Tag Archive | Africa

A Girl Called Problem, by Katie Quirk (book review) – move our village, change our luck?

Book cover of A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk published by Eerdmans Move our whole village?
School for all the children!!
Leaving behind our memories and starting from scratch?

In 1967, Tanzania was still “becoming” a single country after the merger of Tanganyika and Zanzibar following their recent independence from European powers. President Nyerere asked all his people and tribes to work together as one. Sometimes this meant moving from small poor villages into larger villages to have schools and medical care.

Ask for this April 2013 paperback at your local library or favorite independent bookstore, and travel in its pages to discover how Shida and her family cope with big changes in those early years of Tanzania.

When has moving to a new place helped you grow?
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Book info: A Girl Called Problem / Katie Quirk. Eerdmans, 2013.  [author site]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: A new start sounds good to Shida, as Tanzania becomes a unified country in 1967, but can the 13 year old and the other villagers truly find a better life in their new town?

So many problems in her life – mama depressed and thought to be a witch, a curse tied to their family, even Shida’s name means ‘problem’ in Swahili, her only gift from her late father’s family. She learns about healing herbs from the village grandmothers and helps families with small illnesses – why can’t the village elders see that she should become a true healer, instead of just planning to be married?

To become a strong new African nation, the people need schools and health care, so the president asks those in small villages to move and form towns. Move from Litongo? Each family will have a new hut with tin roof and a plot for growing food. All the children will go to school, even the girls!

The president’s promises are true – new huts, plots of land, a school, and a clinic! But some already living in Njia Panda don’t want more people in their town, and many traditional men think that girls shouldn’t be in school, including their teacher! Odd things begin to happen in the Litongo part of town – cattle wander from the thornbush corral, clothing goes missing (Mama Shida is sure it’s another curse).

Can Shida and her cousins convince their teacher that girls belong at school?
Can Shida care for her mama and have time to work with the clinic nurse, too?
Can she solve the mysterious things happening to her neighbors?

A full and vibrant slice of life in the early days of Tanzania, A Girl Called Problem tries to outrun her own name and find a way for the Litongo villagers to truly become part of the town and their country’s future.  (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

Laugh With the Moon, by Shana Burg – grief and laughter, new friends in Africa (book review)

book cover of Laugh With the Moon by Shana Burg published by DelacorteRoosters wandering through the school.
Sharing one pencil between ten students.
Daily anti-malaria pills too pricy for most families.

On this World Wednesday, United Nations Day, travel us to Malawi, as a grieving American teen and her dad try to help others, despite their own pain.

Clare does indeed  feel like “a marshmallow that fell into a bag of dark chocolate” (p. 5) as she arrives with her doctor-dad in the “warm heart of Africa” which has the fewest doctors per capita of any country in the world.

Missing her late mother, her friends, the conveniences of modern life, Clare learns to ignore enormous centipedes, to find alternative ways to get around shortages, and to appreciate her newfound friends, especially Memory, who has lost both her mother and her father.

This summer 2012 new book takes you to a far-off land with just a short trip to your local library or independent bookstore. Could you Laugh With the Moon,  instead of crying alone, if you were in Clare’s place?
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Book info: Laugh With the Moon / Shana Burg. Delacorte Press, 2012, paperback 2013.  [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Book Talk:  Malawi is not Massachusetts – Clare can’t believe that her father has uprooted her from junior high school to come to Africa for a season. After her mother died, they were both so sad for so long… he thinks the change of scenery will do them good, but Clare isn’t sure she can adjust to any more changes!
Mosquito netting around her narrow bed, no cellphone service out here in the bush, riding a borrowed bicycle down a bumpy dirt road to Mzanga Full Primary School where she’s the only white student, wearing a hand-me-down school uniform, but is fully welcomed with smiles…
Soon Clare becomes accustomed to helping pack up her classroom’s books to take to the school’s only lockable room, to placing cans beneath its worst leaks during the rains, to understanding almost enough about her classmates to keep from embarrassing herself too much.
Her sketchbook fills with drawings of her friends who have chosen English names like Innocent and Memory, of jungle animals, and of Fred the hen who arrived as a mystery gift on their doorstep. She finally can see her mother’s face and hear her voice in her dreams. And her father the doctor tries to help all the children who flood into the free hospital, day and night.
An emergency during an outing to Lake Malombe leaves the school friends stranded, with time running out. How can they get everyone to safety? Why can’t an ambulance get there? Why is everything so difficult in Malawi? How will Clare ever feel whole in her heart without her mother’s gentle love?
From teaching tools made from termite-mound mud to the charming style of English spoken in Mkumba, readers will be delighted to explore Clare’s new world as she learns to Laugh With the Moon and embrace life after loss.  (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

Memories of Africa (reflective) – tales of travel, hope, survival

The idea of “getting lost in a good book” brought to mind several memorable stories that I’ve recommended on BooksYALove over the past year.

