so very literally? I love the series and hope it gains more traction because of your post and Ed’s video interview with the author.

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