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The Best West Africa Kids Books

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Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears
Written by Verna Aardema & illustrated by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

“In this Caldecott Medal winner, Mosquito tells a story that causes a jungle disaster. “Elegance has become the Dillons’ hallmark. . . . Matching the art is Aardema’s uniquely onomatopoeic text . . . An impressive showpiece.” -Booklist, starred review.

Winner of Caldecott Medal in 1976 and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award in 1977.

A mosquito’s lie sets off a series of reactions in the jungle that results in the owl’s refusal to wake the sun and the lion’s decision to call a meeting of the animals.

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One Shadow on the Wall
Written & illustrated by Leah Henderson
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father in this “stirring” (School Library Journal) debut novel laced with magical realism. Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom despite their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own? One Shadow on the Wall is about love and loss, family and friendship, and creating your own future—even when it’s hard to do.

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Grandpa Cacao
Written & illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

This beautifully illustrated story connects past and present as a girl bakes a chocolate cake with her father and learns about her grandfather harvesting cacao beans in West Africa. Chocolate is the perfect treat, everywhere! As a little girl and her father bake her birthday cake together, Daddy tells the story of her Grandpa Cacao, a farmer from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. In a land where elephants roam and the air is hot and damp, Grandpa Cacao worked in his village to harvest cacao, the most important ingredient in chocolate. “Chocolate is a gift to you from Grandpa Cacao,” Daddy says. “We can only enjoy chocolate treats thanks to farmers like him.” Once the cake is baked, it’s ready to eat, but this isn’t her only birthday present. There’s a special surprise waiting at the front door . . .

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Never Forgotten
Written & illustrated by Patricia C. McKissack
picture book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

A 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book. This gorgeous picture book by Newbery Honor winner Patricia C. McKissack and two-time Caldecott Medal-winning husband-and-wife team Leo and Diane Dillon is sure to become a treasured keepsake for African American families. Set in West Africa, this a lyrical story-in-verse is about a young black boy who is kidnapped and sold into slavery, and his father who is left behind to mourn the loss of his son. Here’s a beautiful, powerful, truly unforgettable story about family, memory, and freedom.

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Seven Spools of Thread
Written by Angela Shelf Medearis & illustrated by Daniel Minter
picture book
Recommend Ages: 7-10

In an African village live seven brothers who make family life miserable with their constant fighting. When their father dies, he leaves an unusual will: by sundown, the brothers must make gold out of seven spools of thread. If they fail, they will be turned out as beggars.

Why The Sky Is Far Away book
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Salamatu and Kandoni Go Missing book
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Chicken in the Kitchen book
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The Leopard's Drum book
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  • Why The Sky Is Far Away - The sky was once so close to the Earth that people cut parts of it to eat, but their waste and greed caused the sky to move far away.

  • Salamatu and Kandoni Go Missing - Salamatu’s goat follows her to school, leading to a series of misadventures. Provides an insight into life in Ghana and allows comparisons to our own country. Published in conjunction with Action Aid.

  • Chicken in the Kitchen - What would you do if you woke up one night to find the shadow of a giant chicken passing your bedroom door? Go and investigate, of course! When Anyaugo follows a giant chicken into her kitchen one warm night in Nigeria, she embarks on a fun-filled adventure where nothing is quite as it seems. Is the mischievous giant chicken a friend or a foe? More importantly, will Anyaugo be able to save the food for the New Yam Festival the next day?

  • The Leopard's Drum - Because Osebo the leopard won’t share his magnificent drum with anyone, Nyame the Sky-God offers a reward to whichever animal presents the drum to him.

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Fire Came to the Earth People: A Dahomean Foltale
Written & illustrated by Susan L. Roth
board book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Chameleon and Tortoise combine their efforts to capture fire from the selfish Moon-god Mawu, in this colorful adaption of the West African folktale

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Anansi the Spider
Written & illustrated by Gerald McDermott
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

In trying to determine which of his six sons to reward for saving his life, Anansi the Spider is responsible for placing the moon in the sky.

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Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
Written by Laurie Ann Thompson & illustrated by Sean Qualls
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s inspiring true story—which was turned into a film, Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey—is nothing short of remarkable.

Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Thompson’s lyrical prose and Qualls’s bold collage illustrations offer a powerful celebration of triumphing over adversity.

Includes an author’s note with more information about Emmanuel’s charity.

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Wild Wings
Written by Gill Lewis
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

The majestic Osprey is an endangered bird that hasn’t been seen in Scotland for years, so when Iona McNair locates an Osprey nest, she’s desperate to keep the bird safe from poachers. She shares her secret with her classmate Callum, and the two become friends as they work to save the Osprey they’ve named Isis. They’re able to get the bird tagged by a preservationist, but after Isis flies to Africa for the winter, her signal becomes stagnant, then lost. Spurred by a promise to Iona, who has fallen ill, Callum is determined to track and save Isis, and a leap of faith and the magic of e-mail connects him with a girl in Gambia who can help him make good—in more ways than one.

Set against the dramatic landscapes of Scotland and West Africa, this is a timeless tale of hope and friendship—a heartwarming novel infused with the beauty of nature.

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