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World Kid Lit: Nine African Children’s Books by Africans

This brief tour of African children’s literature is part of a month-long series on Bookwitty celebrating world literature for children as part of WorldKidLit Month, on twitter at #WorldKidLit.

African children’s literature—by African authors—is among the most underrepresented in UK and US bookshops. The excellent world-literature advocacy organization “Outside in World,” which offers information about a wealth of world children’s literature from six of the seven continents, has only five titles from all of Africa. Of these, four are from South Africa. One, a folktale called True Friends, is a Groundwood Books title from Tanzania.

Earlier this year, superstar Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie said we don’t have enough children’s literature that tells African stories. She said, in a video interview with The Atlantic, that, “The children’s books that I read, and I think this is true for many other young children in countries that were formerly colonized, didn’t reflect my reality.”

Translations of African literature are about as rare as dragon’s teeth, and can be just as hard to find. Classics like Syankombo, by Duly Mudenda and Kansi Nagunga, which was gathered from oral sources, transcribed, and translated from Tonga by Joseph Sibanda and Justin Knife, is nigh on impossible to find. Even Chinua Achebe’s The Flute, brought over from the Igbo language, is difficult to locate.

With an emphasis on linguistic and geographic diversity, here are nine books from across the continent that are available to enjoy now, beginning with Picture Books for young and emerging readers, books for tweens, and books for the teen years and beyond.

Chicken in the Kitchen

This multi-award-winning book takes us to Nigeria and relays the story of Anyaugo, who follows a giant chicken into her kitchen one warm night, thus heading out on a wonderful adventure where nothing is quite as it seems. By the acclaimed and beloved fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor.

The Mystery Door

The Mystery Door is an illustrated translation of the Swahili tale Lango la Ajabu, in which Mtemi, the king of a town near Lake Tangnyika called Kabende, realizes he’s become too old to lead his people. Which son of his should lead?

Azizi and the little blue bird

This is a story inspired by political change in Tunisia. It begins with Azizi, who hears a banging and goes to see his parents hanging up pictures of the king and queen, because, “In the land of the Crescent Moon, the walls have ears.” The selfish king and queen capture all the country’s bluebirds. Yet Azizi, carrying jasmine flowers, rides a bird in to save the day. 

Sosu's Call

Winner of the $25,000 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature (2014), Ghanaian writer Meshack Asare has written many books for children. Sosu’s Call won a 1999 UNESCO prize, has been listed as one of Africa’s “100 Best Books,” and has received several other awards. It tells the story of Sosu, a disabled boy who can’t walk, but when his town is in need, they find he has a great deal to contribute.

This is usually suggested for readers 4-8, but it may be text-heavy for some smaller readers.

How the Leopard Got His Claws

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe is interested in the same themes he inscribes in his adult work, but here, told through animals, is a dramatic story for children. About the potency and dangers of power taken by force, it evokes the same themes of liberation and justice that echo his novels.

Treeland. the Land of Laughter

From Tanzania, Treeland: The Land of Laughter is an imaginary happy land in an imaginary era, threatened by its patriarchal traditions as well as outsiders who want to come cut down their trees. Mwijarubi’s second novel, Treeland won first prize in the Burt Award for African Literature in 2009.


This series of six graphic novels, written around the author’s childhood in Côte d'Ivoire, was originally published in French, then translated and published in English.

The Aya series has won a number of awards, including the 2006 award for Best First Album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the Children’s Africana Book Award in 2008, and the Glyph Award. It was also included on "best of" lists from The Washington Post, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.

Akata Witch

Nnedi Okorafor is a master of fantastical worlds with African roots. This book straddles worlds: Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born in the US. She has trouble fitting in until she discovers she’s a "free agent" with latent magical power. Fast-paced and relentlessly imaginative, like all of Okorafor’s work.

Chike and the River

Eleven-year-old Chike wants to cross the Niger River to get to Asaba, but he doesn’t have the sixpence for the ferry. He goes through a series of adventures to get across and then, once he does, there is the even greater adventure of getting home again. With carefully rendered details about the food Chike eats, his natural landscape, and the people who surround him. 


Marcia Lynx Qualey is a court poet, ghost writer, and itinerant scribe with a focus on Arab and Arabic literatures. Writes for The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, Deutchse Welle, The National, and ... Show More


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