Today I wish to spotlight a wonderful, authentic, and original series — Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus books published in the US by Kane Miller. As she writes about herself, Atinuke was “…born in Nigeria to a Nigerian university lecturer father and an English editor mother…” and spent her early years in Nigeria before heading off to a British boarding school at age ten. As for the books themselves, she writes:
I had been meaning to write those stories for years – ever since the homesickness of my boarding school days when I discovered how little children in the UK knew about Africa and even more so as a story teller when it was clear from children’s questions how little they still knew about the Africa that I am from.
I absolutely adore these books (my gushing post from a few years back is here) and so am delighted that the final four of the chapter book series (there are also picture books) have just been published in this country. They are as warm, insightful, and real as the previous ones. The illustrations by Lauren Tobias complement the text to perfection. I have yet to come across any other books that provide younger American readers a better way to learn about one child in one place in “Amazing Africa” as Atinuke always begins these in her delightful storytelling voice.
Here are two oversized books that feature languages from around the world.
The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak is a very cool look at language from all over. It is remarkably comprehensive (while, of course, not able to be complete) and a rich reading/looking/listening experience. (That last is because it comes with an app.) Each section begins with a map showing the languages highlighted, provides brief text about them, and then come a series of illustrations for representational children saying something in their language.
Hello World by Jonathan Litton and illustrated by L’Atelier Cartographik is an oversized board book featuring a handful of languages from different continents. Large double-page spreads are provided for Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia/Oceania. Fun lift-the-flaps provide tidbits of information and pronunciations. While definitely fun and worthwhile adults should discuss with child readers those images that are stereotypic.
Ossiri and the Bala Mengro from Child’s Play Books is a delightful yarn of the Travelers (as Romani are called in the UK). Penned by Romani Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby with charming illustrations by Hannah Tolson this is both an entertaining tale and a book that gives a good sense of the Traveler life.
In A Horse Named Steve from Kids Can Press, Kelly Collier takes on confidence, bravado, hubris, and what it means or not to be exceptional in a wry way, both in her text and in her illustrations. Steve certainly thinks he is more than exceptional– whether young readers agree would make a great conversation. When I’m back in school next fall I definitely plan on giving this one a try.
Eric Veillé’s My Pictures After the Storm from Gecko Press has the physicality of a board book, but the content will entertain children far beyond the toddler stage. On one side are the “before” images and on the other the “after” ones. Starting with a storm we go on to every thing from lunch to a cannonball. Wacky and nutty in the very best way.
From Phaidon‘s First Concepts with Fine Artists comes Birds & Other Animals with Pablo Picasso. Each page of this board book features a simple, but perfect drawing of an animal by Picasso along with minimal text such as “Wasps like to fly, but grasshoppers prefer to hop!” that I believe is also Picasso’s, but am not sure. There’s a page at the end explaining who the artist was and a final spread with the sketchbook pages from which these animals came.
Recently I wrote a post celebrating independent publishers, something I’d long wanted to do. Now I want to take the next step — start a regular feature highlighting books from these publishers. So today is post #1.
John Cage, a remarkable avant-garde composer (perhaps best known for the work 4’33” which is performed as total silence), collaborated with textile artist Lois Long in the 1980s to create Mud Book: How to Make Pies and Cakes. Happily for us Princeton Architectural Press has brought back this delightful and charming little book. (It will be out this coming Tuesday.) As they describe it, this delightful object is: “Part artist’s book, part cookbook, and part children’s book, Mud Book is a spirited, if not satirical, take on almost every child’s first attempt at cooking and making. Through the humble mud pie add dirt and water!” It is adorable and perfect for little ones who want to explore the world of making food (real or play).
A goat on the roof a New York city apartment building? That is indeed the case in Anne Fleming’s The Goat from Groundwood Press. The lives of a diverse group of apartment dwellers become entwined in this short, but rich story. Using a third person omniscient narration, Fleming moves readers from one character to the next — goat included. It may sound fantastical, but is done so convincingly that I’m ready to go look and see if there is a goat on my building’s roof!
I have Debbie Reese to thank for drawing my attention to David A. Robertson and Julie Flett’s When We Were Alone published by Portage and Main Press. Done simply, but with devastating clearness this is the story of a woman telling her granddaughter of her time in one of the boarding schools to which Canadian First Nation children were taken. She tells of the brutal methods used to strip them of their own cultures and how they managed to quietly, but firmly resist this. The lovely illustrations further the powerful emotional clout of this important book.
This last book is a bit of a tease as it won’t be available to October, but I wanted to put it on your radar nonetheless. It is Rosalie K. Fry’s Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, a reissue coming from the New York Review Children’s Collection. It is the spare and lovely story of Fiona McConville, a feisty ten-year-old who is sent to live with her Scottish grandparents on a wild and remote coastal area. The natural world, folklore, and family all come together in this gentle yet wondrous story that was the inspiration for the 1994 movie The Secret of Roan Inish (which I’m thrilled to see is available to stream as it is a wonderful family movie).