Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

anna-hibiscus1Cindy: Lynn found this gem of a series, and I am so glad. Good storytelling in early chapter stories is always a treat and Anna Hibiscus (Kane Miller 2010) one sings on many levels. Most stories for this age level are set in the United States so to have an African setting is awesome, especially since the cultural details are woven into the charming stories in a subtle way. Having just spent the holidays in a house with 23 relatives and only one shower, I can relate to Anna’s bustling household with her mother, father, twin brothers (Double and Trouble) and many extended family members. In the first story, Anna’s father decides to take his nuclear family to the beach for holiday, but the rest of the family slowly is added to the mix, and the vacation is much less stressful once they are all together again. Atinuke is a professional storyteller from Nigeria and her craft serves her well in delivering Anna’s stories. If Ramona Cleary were from Africa, “Amazing Africa,” then her story might resemble this one.  Anna’s passion, imagination, enthusiasm, naivete and fears are infectious and readers will be eager to continue on to the next books in the series to find out what will happen to her next. Great find, Lynn!

Lynn: Anna and her charming family stole my heart in the first book in the series, Anna Hibiscus.  My heart was completely theirs with the second book, Horray for Anna Hibiscus, and I’ve been urging everyone I meet since to read these.  I’m a school librarian to my toes so many of the reasons I love these books are connected to the potential for classroom use.  As Cindy says, an early reader set in another country is a rare bird and one set in a modern African city with a middle class family is even rarer.  But there is so much more.  Atinuke explores universal issues of family and growing up with grace and humor.  She presents issues of economics, class and poverty with a skillful subtly, never lecturing but succeeding beautifully in opening young reader’s eyes.

Having recently had to search for books on economics for the primary grades for state curriculum benchmarks, I wanted to jump and down when I read the story called Anna Hibiscus Sells Oranges. Here is a lesson on economics that is perfectly designed for the primary classroom.  All the stories are wonderful for reading aloud or for the new independent reader and these stories can be used in a myriad of ways.  Whether it is a story about hating to have your hair combed and braided or one about a warm climate child yearning to see snow, these are stories that all children can connect to.

I understand the importance of helping young readers understand that Africa is not a homogeneous place.  I do wish Atinkuke had specified a country but the strengths of the books outweigh this issue.  The most important concept in the Anna Hibiscus books – that people in other countries may do some things differently but are like us in so many ways – is beautifully conveyed and carries the day.  Two more Anna Hibiscus books are now available and they are on my order list already.  Don’t miss this outstanding and unique series.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

8 Comments on "Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke"

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  1. I too loved this series. As for the lack of mention of the particular country (Ghana) I decided this wasn’t to instruct about Africa at all. That lyrical repeating line (don’t have the book with me so I’m doing this from memory) about beautiful Africa made me appreciate that tossing in something more specific would turn it into something else, possibly didactic in a way the author didn’t have in mind. I mean, do we necessarily mention that a book is set in the United States? If it is, it is — and so is the case here. Anna lives in beautiful Africa and that is all she wants to say.

    • Thanks, Monica, that makes very good sense to me. I agree too with your comment about the book not trying to instruct readers about the country. It seemed to me to be about family, growing up and becoming more aware of the community around you and a specific latitude and longitude! – Lynn

  2. edspicer@mac.com' Ed Spicer says:

    Nice to see you feature this book, which I practically bled on the table for at Notables (and then was crushed when it came up one vote short).

    YES! This book is about class, culture, family, community, and a host of other things. It is not about geography. Using Africa (instead of a country) is akin to singing, America, America God shed his grace…

    And anyone reading this comment or this article, do yourself a favor and go out and purchase and read this wonderful book. I am thrilled to have two new ones in hand (and I have ordered book 4).

    Cheers!

  3. I have just finished the first one, and love, love, love it. It has both a universal aspect to it, with Anna’s love of her immediate and extended family, and a particular sense of modern Africa as families are combining both modern technology and traditional culture.

    A lovely story with perfectly child-friendly writing and illustrations.

    definitely worth seeking out!

    • I’m so glad you loved it too, Mary Ann! It has such awesome curriculum connections and is just a delightful read aloud for classrooms. I’m totally hooked on Anna and her wonderful family and eager to read the next two in the series. – Lynn

  4. Bimidowu@gmail.com' Bimbola Idowu says:

    It was very refreshing reading the first two books by this author as it provides children a peek into how life is growing up in Africa. As an African, it was fun and hilarious to remember those times and I am recommending the series to friends that run day care centers. For African parents that long for stories to help their children picture in their minds how it will be growing up in Africa, this series of Anna Hibiscus is a must for your children.

  5. Bimbola, I’m so glad to read your thoughts on this series. Some concern has been raised about the books refering to Africa instead of a specific country but Lynn and I feel that these books are so well written and give us such a unique perspective for this age level. Thanks for posting!–Cindy

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