Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia,
Hooray for Anna Hibiscus
A pair of welcome, wonderful chapter books for newly independent readers feature a young girl and her family who live in a large city in Africa. Anna Hibiscus’s dad is Black African; her mom is white Canadian. Anna lives with her parents, twin baby brothers (Double and Trouble), and grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins in their family compound where cars, cell phones and the internet are a way of life, but so is traditional dress and food, and, more important, traditional values. There is a lot to smile about in these stories in which the humor is often drawn from situations in which embracing modern ideas has unexpected outcomes. When Anna Hibiscus’s parents decide to take only their immediate family on a vacation to a nearby island—their house is so crowded!--they miss everyone else so much that one by one Anna Hibiscus’s dad brings the rest of the family to join them. By week’s end, everyone is together at the beach. When Anna’s uncles purchase a generator so the family has light when the electricity goes out—a predictably unpredictable occurrence—Anna Hibiscus and the other younger children miss the thrill that used to come with each power outage: of playing hide-and-go-seek in the dark, and especially of listening to their grandmother's stories. The way the generator meets its demise is funny, but the decision not to replace it is one that emphasizes the importance of slowing down and taking time to be together in a mindful way. Author Atinuke, who is originally from Nigeria, incorporates the cadence of oral storytelling into the narrative of these entertaining volumes that burst with energy and warmth and offer a positive, affirming look at African identity (the author makes clear Anna Hibiscus lives in one of many countries in Africa, but the decision not to name the specific nation or city seems intentional and appropriate here). She engagingly portrays a contemporary urban African child who is not only surrounded by the love and bustling chaos of her family, but also learning about the larger world right outside her door in which not everyone is as fortunate as she is. Enlightening but most of all entertaining, these books are a treat for newly independent readers, as well as children lucky enough to hear them read aloud.