Children’s books about Africa

Young Algonquin readers

“This is an excellent beginner’s guide to pre-colonial Africa.”
—Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to be an Anti-Racist. Black history began a long time ago with the many cultures and peoples of the African continent. Through the portraits of ten heroic figures, author Tracey Baptiste takes readers on a journey through Africa to meet some of the great leaders and thinkers whose vision built a continent and shaped the world. Brilliant portraits by illustrator Hillary D. Wilson accompany each profile, along with vivid, informative landscapes, maps and graphics for mid-level readers to come back to again and again.

I have discovered amazing children’s books where African countries play a pivotal role in history. In some cases, these African countries act as a character himself. Whether it’s an early reading book that tells a lesson in folklore or a coming-of-age story that highlights the endurance of a person’s will to survive, I have always found that stories have an impact on the reader.

Some of my favorite books are Sulwe and Mama Panya’s pancakes. I appreciate Sulwe because it takes a layered and important topic like colorism and presents it in a way that kids can understand. This is a lesson for both the reader and the listener and for me, it is the perfect realization of a bestselling book.

But if you take a book like Mama Panya’s pancakes, you would think it was food. it is, but it is also a matter of patience, community and understanding. It is essential that children understand the importance of paying attention and being proud of their culture.

There is always something to be learned in children’s books. Whether it’s a fantastic or historic timepiece, there is always an important message the reader can apply to their everyday life. Here are eight children’s books where Africa is a major character in history.

The bones of ruin By Sarah Raughley

Located in a reality different from ours, Iris is a daring tightrope walker from Africa. She’s doing a tightrope as entertainment for the British, but they don’t know she has a secret: she can’t die. Despite her immortality, she has no idea who she is. She can’t remember her family or anything from her past. One day, she has the opportunity to unlock all the secrets of her past if she agrees to participate in a fiery tournament. However, when part of her memory begins to unlock, she wonders if she wants to expose her truth.

Mama Panya’s pancakes: a Kenyan village tale By Mary and Rich Chamberlin and Julia Cairns

A delicious story about community, love and food. Mama Panya delivers a beautiful story about the importance of love. Everyone loves Mama Panya and her pancakes, even the elders of the community. It’s definitely a sweet treat and with the recipe included in the book, you and your child can share the same sweet joy.

Sulwe By by Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison

This amazingly illustrated book serves as an important lesson in colorism for young readers. Sulwe is embarrassed because he’s the darkest person she knows. Her parents and friends are all lighter than her and she wishes she wasn’t so dark. But after hearing a folk story about the Night and Day sisters, she slowly learns to kiss the skin she’s in.

Bonyo BonyoThe true story of a brave boy from Kenyapar Vanita Oelschlager

Bonyo Bonyo The true story of a brave boy from Kenya by Vanita Oelschlager, Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc

Based on a true story, Bonyo is about a boy from Kenya who wanted to be a doctor. The story follows his life in Kenya and how his parents and community made sacrifices to ensure he became a healthcare professional. Dr Bonyo recounts how difficult it was to leave his village, but all the work paid off when he went to school and was able to return to the village with resources to help his people.

Aluta by Adwoa Badoe

This YA story centers on a girl named Charlotte who enjoys being a student. She embraces her newfound freedom as a new adult and she likes it because her father is too strict. She finds herself welcoming all the attention she receives from men. Charlotte becomes more and more aware of politics in Ghana and decides to do political science and follow her new crush who is also an activist. But her political interest and her new militant friends put her in the spotlight of the Ghanaian government and she is forced to make a decision that will change her life forever.

Makeda: Queen of Sheba by Marlon McKenney

Makeda: Queen of Sheba by Marlon McKenney

A promising young Ethiopian princess named Makeda has the life everyone dreams of. She was born into a royal family and has everything she could want. Suddenly her father, the king, dies and now her remaining family must learn to survive. Makeda is determined not to allow the Patriarchy to take her birthright away and she is ready to fight to the end to keep her family in power.

AFRICAN CITY by Charles Waters and Irene Latham

AFRICAN CITY by Charles Waters and Irene Latham (January 2022)

This upcoming title, written in verse, is about a town in Alabama called African Town. The name has just been confirmed as the home of one of the last places where a slave ship named Clotilda was found. The boat transported more than a hundred slaves from Nigeria to the United States. This novel is written in verse and includes over 14 different perspectives of some of the last slaves to reach the shores of America.

The Water Princess

The Water Princess By Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

Based on the life of model Georgie Badiel, it is the story of a young girl who has only one wish. She wants to be able to drink and have clean water in her village. She and others in her small village carry jugs of water on top of their heads so they can walk for miles to bring water to drink and clean themselves.

If you are interested in other tales from around the world, check out this article on popular children’s books from different parts of the world.

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