The best children's books about life in Africa

Kwame Nyong'o Author Of A Tasty Maandazi
By Kwame Nyong'o

Who am I?

As a Kenyan/American raised in both countries, I noticed growing up that there was very little creative content about Africa. Whilst in Kenya, I experienced much joy and fun in the culture and felt that other people in other parts of the world would also enjoy it. Loving reading, drawing, comics, and movies, I felt it would be useful to create such content about Africa. I was very fortunate to study arts at an undergraduate and graduate level in the US. This formal training, combined with extensive travel around Africa and the diaspora, has informed my sense of book and film creation and appreciation. I hope you enjoy this book list that I’ve curated!


I wrote...

A Tasty Maandazi

By Kwame Nyong'o,

Book cover of A Tasty Maandazi

What is my book about?

Have you ever wondered what life is like in East Africa? Food is a very central and important aspect of life in this part of the world and is used to celebrate the local culture in A Tasty Maandazi.

A Tasty Maandazi is a day-in-the-life story of a young boy, Musa, and his quest to get his favorite treat—a maandazi! Set in the magical coastal area of Kenya, Musa finds that he must use his creativity in order to get his hands on this famously tasty African donut. A Tasty Maandazi also features a Swahili-English translation dictionary for the few Swahili words that are sprinkled throughout the story, as well as a maandazi recipe for everyone to try out and enjoy!

The books I picked & why

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Take Me Home

By Nereas Gicoru,

Book cover of Take Me Home

Why this book?

As a child, Take Me Home was my most favorite storybook. The way that the creators show the relationship between a father and son, and how they work together to achieve the goal of creating a matatu bus (a public transport bus common throughout Africa) is so palpably endearing. Set in 1970’s Kenya, the story offers a heartfelt slice of life that inspired me to want to go to Kenya and soak up the sights and sounds and be a part of this wonderfully intimate world. Unfortunately, the book is currently out of print, but if you can find a used copy out there it will be so well worth it.


Sulwe

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

Book cover of Sulwe

Why this book?

I really love Sulwe because of how it delves into a theme that is hardly ever addressed in children’s books: that of skin tone. The story illuminates how all skin shades, whether dark, medium, or light, are equally beautiful. I also find the aesthetics of the book very attractive, the wonderful illustrations with all the little nuances in the rendering of the attires, the props, and environment. This book offers an enchanting glimpse into life in contemporary Kenya, one not to be missed.


The Wooden Camel

By Wanuri Kahiu, Manuela Adreani (illustrator),

Book cover of The Wooden Camel

Why this book?

Etabo dreams of being a camel racer but is thwarted by the fact that his family must now sell their camels because of impending drought.

What I find so interesting about this book is how the narrative does such an amazing job of showing a slice of life amongst the Turkana, a remote people in the deserts of Northwest Kenya. So very little of these amazing people have ever been shown in children’s literature and so I was so captivated by how this book gives such a great opportunity to peek into their world, illuminated by the tender illustrations and enthralling theme of not giving up on one's aspirations.


Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti

By Gerald McDermott,

Book cover of Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti

Why this book?

Anansi the Spider is one of the classic African stories that inspired me to go into storytelling as a career. Reading this book, and watching its animated counterpart as a child, totally enthralled me. The combination of the bright, bold colours and graphical aesthetic, with the mystique of the folklore felt just like magic to me. The fable told here comes off as profound yet funny and quirky. This book is a must for anyone interested in fables and African folklore in particular.


Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book

By Muriel Feelings, Tom Feelings (illustrator),

Book cover of Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book

Why this book?

This well acclaimed and award-winning book by Muriel Feelings is great for anyone interested in learning about culture through language. What I love so much about this book is its simplicity. The book teaches how to count up to ten in Swahili, using East African imagery and culture, and it has pronunciation keys as well. The detailed monochromatic illustrations create a mood of awe and reverie.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Kenya, Africa, and counting?

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