Category Archives: Africa

Africa is My Home: A 2014 Children’s Africana Book Award Winner

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 this award and have often discovered new books through it. 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 at 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.

 

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Africa is My Home: In Sierra Leone

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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Learning About Africa: Volunteerism

Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches. Be smart about traveling and strive to be informed and culturally aware. It’s only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created.

Indeed. From “The Problem With Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist.”

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Books About Africa

We adults know, of course, that Africa is a continent, not a country. Also that it is diverse, full of real people and places that are varied and distinct. We know of its beauty and of its harshness. And perhaps most of all, we adults are highly aware of its complicated historical relationship with North America. Helping American young people reach a similar understanding of the real Africa is as important as it is challenging. It can be tricky when their toys, visits to zoos and theme parks, viewings of movies and television shows, and other encounters leave them with a romanticized sense of exotic animals, unfamiliar cultural practices, and rural settings. Older children may learn of horrific conflicts, dreadful illness, and dire poverty. While books are not a panacea, and some unfortunately only reinforce the same tired stereotypes, others exist that dispel misunderstandings and help children gain a deeper sense of that landmass called Africa.

That’s the opening paragraph in my “Books About Africa” article in the latest Horn Book Magazine.  You can now read the whole thing here.  Hope it gives you some food for though as well as book ideas.  

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Learning About Africa: Congratulations to Joseph Opala

 PRESS RELEASE

Historian Professor Joseph Opala receives
Sierra Leonean Passport

Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the United States of America H.E. Bockari Kortu Stevens today presented Americo/ Sierra Leonean historian, Professor Joseph Opala with his Sierra Leonean passport. The impressive ceremony took place at the conference room of the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington D.C.

On 20th May 2013, Professor Opala was sworn in as a Sierra Leonean citizen by H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma. This was in recognition of his role in documenting the historical link between the Gullah people in the United States of America and Sierra Leone, and for his outstanding contribution in preserving Sierra Leone slave castle of ‘Bunce Island’ as a heritage site . The esteemed historian was also awarded Sierra Leone’s Order of the Rokel by President Koroma in 2012.

Welcoming the recipient, Ambassador Stevens narrated the excellent historical work and research conducted on the Atlantic slave trade in Sierra Leone by Professor Opala thereby drawing significant interest in the subject, particularly the direct historical connection between the Gullah people of South Carolina and the people of Sierra Leone. The Ambassador congratulated Professor Opala on his numerous achievements and hoped that he would use his Sierra Leone citizenship to serve as a Goodwill Ambassador for that country.

Responding, Professor Opala thanked Ambassador Stevens for taking the time off his busy schedule to present him with his new Sierra Leone passport. He noted that he was very proud to carry the Sierra Leonean passport and wished his Sierra Leonean wife, Fatmata, was there to witness the epoch occasion. He thanked the members of the Bunce Island Coalition and the Friends of Sierra Leone for honoring him with their presence.

Professor Opala was accompanied by a fifteen member delegation drawn from colleagues, family and close friends; some of whom came from as far away as Oklahoma City, Atlanta and New York. Before concluding, he presented the Ambassador with gifts and historical artifacts for display at the Embassy.

EMBASSY OF SIERRA LEONE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Thursday, December 12, 2013

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Queen for a Day

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 advance 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:

africaposter

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…

photo

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!

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Thank you, Candlewick, for my day as queen!

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Africa is My Home: The Cover! The Book Trailer!

While I can’t show you Robert Byrd‘s gorgeous interior art for Africa is My Home (coming out this fall from Candlewick), I can show you the cover in the following book trailer. And if you are at BEA, do stop by Candlewick’s booth for a more comprehensive look or, even better, come to my Thursday 3:30 signing of lithos (stapled F&Gs) of the complete 64 page book. (ETA: if the following intrigues you, the book is available for preorder hereherehere, or at your favorite local bookstore.)

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Learning About Africa: Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History

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 R. 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. The graphic story 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 college 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.

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A Remarkable Young Inventor

I just heard about Kelvin Doe, a 15 year-old Sierra Leonean who is featured in the following video, part of an intriguing series about prodigies.

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Eliot Schrefer’s ENDANGERED

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 Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Still 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 bonobos who are the closest of the great apes to humans.  Schrefer, 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 DRC;  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 bonobos, but eventually she has to leave them too and sets out on a difficult journey to find her mother who had been releasing bonobos 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 bonobos 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 bonobos, and about the complexities of the relationship we humans have with the world around us.

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