Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Anna Hibiscus (series) by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia

I've been eagerly awaiting this beginning chapter book series since I saw it mentioned online last year I've forgotten where of course! Sometimes, it seems like all beginning chapter books are the same. Actually, sometimes it seems like all children's books, realistic fiction at least, is the same. Kids' lives center around school, friends, and popularity. They have an argument with a friend, they don't have friends, they're having trouble in school, or they have a dead/divorced parent. Of course, that's what most kids worry about and deal with, so that's what they want to read about. But I'd like to think that some kids are interested in how kids in other cultures live. Those kids - and hopefully even the kids who are obsessed with popularity, media, and stuff - will find Anna Hibiscus intriguing, different, and completely delightful.

Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. We're never told exactly what country, but it's probably coastal Nigeria, since the author grew up in Nigeria and Anna lives near a big city near the coast. Anna lives in a compound with her Canadian mother, African father, and a huge family of cousins, aunts, uncles, and her twin baby brothers, benevolently ruled over by her wise grandparents.
In her first set of adventures, Anna's mother tries to have a family vacation with just her immediate family - and Anna and her mother realize just how much they need all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents! An aunt who has been in America returns home and everyone is worried that she will have forgotten African ways. Anna admires the orange sellers at their gates and disobeys grandfather to go sell oranges - resulting in a painful punishment and a hard lesson. Finally, Anna desperately wants to see snow and works out a way to make her dream come true!
In her second set of adventures, Anna is picked out to sing for a large audience, but it's her twin baby brothers who save the day when she freezes. Tired of all the fuss and painful braiding, Anna decides to opt out of braiding her hair - and learns the hard way that a few hours of pain is worth it! Anna's family tries out a new generator and decides sometimes the old ways are best. Finally, Anna gets her wish to go to the other side of the city but discovers it isn't at all what she had expected.
Anna is an exuberant, sympathetic character. Her very different culture and the poverty that surrounds her middle-class family are clearly portrayed without over-dramatizing issues or confusing explanations. Lauren Tobia's illustrations bring out the humor of the stories and the various characters, helping readers distinguish Anna's big, loving family. Beginning readers will be charmed by this glimpse into a fascinating, warm, exciting, lively world, very different from their own lives. I look forward to introducing our readers to Anna Hibiscus and encouraging them to try something new!

Verdict: Highly recommended! The only drawback is it can be difficult to get Kane Miller's books, especially complete series, through regular vendors. However, these are worth a little digging on Amazon, Book Depository, or ordering direct.

Anna Hibiscus
ISBN: 978-1935279730; Published June 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

Hooray for Anna Hibiscus
ISBN: 978-1935279747; Published January 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates


The Book Chook said...

I already want to read them! I know I love books that give me a peek into someone else's life, and lots of kids do too. I also think it's important for us all to read books about other cultures and settings, because it increases our understanding and empathy.

Thanks for contributing to the I Can Read September Carnival!

Jennifer said...

Great! I think they may be more easily available in Australia, sometimes it's hard to find complete Kane Miller series here in the US.