When I first discovered these beginning chapter books, I completely fell in love with them. They are unique in the beginning chapter book genre, especially realistic stories, which is overwhelmingly full of obnoxious and/or quirky girls in school with the occasional boy-constantly-in-trouble character. Anna Hibiscus takes the reader to a whole different culture and will introduce children to the idea that books really can make you travel to a fascinating and completely different land, something which is often advertised (how many times have you seen posters for traveling with books?) but rarely fulfilled except in fantasy.
In her third book, Anna Hibiscus and her family are living through the Harmattan, when the wind blows sand over their garden and the city and water is a precious commodity. In her first story, Anna and her family are carefully guarding their water to drink, wash, and keep their most beautiful garden green. But when the girls at their gate who sell oranges tell them of the drought in the city, the family decides together to water the children of the city instead of their garden. In her second story, Anna gets in big trouble because of her twin brothers Double and Trouble. But in the end, her grandparents make everything right. Anna’s third story reminds us of her promised trip to her mother’s relatives in Canada and the fulfillment of her wish to see snow; before she can go, she needs warm clothes and we get to see the contrast between the various stores in the city and the warmth and love between Anna’s mother and her mother-in-law. Finally, Anna is having second thoughts about her trip, especially when everyone seems to have forgotten her already! How can she go away for an entire month? But then her family shows her their wonderful surprises and she knows she will take their love with her on her wonderful adventure.
Anna is a cheerful and sometimes stubborn little girl whose experiences in a family, culture, and country very different from the United States will fascinate beginning chapter readers. She tends to look very young on the covers, so you will need to do some booktalking to get kids to take a break from their usual bland fare of girls and boys like them in schools like theirs in towns like theirs.
Verdict: Although these books may not get the high volume of circulation that the obnoxious Junie B. does, (seriously, that girl is ANNOYING), they are worth buying to add some variety and balance to your collection. Do a display on children in different countries, booktalk them to chapter book readers who are getting bored, have a beginning chapter book club with them. They come in paperback and are very reasonably priced, well worth adding to your library. A fourth book, Have Fun Anna Hibiscus, is also being released, detailing Anna’s adventures in Canada.
ISBN: 9781610670074; Published March 2011 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library