The Importance of Education: African Books Tell the Tale

Since my father comes from Africa, I enjoy reading African books. I also like to read them to my daughter.

There are two recent books set in Africa that I’d like to share with you.

In “The Paper House” (grades 3 and up) by Lois Peterson, up for a silver birch express award, the main character lives in the Kibera slums close to Nairobi. Ten-year-old Safiyah collects items from the local dump, selling them to buy food for her and her grandmother. She longs to go to school like her best friend, but that takes more money than she can earn from selling the stuff at the dump. There is no money for the books and uniform that she requires for school.

Safiyah finds paper to fill the cracks in her house, hoping this will help her grandmother get well. After she fills the cracks, she papers the outside of the house and the results are extraordinary, attracting attention from unexpected places.

“Gift Days” (ages 6 and up) by Kari-Lynn Winters is about a Ugandan girl called Nassali, who has been put in charge of the household since her mother died. She is not able to attend school, not only because she has to do the chores, but also because there is no money for her uniform and supplies. When her older brother, who does attend school, sees how determined she is, once a week he does her chores and then does her educating himself. These days come to be known as “gift days”.

There are many similarities in these two books. Both children are parentless, although the focus is more on the fact that they are motherless, causing them to step into adult roles at a rather young age. They are both persistent in their goal of education. And both girls recognize that education is the key to a better life.

In many African books there is a stress on the importance of education. Here in North America we tend to take going to school for granted. But in Africa, there is not equal access to education.

Can you imagine not being able to attend school, because you lack the money for the necessary uniform and supplies? Probably not. That’s why I like books like these, books that open our eyes and show us how others live. Often they remind us how fortunate we are. But at the same time, the messages in these two books are positive, showing us that anything is possible if you work hard enough.

What about you? What books do you like to read to your children or students that teach them about others?


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  1. Pingback: Ah-ha Moments at the SCBWI Conference - Linda SchuelerLinda Schueler

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