These books set in Africa are worth a second look; click on each title to read my no-spoilers recommendation in a new window/tab, then find them at your local library or independent bookstore.
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book cover of Now Is The Time For Running by Michael Williams published by Little BrownNow is the Time for Running,  but not just to play soccer. Deo must help his disabled older brother escape guaranteed death in Zimbabwe and stay alive long enough to find sanctuary in South Africa. Wild animals, deceitful travel companions, and city gangs all pose unpredictable dangers to the young teen.

Author Michael Williams lives and teaches in South Africa, where he’s seen  first-hand the prejudice of city folk against the flood of refugees caused by political instability, as well as dedicated street-soccer coaches who turn around lives today.

book cover of This Thing Called the Future by JL Powers published by Cinco Puntos PressFourteen-year-old Khosi wonders and worries about This Thing Called the Future,  trying to balance her schoolwork with caring for her little sister and grandmother while Mama works away, wondering if she should pray only to God-in-the-sky instead of using traditional remedies, knowing that “the disease of these times” could end all her dreams of going to college.

Named to the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012 list, this novel examines life and love in the South Africa shantytowns where beliefs from the past collide with the modern reality of the AIDS virus.

book cover of Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta published by KnopfBrought from unremarkable Ohio to exotic Liberia by his father’s work in the 1980s, Linus decides to reinvent himself as a cool guy. Reading about Africa, he learns that the black mamba snake is secretive and rare. Yet the first thing Linus sees when the plane lands in Africa is a black mamba!

The U.S. Embassy residence area is called Mamba Point,  but no one ever sees black mambas there…except Linus. An old man in the neighborhood tells him about connections with spirit animals – is the venomous snake truly his ‘kaseng’?

(For all books, review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.)

To Timbuktu, by Casey Sciezka (nonfiction) – art, teaching, love, travel

Nine countries,
Two people,
One true story.

Travel the long route To Timbuktu with Casey and Steven on this World Wednesday, sharing their everyday joys, occasional mishaps, and adventures on their two-year journey together.

Steven’s charcoal sketches perfectly complement Casey’s retelling of their experiences as teachers of English in Beijing (becoming residents instead of visitors that cold winter ), as travelers in Vietnam and Thailand (paradise of warmth and way too many tourists), and as observers in different towns of Mali, including the remote and legendary Timbuktu.

Returning to the US, they’ve established the Local Language Literacy foundation to provide humorous books to African students in their native languages. Casey’s first LLL book was translated into Bamanakan by a teacher they worked with in Mali, and 1300 copies are now in the hands of Malian high school students. Currently, she and Steven are working with author Daour Wade to create books in French and Wolof for students in Senegal.

What an adventure Casey and Steven had as they traveled together! You’ll be glad that you came along on their winding journey To Timbuktu!
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Book info: To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story / Casey Scieszka, illustrated by Steven Weinberg. Roaring Brook, 2011. [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: World travel – that’s the plan for Casey and Steven after graduation. Now, actually getting jobs overseas – that’s another thing…

When they met in Morocco during junior semester abroad, the pair tried to just live in the moment, as they’d be in college on opposite coasts when they returned to the US. But they couldn’t let each other go and kept up their long-distance romance through that long, difficult year before graduation.

Casey dreams of living overseas and writing the stories told by Muslims who live in different cultures, examining how Islamic schools differ from others in the same country. Steven’s art is his passion; what career that will lead him to is still uncertain. As Casey writes grant applications for her research, Steven wonders how his future fits into hers…

When Casey finally gets funding to live and write in Mali – a year from now – she and Steven decide to travel and work in other countries along the way. Teaching English in Beijing, touring Southeast Asia, grabbing a quick rendezvous with their families in Paris, a detour through Morocco to see their host families again, then they’re finally in Mali!

But can the couple stay in love through traveler’s flu, bureaucratic red tape, and erratic train schedules? When Casey is piled-up with research, will Steven have enough to do? And once you’ve gone all the way To Timbuktu, what do you do next??

