(written by Danielle)
The eight-book Anna Hibiscus series, written by Atinuke and illustrated by Lauren Tobia, sparks laughter and brings to life everyday conflicts and difficulties arising from differences among people. There is so much to love about these books! Set in Africa and in Canada, the series explores the polarities of African and Western cultures, modern and traditional ways, city and village life, rich and poor, young and old, sick and well.
The series begins with Anna Hibiscus as a young child who has not yet started school. She lives in an African city with her white Canadian mother, black African father, twin younger brothers, and their extend family. The old, white house and surrounding compound frames a way of life where extended family members work together in creating a home.
As the series progresses, Anna Hibiscus travels to visit Granny Canada for the Christmas holiday. We see Anna discover and adapt to geographical and cultural differences including snow, food, and attitudes towards dogs. As she meets other children, Anna must face their assumptions about her. When she sleds farther down a hill than the others, one of the children shouts, “’Africans cannot do that!’” Anna thinks about her African Grandmother and what she would do. Anna realizes if she does not say something, she will feel shame. Holding her head high she declares that what she can and cannot do well is because she is Anna, not because she is African. She goes on to say, “I only want to be friends with people who want to be friends with me because I am Anna. Not because I am African” (p.74-75).
In the sixth book, Go Well Anna Hibiscus, after Anna returns to Africa, she travels to her grandparents’ village. Once again Anna finds herself in a new place among a group of children who perceive her as different. “’Oyinbo!’” they shout at her, hurling “the word for light-skinned foreigner” as an insult (p. 55-56). Heartbroken and confused, Anna retreats to the village compound. With the guidance of her Grandfather, Anna considers how oyinbo may and may not inform her identity. Together they unpack the judgment in this label. Grandfather encourages Anna to think for herself rather than taking on the judgments of others. In this conversation, Grandfather shares this advice:
We cannot control what other people think is good and what they think is bad…So we have to be clear about what we think, and what we say (p.66).
The story of Anna and the village children is woven into the story of her Grandmother’s encounter with dogs who have nudged their way into the compound. Grandmother becomes frightened and cowers as one of the dogs approaches, barking loudly. Anna, who has gained a different perspective of dogs from her time in Canada, recognizes the dogs’ hunger and lures them away with a bit of meat. As Anna explains to her Grandmother the dogs were not dangerous, her Grandmother protests, asking why a dog would bark and growl if not dangerous. Anna whispers, “It knew you were afraid…and it knew because you were afraid, you might try to hurt it” (p.63). The overlay of the group of children barking “Oyinbo,” which Anna does not understand, with the pack of barking dogs, which Anna does understand, gives profound insight into the behavior of groups and possible responses of the individual. The encouragement to think for oneself and to act and speak with confidence is reinforced here and in other parts of Anna’s narrative.
From simple geography recognizing Africa is a continent, not a country, to colorful glimpses into culture, Anna’s stories provide fertile ground for learning about places and people. Depth can be found as well in many stories acknowledging poverty, providing possible individual responses to poverty, and the role of education in improving circumstances. The cultural richness and wisdom conveyed in the Anna Hibiscus series cannot be overstated. These are funny, wise, beautiful books!
Reference List in Book Order
- Atinuke. (2010). Anna Hibiscus. Tulsa: Kane Miller – EDC Publishing.
- Atinuke. (2010). Hooray for Anna Hibiscus. Tulsa: Kane Miller – EDC Publishing
- Atinuke. (2011). Good Luck Anna Hibiscus. Tulsa: Kane Miller – EDC Publishing.
- Atinuke. (2011). Have Fun Anna Hibiscus. Tulsa: Kane Miller – EDC Publishing.
- Atinuke. (2012). Welcome Home Anna Hibiscus. London: Walker Books.
- Atinuke. (2014). Go Well Anna Hibiscus. London: Walker Books.
- Atinuke. (2015). Love from Anna Hibiscus. London: Walker Books.
- Atinuke. (2016). You're Amazing Anna Hibiscus. London: Walker Books.
PS – Here is a link to a 2011 interview with author Atinuke about the first portion of the Anna Hibiscus series.