Stories from Africa: Books for Children and Young Adults

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The books in this African collection highlight a wide range of stories from traditional folk tales to contemporary memoirs and biographies by well-known individuals such as Lupita Nyong'o and Trevor Noah.

For additional books, see Reading Rockets' Stories from South Africa booklist.

14 Cows for America

Illustrated by: Thomas Gonzalez
Age Level: 6-9

This is the true story of a touching gift bestowed on the United States by a tribe of Maasai Warriors in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Accompanied by richly hued illustrations, this story of generosity and compassion crosses boundaries, nations, and cultures.

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.

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.

It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers)

It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers)
Age Level: 14-16

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, shares his remarkable story of growing up in South Africa with a black South African mother and a white European father at a time when it was against the law for a mixed-race child to exist. But he did exist -- and from the beginning, the often-misbehaved Trevor used his keen smarts and humor to navigate a harsh life under a racist government.

Legacy of Orïsha 1: Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone
Age Level: 14-16

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Legacy of Orïsha 2: Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Children of Virtue and Vengeance
Age Level: 14-16

After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too. Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But when the monarchy and military unite to keep control of Orïsha, Zélie must fight to secure Amari's right to the throne and protect the new maji from the monarchy's wrath.

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

Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales

Age Level: 9-12

In his foreword to this rich compilation, Nelson Mandela writes, "This collection offers a handful of beloved stories, morsels rich with the gritty essence of Africa, but in many instances universal in their portrayal of humanity, beasts, and the mystical." Colorful vignettes add an extra dimension to the creation myths, trickster tales, and magical stories that Mandela has chosen.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Illustrated by: Elizabeth Zunon
Age Level: 9-12

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred. The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change.

Planting Peace: The Story of Wangari Maathai

Planting Peace: The Story of Wangari Maathai
Age Level: 6-9

This picture book tells the inspiring story of Wangari Maathai, women’s rights activist and one of the first environmental warriors. Wangari began the Green Belt Movement in Kenya in the 1960s, which focused on planting trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. She inspired thousands across Africa to plant 30 million trees in 30 years and was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sulwe

Sulwe
Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison
Age Level: 6-9

Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything. In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

Thank You, Omu

By: Oge Mora
Age Level: 6-9
Language: English

Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu's delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself? Debut author-illustrator Oge Mora brings to life a heartwarming story of sharing and community in colorful cut-paper designs as luscious as Omu's stew, with an extra serving of love.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Young Reader's Edition

Age Level: 9-12

When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba's tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season's crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family's life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William's windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land.

The Day Gogo Went to Vote

The Day Gogo Went to Vote
Illustrated by: Sharon Wilson
Age Level: 6-9

When Thembi's family learns that South Africa will hold elections, her 100-year-old grandmother announces that she too will vote now that she has the opportunity. This story of quiet determination pays tribute to the people of South Africa and the privilege of casting a ballot. Pastel sketches convey the joy and warmth of the bond between Thembi and Gogo.

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"

By: K'NAAN
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
Language: English

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.