Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Double Serving of Anna Hibiscus

"Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa." Storyteller guru Atinuke begins all her Anna Hibiscus early chapter books with these simple, yet powerful words, propelling readers into a world far different from their own. In book three of the series, Good Luck Anna Hibiscus!, Anna is on pins and needles as she prepares for her upcoming trip to Canada to visit her maternal grandmother for the Christmas holidays.

But first she has to get through the harmattan season, a time when the desert wind blows sand over Anna's home and beloved garden, blotting out the sun and making everything dull and brown. Rather than just describe an interesting weather phenomenon, Atinuke takes the opportunity to teach her readers about empathy. To Anna and her extended middle-class family, the harmattan is an inconvenience. Their garden wilts and they must conserve water from their well to restore it to its lush glory. For their poor neighbors who live outside the compound, there is little or no water at all and the people are suffering. Anna and her family sacrifice their garden to share their water with them. Now that's a trickle down theory I can get behind!

In the remaining stories, Anna's twin baby brothers, Double and Trouble, cause her to be blamed for a misdeed she didn't commit. The sharp injustice she feels is one young children will sympathize with. She also takes a trip to the city to shop for winter clothes for her trip to Canada, and, in the last story, finds that no one in her family has time for anymore; they are all too busy. What they are up to and how Anna responds will leave readers with a smile.

Cold feet. That's what Anna Hibiscus has, literally and figuratively,  in Have Fun Anna Hibiscus! Excited to travel by plane to stay with Granny Canada and see snow for the first time, Anna bumps up against cold reality: to go she has to leave. It isn't until the car pulls away to the airport that her worries start, among them Grandfather's admonition to steer clear of dogs. Grandfather tells her that people in cold countries allow dogs into their homes. Anna is sure he is mistaken. In her world, dogs "have worms and germs, and they like to bite people." Naturally she is astonished to find that Granny Canada keeps such a beast. And frightened. How friendly Qimmiq turns Anna's ideas about dogs around is both touching and believable. 

Snow, dogs, woolen tights. Another big discover Anna makes on her trip is prejudice. Up till now Anna has been cocooned in her large family. With all her cousins around, she hasn't ever had the need of friends. When a group of neighborhood children stop by to check out the new girl, Anna happily goes off with them to ice skate on the pond. She flops at ice skating, but when she excels at sledding, one small boy shouts, "Africans can't do that!"  Anna's heartfelt response is worth the price of admission. 

Atinuke packs a lot of life lessons into such a short book. Yet it's never didactic and the morals go down as smoothly as the steaming hot chocolate Anna sips throughout her stay. Lauren Tobia's cheerful ink illustrations help bring Anna's experiences in the icy North to life, and she captures Qimmiq's doggy ways to perfection. Highly recommended!

Good Luck Anna Hibiscus! and Have Fun Anna Hibiscus!
by Atinuke
illustrations by Lauren Tobia
Kane Miller, 110 pages
Published: 2011

This book was nominated for the 2011 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, and this review reflects my opinion only.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, can i ask you something? I'm looking for children books with "scary" illustrations like wolf (or fox) eating pigs (or seven kids or Red Riding hood or birds in Chicken Little) or being pictured with a fat stomach. Any sort of help is appreciated. Thanks in advance. Great blog, by the way!