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“A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.”
Summary: Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa with her extended family. Her mother is from Canada and her father a native African. Anna learns about snow from her mother and family from all of the relatives who share a big white house. This illustrated chapter book is a series of short stories about a young girl's life growing up with a big family.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, family reading, anytime reading, independent reading, read aloud book
Young Reader Reaction: My kids really liked this book. They enjoyed hearing about Anna Hibiscus and her family.
Adult Reader Reaction: Parent 1: I loved this book. It is a celebration of family and growing up. Although set in Africa, it has universal appeal and will resonate with young readers. I also love how Atinuke artfully contrasted/compared life in Africa with other parts of the world, and also explained how modern life and traditional ways can co-exist. Parent 2: I had very mixed feelings about this book. I loved Anna Hibiscus, dearly. But she lives a different life and holds different values than my family. It is this that is both good and bad. I loved that my children were exposed to a different way of living, from going to the store by foot, growing orange trees in your back yard, having a name that is a word (a little girl whose real name is "Chocolate", without being a joke or a play on words), and living in close quarters with family. However, the author conveys quite strongly and explicitly that the BEST way to live is with extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents) underfoot, which is not necessarily the American way. Again, this is probably, overall, a good thing to be exposed to.
Pros: An adorable girl (and her mischievous twin brothers) shares stories of her life growing up in Africa. The illustrations effectively distribute text and make this attractive to dormant and reluctant readers.
Cons: Each chapter begins the same ... for several sentences. If you are reading these as individual stories, that works well. If you are looking at it as a chapter book it gets tedious by the third story.
Borrow or Buy: Borrow, at least. This is a book you can read aloud with your kids early in elementary school and they can later read for themselves. It is an excellent choice for mixed audiences.
Depending on how you like this book the first time, I definitely think that it would be a book that is good enough to read multiple times -- on the order of the Velveteen Rabbit, Stuart Little, Watership Down, The Hobbit etc. It is also a pretty quick read, which makes it good for bedtime reading, one chapter at a time.
Educational Themes: Each of the stories represents a different idea/theme in Anna's life: wanting to have personal space, dealing with younger brothers, respect for elders, traditional African ways v. modern conveniences, hard work, compassion, and others.
Notes: The Reading Tub, Inc. purchased a copy of this book for a Cybils 2010 nomination review.
Literary Categories: Fiction - family, Africa, growing up, series
Date(s) Reviewed: November 2010, September 2011
Other Reviews: See Critics Reviews at barnesandnoble.com; and reviews and reader feedback at amazon.com.