Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.
Kane Miller, EDC Publishing, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2010. (First published in London in 2007.)
Elementary chapter book fiction, 112 pages.
Lexile: 670L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Anna Hibiscus chapter book series.
Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa with her mother and father and baby brothers Double and Trouble.
I’d heard about this author for a while but could not get any of her books. Once I found them on Amazon, it took some time to determine the order. This is the first chapter book in the Anna Hibiscus series (Atinuke also has other books).
This book is actually four interconnected short stories, so they can be read individually.
Anna Hibiscus on Holiday
Anna Hibiscus lives with her mother and father and twin baby brothers in a big compound with her grandmother and grandfather and aunts and uncles and all of the cousins. Everything about it is perfect, except for one thing. Her Canadian mother remembers life with privacy fondly, so they are going to take a vacation, just the five of them. This is a lovely story about the benefits of big families and the reasoning behind the African way of doing things, perfect for introducing the Western reader to Africa and Anna herself.
Auntie Comfort has been studying in America, but now she is coming home! Everyone is so excited, but… will she remember how to dress? How to eat? How to behave like an African lady? This story addresses very real fears of assimilation and cultural loss. There is even a bit of balance as Auntie Comfort wears a traditional dress to greet her parents, but chooses a modern swimsuit for swimming with the younger generation.
Anna Hibiscus Sells Oranges
This is a short but incredibly meaningful story. Anna Hibiscus is bored with her pretty compound and her little cousins and her big family. She wants to be like the orange seller girls who work in the street outside her home. So she picks a basket of oranges and takes them out into the street. She is clean and her oranges are fresher, so she sells a basket, then another, and the other girls sell none. When her father comes home, she overhears him talking and realizes what she has done.
The best part of this story is the way her Grandfather addresses the issue after he finds out. If you only read one Anna Hibiscus story, don’t miss this one.
I had to laugh. While it certainly doesn’t snow year-round in Wisconsin, it is a routine and mundane occurrence all winter. Some families do record the date of a child’s first snowfall. I have heard from international friends that their first snow was a special experience, quickly surpassed by how cold it can get! My favorite memory is of a Buddhist monk I met in college. He attempted to keep his cold weather clothing the same color as his robes, which ironically led to him wearing fluorescent orange hunting gear.
But I digress. My favorite part of this story was Uncle Bizi Sunday. He is illiterate, which is mentioned, but the focus instead is on his remarkable gifts and important role in the family and Anna Hibiscus’ life. I also appreciated seeing a man who stays at home and is portrayed as sensitive and nurturing.
The kids’ reaction to this one sort of confused me. I read the first chapter aloud one night, and they weren’t very interested. But then later they asked to read it, and my beginning reader spent quite a bit of time paging through and looking at all the pictures. It was in the “donate-to-library” pile briefly, which caused N to react in horror that we absolutely could not donate this book. So, I think they liked it, but maybe just didn’t want me to read aloud that night?
The interior art is much like the cover art, pencil line art with some gray shading. Like many elementary chapter books, most every page has an illustration, with a few full pages of text and a few full page illustrations. The artwork is the perfect compliment to these charming stories, and the little details are just right. For example, on page 21 Anna Hibiscus’s special blanket has snowflakes and skiers on it, most likely a gift from her Granny Canada, who is referenced later in Sweet Snow. On page 85, as seen above, one of the shirts Auntie Comfort brought from America in an earlier story is hanging out to dry. Hair, clothing, and settings are all appropriately drawn.
There’s not much here that could be seen as bothersome. Some parents might not like the references to bikini swimwear and “tight-tight jean”, but I felt everything was appropriate for a whole-family read-aloud.
Anna Hibiscus is quite young, while the style and independent reading level of this book is better for older elementary students. One solution to this is to read the book aloud to younger children. Another possibility is that older children will still enjoy Anna Hibiscus’ adventures (as many older students like Junie B. Jones books about a kindergarten student).
This book is fairly quiet and gentle, not action packed. But it will appeal to families or readers who enjoy quiet stories. This sweet book paints a lovely picture of one large African family. Highly recommended!