This autobiographical travel memoir leaps off the pages, thanks to Casey’s evocative narrative and Steven’s many sketches, taking us from their Beijing neighborhood to the schools of Mali and everywhere in between. And, yes, Casey is the daughter of author Jon Scieskza. (Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher)

World traveling, page by page (reflective)

Lots of traveling lately on BooksYALove, especially on World Wednesdays as we look at life through the eyes of folks living outside the USA.

Which is the real Australia – the remote Red Center where Gemma’s kidnapper has taken her, Stolen from her parents in a busy airport?
The sleepy country town where Laura and Leon investigate the mysteries surrounding The Visconti House?
Urban Sydney where The Reformed Vampire Support Group meets every Tuesday night, trying to keep out of temptation’s way?

Deo loves soccer and his family – will he have either one left after fleeing a massacre? Now is the Time for Running as he suddenly becomes one of the many refugees struggling to enter South Africa.

Maya’s trip from her birthplace in Canada to her parents’ homeland of India became a much longer and more perilous journey than she or her father ever imagined, as chronicled in the verse-novel Karma.

When I Was Joe jumps right out of the headlines about urban London gang fights and the witness protection programme, followed by the gripping Almost True – yes, Keren David is writing a third book about Ty right now.

Trapped between a massive glacier and the frozen fjord, Solveig and her siblings pray for rescue by their royal father, listening for Icefall, trapped in a mountain fort with a traitor.

Louise suddenly went from the Connecticut suburbs to the decks and plush staterooms of the Titanic as she unwittingly became The Time-Traveling Fashionista.

Of course, the River of Time series took us far away and far back in time, as Gabi and Lia traveled back to the 14th century from their archaeologist mother’s dig site in Tuscany. Swordfights, romance, and intrigue! Start with Waterfall (first in the series), then continue the adventure in Cascade and Torrent. Lisa T. Bergren is working on the next book in the series, after her recent trip to Italy for more research.

More of the wide world coming up, as we travel soon to Iran, to the Moon, to the future, to Australia, and beyond with the BooksYALove (but won’t find on the bestsellers’ lists).

Found this great statue of kids reading in Kingston, Jamaica.
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Now is the Time for Running, by Michael Williams (fiction) – soccer, escape, survival

book cover of Now Is The Time For Running by Michael Williams published by Little BrownWorld Wednesday, and time to see what’s happening right now, the reality that doesn’t always make news headlines.

School, soccer, and time with friends – that’s what Deo’s life in Zimbabwe should be like. But as in too many places in the world, powerful forces take away his teenage dreams, take away his family, take away his future.

It’s up to Deo to help his older brother survive, as they avoid soldiers, wild animals, brutal prejudice, and the gangs of the big city. South African author Michael Williams shows us how hope tries to survive in the face of dire adversity – you won’t want to miss this book!
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Book info: Now is the Time for Running / Michael Williams. Little Brown, 2011. [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

My Book Talk: The soldiers didn’t care that the homemade soccer ball was Deo’s prized possession. They didn’t care that Deo’s village was hungry. They didn’t plan to leave anyone alive to complain…

Suddenly Deo and his older brother Innocent are on the run through the scrublands of Zimbabwe, fleeing the President’s soldiers – the President who fought for liberation from foreign rulers, like Grandfather did. It’s up to Deo to keep mentally disabled Innocent safe as they seek help from friends in Bikita, then trek onward toward the border, trying to find their father who was away when the soldiers came.

The dangers of crossing the river into South Africa, crossing the wild lands of the lions and hyenas, finding a place to hide in the city that wants no more refugees – how much can one teenager do?

Will Deo ever be able to just play soccer again? Or return to school? Or find a way out of the grim shanties and shadows to a place with soap and water so that Innocent can wash up and be happy again? Can he escape gangs and drugs and hatred all around him?

A compelling story based on the real lives of too many refugees in Africa, Now is the Time for Running starts in a faraway place and takes our hearts and minds even further.

Read around the world (reflective)

We’ve circled the globe during July and the Ultimate Blog Challenge, highlighting books set in many countries (and eras).

The Grassland Trilogy reaches back beyond written history, showing the courage of young people trying to Escape the Mask, see Beneath the Mask, and go Beyond the Mask.

Cate of the Lost Colony traveled from the glittering court of Queen Elizabeth I to the desolate sand dunes of Roanoke in the New World, and Plain Kate, driven from her home by superstition, must search for answers down the river, into the mists.

