Stories from Africa

The books in this African collection highlight traditional folk tales, stories about historical events through the eyes of young children, and contemporary portraits of kids exploring their world. Featured countries include Eritrea, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, and Somalia. For additional books, see Reading Rockets' Stories from South Africa booklist.

Amadi's Snowman

Illustrated by: Dimitrea Tokunbo
Age Level: 6-9

"Amadi, an Igbo boy in sun-drenched Nigeria, sees no point in learning to read, until he sees a picture of a snowman in a book and is curious to find out more. He wants to learn about the far-off country where frozen rain falls from the sky — a world so different from his own — and the chance to read about it fills him with joy. Children will enjoy reading about Amadi's life in the village, depicted in the earth-toned, intimate scenes.

Ashley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-huh

Age Level: 6-9

Tales drawn from the oral tradition are retold with verve and musical language certain to delight listeners of all ages. Bryan's paintings decorate each tale, bringing characters and plot vividly to life.

Babu's Song

Illustrated by: Aaron Boyd
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Bernardi lives with his grandfather, Babu, who supports them by making toys. Bernardi wishes he could go to school, but they can't afford it. When a tourist offers a handsome price for the music box Babu gave him as a present, Bernardi regretfully sells it, giving the money to Babu. Babu uses the money to pay for his grandson's school, and he starts working on a new music box. The book's sensitive text and endearing illustrations capture the tender relationship between a Tanzanian child and his grandfather.

Beautiful Blackbird

Age Level: 3-6

In a story of the Ila people of Zambia, the colorful birds of Africa ask Blackbird, whom they think is the most beautiful of birds, to decorate them with some of his "blackening brew." The story line is simple and the rhythmic chants of the flock frequently interspersed throughout the text add drama and a rapper's cadence to this award-winning book that is ready-made for participative storytelling.

Drumbeat in Our Feet

Age Level: 6-9

"This joyful picture book uses watercolor-and-pencil artwork to show African dances from all over the continent and kids 'coming from Brooklyn, coming from Harlem, the Bronx and down the subway lines' to learn them at the Harlem's Batoto Yetu dance studio. On each left-hand page is a sepia-tone illustration of a traditional African dance, accompanied by detailed notes about its origin, the performance, and the cultural tradition.

Elizabeti's Doll

Illustrated by: Christy Hale
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Upon the arrival of her new baby brother, Elizabeti decides she needs a doll she can care for the way her mother cares for the new baby. After looking around her village, Elizabeti finds the perfect doll to love, and names her Eva. When Mama changes the new baby's diaper, Elizabeti changes Eva. When Mama sings to the baby, Elizabeti sings to Eva. And one day when Eva turns up lost, Elizabeti realizes just how much she loves her special doll. Set in contemporary Tanzania, this universal tale of love and tenderness that will touch readers of all ages.

Elizabeti's School

Illustrated by: Christy Hale
Age Level: 3-6

Product Description: Elizabeti was excited and fidgety on her first day of school as she admired her school uniform and shoes and walked to school with her older sister. Once there, though, Elizabeti becomes shy, wishing she had not come. Elizabeti is not sure at all she wants to return, but once she finds that she can use her knowledge at home, she decides to return. While warm watercolors depict a child's first day of school in Tanzania and the text is sprinkled with Swahili words, the emotions conveyed are universal.

First Come the Zebra

Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: One day when Abaani, a Maasai boy, takes his family's cattle out to graze, he is surprised to see a Kikuyu boy, Haki, tending a new fruit and vegetable stall alongside the road. The boys know of the traditional conflicts between the Maasai and the Kikuyu. They take an immediate dislike to each other, but when a dangerous situation suddenly arises, the boys act quickly. Little do the boys know they have also taken the first step in overcoming their differences and forging a path to friendship.

Mama Panya's Pancakes

Illustrated by: Julia Cairns
Age Level: 3-6

"Mama Panya and her son, Adika, are all ready for market day where Mama is planning on using her few coins to buy the ingredients to make pancakes for dinner. Adika is so excited that he can't help inviting all of their friends and neighbors. Mama Panya is worried that his generosity may be more than her few coins and their meager supplies can provide. Luckily all of the guests arrive with gifts, and a Kenyan cross between 'Stone Soup' and the story of the loaves and the fishes is realized." — School Library Journal

Nelson Mandela

Age Level: 6-9

"This picture-book biography matches Mandela's outsize achievements with large, powerful images, resulting in a presentation that will seize and hold readers' attention…Nelson's paintings range from poignant, when Mandela's mother tells him good-bye as he leaves home for more education at the age of nine, to exuberant, when Mandela and 100 men arrested for protesting apartheid respond by dancing and singing, to inspiring, when people organize rallies demanding his release. When freedom finally comes, 'a colorful sea of people' celebrate." — School Library Journal

Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation

Age Level: 9-12

Product Description: For hundreds of years the Maasai have moved with their herds of cattle and goats across thousands of miles in Kenya and Tanzania. Today the Maasai face new challenges. Their traditional way of life is threatened, lands are overgrazed, and wildlife is in danger. Maasai tribes are meeting these obstacles head-on adapting their lives and agricultural practices while keeping their vibrant, close-knit culture alive. Award-winning author-photographer Jan Reynolds presents a striking glimpse of these dynamic people.

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangara Maathai

Age Level: 6-9

Wangari Maathai's native Kenya was a changed land, literally blowing away because its trees and growth had been destroyed. Rather than complain, she started a reforestation effort for which she was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Handsome illustrations combine with crisp text to tell the story of one person’s impact.

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families

Age Level: 6-9

"This moving depiction of ecological innovation centers on a project spearheaded by Dr. Gordon Sato to plant mangrove trees, which grow easily in salt water, in the village of Hargigo in the impoverished African nation of Eritrea. Graceful prose alternates with cumulative verse to relay the benefits that the trees provided for the community: 'These are the fishermen/ Who catch the fish/ That swim in the roots,/ Of the mangrove trees.' Resembling papier-mâché, Roth's textural mixed-media collages become increasingly lively as the new ecosystem flourishes." — Publisher's Weekly

The Village that Vanished

Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
Age Level: 6-9

Abikanile and her mother help their Yao village in Africa avoid the slavers, which requires courage and standing together. This original story of resourcefulness and solidarity is told in the tradition of a folktale. Handsomely crafted illustrations echo its mystery and magic.

When I Get Older: The Story behind "Wavin' Flag"

Illustrated by: Rudy Gutiérrez
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: In his first book for children, Somali-Canadian poet, rapper, singer, and songwriter K'NAAN tells his own story. Born Keinan Abdi Warsame in Somalia, he grew up in Mogadishu. His grandfather was a renowned poet who passed on his love of words to his grandson. When the Somali Civil War began in 1991, K'NAAN was just thirteen. His mother made the difficult decision to move her family so that they could grow up in safety.

Yafi's Family

Illustrated by: Jan Spivey Gilchrest
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Meet Yafi, a six-year-old Ethiopian boy who was adopted as a young child. Yafi, his parents, and two sisters remember his early life and his adoption experience by telling stories, revisiting memories, and looking at photographs. Yafi's Family is the story of love, loss, and a boy's discovery of how wide and how deep the bonds of family can be.