The best books with stories from Africa with strong protagonists

Christine Ieronimo Author Of A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the World
By Christine Ieronimo

Who am I?

I am passionate about writing books for children that create windows to the world, teaching empathy. Children that are empathic grow up to be kind and compassionate adults. I write because I long for a world that is more accepting and compassionate.  


I wrote...

A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the World

By Christine Ieronimo, Eric Velasquez (illustrator),

Book cover of A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the World

What is my book about?

Alemitu lives with her mother in a poor village in Ethiopia, where she must walk miles for water and hunger roars in her belly. Even though life is difficult, she dreams of someday knowing more about the world. When her mother has no choice but to leave her at an orphanage to give her a chance at a better life, an American family adopts Alemitu. In her new home, water and food are plentiful but she searches for the connection to her homeland and the mother that gave up so much for her. This is our story that I wrote not only to bring awareness to issues of walking for water, which is typically a girl’s job, but also to honor the incredible sacrifice made by my daughter’s birth mother.

The books I picked & why

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Mama Panya's Pancakes

By Mary Chamberlin, Rich Chamberlin, Julia Cairns (illustrator)

Book cover of Mama Panya's Pancakes

Why this book?

Mama Panya goes to the market to buy ingredients for pancakes. On the way home, Adika, Mama Panya’s son invites everyone he sees for dinner. Mama is worried that she won’t have enough food but when the guests show up, they have all brought something and she is able to make a meal that is plentiful. This was one of my favorite stories to read with my children when they were younger. It is a story that teaches children the importance of friendship and opening your heart to others. It teaches that we are all connected and that coming together will always bring us so many gifts.

Mama Panya's Pancakes

By Mary Chamberlin, Rich Chamberlin, Julia Cairns (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mama Panya's Pancakes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On market day, Mama Panya's son Adika invites everyone he sees to a pancake dinner. How will Mama Panya ever feed them all? This clever and heartwarming story about Kenyan village life teaches the importance of sharing, even when you have little to give


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

By William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator)

Book cover of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Why this book?

Drought has hit a Malawi village and everyone’s crops are failing. Fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba figures out how to bring electricity to the village by building a windmill out of scraps from a junkyard. I love this story because it highlights the importance of education, and along with determination, William was able to build this windmill bringing electricity which helped lift this community up and bring hope. Education is the best way to lift communities up from poverty. Elizabeth Zunon provides gorgeous illustrations that enhance the text.  

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

By William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba's tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season's crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family's life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William's windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. Retold for a younger audience, this exciting memoir shows…


Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

By Jeanette Winter,

Book cover of Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

Why this book?

Wangari is from Kenya and grew up among many trees. When she is older and returns home, she notices that the trees have all been cut down. She decides to replant her own trees which starts a movement with many to reforest the land. She has many obstacles to overcome but, in the end, prevails. This is a story that shows determination in the face of many challenges to make a difference. I, of course, love that it also introduces children to a very different and very beautiful part of the world. This is another story that can connect us all. Jeanette Winter’s text and beautiful illustrations complement each other perfectly. 

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

By Jeanette Winter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wangari's Trees of Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari was surrounded by trees. But years later when she returns home, she is shocked to see whole forests being cut down, and she knows that soon all the trees will be destroyed. So Wangari decides to do something - and starts by planting nine seedlings in her own backyard. And as they grow, so do her plans . . .

This true story of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a shining example of how one woman's passion, vision, and determination inspired great change.

Includes an…


The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa

By Cristina Kessler, Leonard Jenkins (illustrator),

Book cover of The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa

Why this book?

This is a story about a young girl named Almaz who dreams of becoming a beekeeper in Lalibela, Ethiopia. When she is told that beekeeping is a man’s job and that she should go back to cooking, cleaning, and gathering wood, she doesn’t give up. Instead, with the encouragement of a local priest, she becomes determined to continue toward her dream overcoming many obstacles. This is a story that is culturally accurate and gently explores gender roles in Ethiopia. In the end, Almaz’s perseverance pays off and she is welcome at the market, where she sells the best honey. I love this story also because of my love for Ethiopia, where women and girls are very strong, determined, and must overcome tremendous obstacles in daily life. I am in awe of their beauty and strength.  

The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa

By Cristina Kessler, Leonard Jenkins (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the Ethiopian mountain village of Lalibela, famous for its churches and honey, a young girl determines to find a way to be a beekeeper despite being told that is something only men can do.


Sulwe

By Lupita Nyong'o, Vashti Harrison (illustrator),

Book cover of Sulwe

Why this book?

Sulwe is a little girl with skin the ‘color of midnight’. But she just wants to be like her mother and sister, who are lighter skinned. This is an emotional read with stunning illustrations that teaches us to love ourselves just as we were made and embrace our own unique beauty. 

Sulwe

By Lupita Nyong'o, Vashti Harrison (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Sulwe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o comes a powerful, moving picture book about colourism, self-esteem and learning that true beauty comes from within.

Sulwe's skin is the colour of midnight. She's darker than everyone in her family, and everyone at school.

All she wants is to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister.

Then a magical journey through the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, Lupita Nyong'o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Kenya, Ethiopia, and black people?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Kenya, Ethiopia, and black people.

Kenya Explore 45 books about Kenya
Ethiopia Explore 35 books about Ethiopia
Black People Explore 48 books about black people

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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