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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Anna Hibiscus, written by Atinuke and illustrated by Lauren Tobia.. Walker Books, Penguin. 2007. $6.99 ages 8 and up

"She was wearing the biggest, longest, fullest, stiffest traditional dress that  Anna and her cousins had ever seen. It was a miracle that her head tie had fitted inside the car! Auntie Comfort looked like a queen. The Queen of Africa! Uncle Tunde winked at Anna."

I have read so much about Anna Hibiscus and her family stories that I just couldn't resist finding out for myself. After coming home from seeing Hugo (wonderful, amazing, gorgeous) I couldn't watch the Saturday night hockey game. I needed to remain in awe of writers (like Brian Selznick and now, Atinuke) who bring us stories to cheer our hearts and keep us 'pushing' new and brilliant books beyond our own homes and into the hands of children, their parents and their teachers. Can you feel the push?

This is the first in a series of stories about Anna, a biracial girl living in 'Africa. Amazing Africa.' Her city is not named, but we learn much about it and the family compound in reading the four stories included here. Anna's mother is a Canadian who met and fell in love with an African visitor. When the weather became too cold to bear, he brought his wife to his African home. Now, Anna has twin baby brothers and a loving, happy family that includes grandparents, aunties, uncles, big cousins, little cousins. They are loud and loving, and supportive of each other in every way.

In the first story, Anna and her family take a beach holiday. They are alone to enjoy the peace and quiet that being together as a family of five is sure to bring. Alas! It is not what they had hoped for, and the arrival of family members makes all the difference. Together, they cook, they care for the little cousins, they swim, they share stories and song. Ah, life as it is meant to be.

Each of the stories has to do with each member affects the others, the lessons taught by the learned and understanding grandparents, and the joy that being together brings. Anna shares the concerns of children everywhere and that is what makes these stories so accessible to a wide audience. Great fun to share in a classroom, inviting discussions and family stories to be shared.

Anna lives in joy, and I am delighted to meet her and her remarkable family. They live their lives in the modern and the traditional ways of the African people:
“Anna’s mother and father and aunties and uncles drive to work in their cars. They send text messages and e-mails around the world, and call from the market on their mobile phones to see what shopping needs doing. But the clothes they wear are made from colorful African cloth, waxed and dyed and printed. The languages they speak are African as well as English.”

Lauren Tobia brings each character to glorious life and gives readers a feel for the life they lead within their family compound. She adds detail to each of her pen and ink illustrations that will make readers ache to share the large, rambunctious, friendly family that is so evident here.

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