“When Africa Was Home”

Lately our trips to the library have been rare and hurried. Any leisure time we might be able to take at the library includes our little monster Eliana, who loves to mimic my encouragement to be quiet by hunching her shoulders, putting her finger in front of her lips, and whispering “shhhhhhhh, daba daba kai et” cutely, and then shreiking in delight to show me the OPPOSITE of ‘quiet.’ She’s such a clever girl! We take her in, but basically I fill the basket as fast as I can with as many books as possible while she’s momentarily distracted by the children’s corner and then try to get out before the whole library hates us.

The fun part of this is that the childrens’ books we come home with are often a surprise. Kind of like “Let’s see what we got from the library today, kids!”

So tonight I was delighted to read When Africa Was Home, by Karen Lynn Williams, with illustrations by Floyd Cooper. It’s the story of a boy named Peter who is a young American boy living with his parents as they work somewhere in Africa (the author is oddly vague about where, even in the bio at the back…which seems funny to me…) After a time enjoying life in Africa, this boy has to leave and return to America, which doesn’t at all feel like home to him. Fortunately in the end of the story his Dad gets another job in the same location and he’s able to return to the friends and the life that he loves.

Opening spread of the book. The nanny looks Masai, right? They must be in Kenya. (My proofing bucket is behind the book with a double batch of injera fermenting in it for tomorrow!)

Peter's nanny in the story has a little girl who is his best playmate.

This book has all sorts of interesting themes for my kids and our family: The idea of comparing Africa and America from a child’s perspective that is similar to theirs, even though the child is white; Celebrating how much better Africa is in terms of culture; or how about understanding what it’s like to be a child surrounded by people who look nothing like you, and feeling very clearly that it is ‘home’ anyway? The boys were fascinated by the book. They could totally identify with the description of getting to America from Africa:

“They boarded an airplane that was bigger than a house. There were hundreds of seats and tiny windows and buttons and dials and switches. The airplane flew through the day and a night. And then Peter was in America. People talk funny, he thought. No one stopped to say “Hello” and ask him how he had slept.”

The boys nodded in agreement at several items in the book, and were really interested in the idea of an American boy preferring Africa over America. Loved it.

Here’s the best part. When our reading time was over Alex said in the most earnest way, “Mom, why don’t WE write a book about Africa?” Then he took that idea a few steps further and started thinking about who we could share it with, and maybe we could put it in the library, and then “How do you put a book in the library, Mom?” It was an awesome conversation and I told him what a great idea it was. Maybe we will someday!

In the meantime, look for this book for your adopted kids from Africa! It was a refreshing read with a positive message about where they came from (generally!).

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