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A Vast, Diverse, and Culturally Rich Continent: 8 Children's Books to Discover Africa

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From the countries of North Africa to sub-Saharan Africa, from deserts to the savannahs or the jungle, Africa is a continent that can be explored through its music, its history, its legends, its fauna, or simply daily life. 

If your child is learning French, they'll enjoy the exploring this vast, diverse, and culturally rich continent, with these beautiful books as their guides.

Les Instruments d'Afrique

For small children, a musical awakening can make for an enchanting gateway into Africa.

This book with thick cardboard pages presents five instruments, each hidden under a flap within vivid drawings: the djembe, the n'goni, the sanza (also called the “thumb keyboard”), the tama (nicknamed "tam-tam parleur"), and the peul flute. There’s a musical interlude introducing each instrument, and the book ends with a polyphonic song bringing together all five of them.

Ages 3 and up.

La Musique du Maghreb - Zowa et l'oasis

This book teaches about North Africa's music through story of Zowa, a globe-trotting bird who gets lost in the desert. Zowa meets Aziz, who lives in an oasis with his people. A great feast is held in Zowa’s honor, with an orchestra and dancers. Aziz confides in Zowa: he worries about their water sources drying up. To thank his friend, Zowa asks an eagle and a hawk to pierce water-swollen clouds. The story introduces a variety of typical instruments to discover, from the bendir to the derbouka, along with a map of the instruments by country.

Ages 3 and up.

Z�k�y� Et La Toute Petite Musique

Nathalie Dieterlé's Zékéyé series, about a small hero with a sweet face, is ideal for little ones. In Zékéyé’s village, the beats of the tam-tams sound until rain begins to fall. When the rain stops, mosquitoes invade the village, so the locals capture frogs to eat the mosquitoes. Their mission accomplished, the amphibians begin to multiply! Zékéyé has a solution, but will anyone listen to him?

Ages 3 and up.

La Batterie de Théophile

Theophilus can make instruments from nothing. With a stick, a bowl and a piece of string, he crafts a double bass. What a din! The villagers send him to play further away.

In the jungle, a crocodile emerges from the water. If Theo stops making noise, he may be swallowed alive! The boy slides a giant spring into the wide-open mouth and jumps on his snout. Boom, boom! That's a nice snare drum sound.

A boa slithers by. Theo catches the snake, makes a knot of it to form a cymbal. Crash, crash!

A hippopotamus who was interrupted during his nap agrees to be a bass drum.

An elegant man joins them and plays along on the saxophone. He hires Theo to play that night at the Jungle Studio. But he's going to need a real drum set, he tells Theo. "What about us?" ask the animals in unison.

Joyful illustrations combine pencil drawings and watercolor in this flexible, easy-to-carry format format.

Ages 4 and up.

Un thé au clair de lune

In 1935, the French naturalist and explorer Theodore Monod, then on a mission in the Sahara, wrote to his 4-year-old daughter. Monod wanted to tell her about the desert in the form of an illustrated tale. The result is this story of the journey of Hachi, a Parisian camel, to meet his cousin, Toufourine, who lives in Sudan. Hachi is amazed to find a different way of life. He encounters a host of animals that include a giant lizard, a jackal, a fennec, a scorpion, and a gerbil, among others, and he hosts a moonlight tea party for his new friends.

Ages 6 and up.

Le Voyage de l'empereur Kankou Moussa

At the market, an old storyteller trades stories for gold dust. He tells the story of Kankou Moussa, who ruled Mali in the fourteenth century, when the kingdom was one of the most prosperous in Africa. In order to spread Mali’s civilization, Kankou Moussa made a pilgrimage to Mecca, passing through Cairo. Traveling with a vast caravan, Kankou Moussa met with dignitaries, men of science, and intellectuals. This key event in African history is sumptuously illustrated in bright colors, inspired by traditional paintings.

Ages 7 and up.

Zizou au désert ; Ziza dans l'oasis

The concept of this illustrated mini-novel is that there are two stories side by side. On the one hand there's Zizou, the young desert fennec whose fantastic adventure begins when he follows a djinn, discovers the sweet fragrance of dates and meets a pretty little girl. On the other hand there's Ziza, the little girl in question, who walks with the help of crutches. To save her from boredom, her brother traps the fennec and ties him up with a rope. Ziza and Zizou become friends and he saves her from being stung by a big scorpion. To thank him, she lets him go.

Ages 8 and up.

Aya de Yopougon 1

In 1978, Aya is 19 years old. She lives in Yopougon, a working-class neighborhood in Cote d'Ivoire. She aspires to become a doctor. Her friends, Adjoua and Bintou, prefer to party and go husband-hunting. The trio is surrounded by family, friends, and lovers, each endearing in their own way along with their little flaws, from the overprotective mother to the young womanizer who shows off with his big car. It's a humor-filled and tender portrait of Africa, far from images of war and misery.

Ages 14 and up.

The original article by Perrine Parageau can be read in French here.


Isabelle translates and edits articles into English from other languages on the Bookwitty site. She always adds a hyperlink to the original article in her post.

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