A Child’s Bookshelf: Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke

If you have an elementary-age child looking for a new storybook friend, then you will delighted to discover Anna Hibiscus.

Each of the four stories in this collection begins with simplicity: “Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” Inspired by the life experiences of the Nigerian-born author, Atinuke, the sensory bustle of Anna’s city reflects a deep and abiding rootedness, a sincere love of place.

But it is Anna Hibiscus herself who makes each story sing. Anna lives with her mother, her father, her brothers (Double and Trouble), her grandparents, her aunties, her uncles and more cousins than she can count. She lives in a very large house where the children all climb the old mango tree and Uncle Bizy Sunday shops and cooks for everyone. Family is the center of Anna’s life, a net that cradles her through each of her adventures.

In “Anna Hibiscus on Holiday”, Anna’s Canadian-born mother wants a nice, quiet vacation. She travels with her husband and children to a small island with a beach cottage. Solitude isn’t as grand as it seems, though, as the twins insist on crawling off the veranda and there isn’t a break from cooking or cleaning. What’s a family vacation, after all, without a little more family along?

In “Auntie Comfort”, Anna learns that moving away, even across the ocean, doesn’t mean losing your roots. When Auntie Comfort comes to visit from America, Anna is worried that Grandfather will be disappointed, that Auntie Comfort will have forgotten “the proper African way.” Rich with details of daily life — finger bowls and tailors and cellphones — this story highlights both the tight bonds and the elasticity of Anna’s extended family.

“Anna Hibiscus Sells Oranges” offers a wider view of the city, outside the walls of Anna’s compound. Fascinated with the girls who sell oranges on the street, Anna defies Grandfather and sells the fruit of her family’s garden. Grandfather’s subsequent lessons in compassion and economics give Anna a new, more mature perspective on work and gratitude.

In “Sweet Snow”, Anna longs to see, touch, and taste the Canadian snow of her mother’s stories and pictures. When Granny Canada offers to fly her over for a summer visit, Anna has to find a sensitive way to let Granny know how much better a winter trip would be. Her creativity and sincerity win over everyone in her large and lovely family.

My own family has fallen in love with the curiosity and effervescent energy of Anna Hibiscus. Boo-Monkey, my five year old, listened raptly as I read to her. Seven-year old Rainbow Girl read the book on her own, and then she read the remaining three books in the series. She loved them all.

As for me, I’d like to move in with Anna Hibiscus and her uncountable cousins. I’d like to climb the mango tree and navigate the city’s lagoons in a canoe and eat the delectable cooking of Uncle Bizy Sunday. In leiu of all that, I’ll keep reading these stories to Boo-Monkey, enjoying the company of our new storybook friend.

Best for: boys or girls, grades K-4.

What great children’s books have you read lately? Please share!