“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” So begins every chapter in this delightful early chapter book of a girl and her family growing up in Africa.
It’s exciting to have a chapter book for children that portrays the wonders and ordinariness of life in Africa and is not issues-based. Anna plays, plots and worries just like American children. Each chapter can be read as a self-contained story. “Anna Hibiscus Sells Oranges” touches on the poverty and disparity in Africa, but the overall focus is still on growing up as her grandfather helps her see the error of her ways and make amends. But her idea of ordinary is very different from American children’s. Living with her large extended family, she is horrified that her Canadian mother had a room of her own as a child. Anna reassures her, “Don’t worry, Mama. You have all of us now. You will never be alone again.” Her many cousins are as much a part of her life as her twin brothers, Double and Trouble. Her grandfather’s efforts to preserve African traditions in the family introduces these traditions to the reader while making clear that there are choices in modern Africa.
Atinuke is Nigerian and the setting is clearly somewhere in West Africa, but it is disappointing that a specific country is never named thus perpetuating the image of Africa as a country not a continent. Otherwise this is top-notch realistic fiction for young readers with the bonus glimpse into another way of life. Once you’ve read Anna Hibiscus, you’ll want to try out Atinuke‘s other stories about Anna including a picture book, Anna Hibiscus’ Song.