Esty’s Gold took us from famine-stricken Ireland to the Australian goldfields in the 1880s, while The Reformed Vampire Support Group sticks together in today’s Sydney.

Online gamers in China, India, Singapore and the US are fighting For the Win and a fair chance at life.

Annexed and Briar Rose brought us perspectives on the Holocaust – the Netherlands, Germany, Poland – so many bitter sorrows, so many untold tales.

Modern-day Paris hides decades-old secrets in Die For Me, while in Montreal, Mira just wants her own today in Pieces of Me.

And we’ve just begun the Rivers of Time trilogy, as Lia and Gabi go back to 14th century Tuscany in Waterfall.

Oh, the photo up there? That’s me aboard the wooden sailing ship Southern Swan in Sydney Harbour in the 21st century. Ready for more great books in August?
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This Thing Called the Future, by J.L. Powers (book review) – tradition, love, AIDS, hope in South Africa

Tomorrow is South Africa Youth Day, celebrating the 1976 youth protest in Soweto. Khosi’s mother and father were among the many who fought for freedom from apartheid, the South African government’s brutal racial discrimination policy.

Although apartheid has crumbled, Khosi and Zi are growing up in an era of changes, as traditional beliefs clash with Christianity, and new menaces stalk the villages and cities of Africa. “The disease of these times” Khosi calls it – HIV and AIDS leaves many children orphaned.

I visited with author J.L. Powers at TLA, and she told me of life in today’s South African townships, the funeral bells, the push for education. Reading this strong book, we can believe that Khosi will stay in school and find a way to balance her beliefs, avoid threats to her health, and see a bright future.
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Book info: This Thing Called the Future / J.L. Powers. Cinco Puntos Press, 2011. [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Khosi wants to do well in school, keep her family safe, escape AIDS, “the disease of these times” in South Africa. Life can be so confusing at 14, as she prays to the great God-in-the-sky at the church and also honors her ancestors with traditional ceremonies, uses herbal cures from the sangoma as well as modern medicines from the clinic. Born on the day that her grandfather died, Khosi often has vivid dreams – are they merely warnings from her ancestor or dire predictions of the future?

She and her little sister live with their grandmother in Imbali township, while her mother teaches in another city, coming home on the weekends; their father lives so far away that they see him only on holidays. Khosi wishes that Mama and Baba were married, but during the struggle for Liberation who could afford the lobolo, the bride price?

A widowed neighbor accuses Mama of stealing her late husband’s money, a drunken man near Gogo’s house follows Khosi and Zi home from school every day, and the witch woman calls out that she will take Khosi’s spirit! How Khosi wishes she could just ignore these things and plan her future as someone who heals or dream about her crush on Little Man at her school …

When Mama comes home, sick and skinny and weary, Khosi fears that the neighbor and the witch have cursed her family. What can she do?

Author J.L. Powers’ time in South Africa has given her great insight into the lives of its girls and women, ever-shadowed by HIV, neighborhood violence, and the struggle to rise above poverty, as she brings us a powerful story that still holds hope for This Thing Called the Future. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Mamba Point, by Kurtis Scaletta (book review) – truth, self, visions of snakes

book cover of Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta published by Random HouseMoving… I’ve done it all my life, during the summer, during the school year, but I never moved to Africa, like Linus did.

And to befriend a black mamba, the fastest snake in Africa, in the whole world – wow!

Linus tried to transform himself into someone cool, to find friends in a strange land, to understand a new culture. Will getting so close to a mamba make it happen?
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Book info: Mamba Point / by Kurtis Scaletta. Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. [author’s website] [author’s blog] [publisher site]

My Book Talk: Linus can reinvent himself as a cool, bold guy when his family moves to Liberia for his dad’s new job at the U.S. Embassy. Middle school in Dayton in the 1980s was tough enough without being known for panic attacks, so even going to Africa is bound to help, right?

When they walk down the airplane steps onto the hot runway asphalt, a deadly black mamba snake is the first thing Linus sees of Africa! Black mambas are supposed to be very rare, shy of people… so why is the Embassy residence area called Mamba Point?

Before school starts, Linus and his older brother Law (who changed his name from Larry on the way over from the States) explore their new neighborhood. Most kids of Embassy employees hang out at the pool, so Law is there all day, every day. Linus meets Matt downstairs, who introduces him to role-playing games with many-sided dice and crazy situations. He visits the library for comic books to draw from and a book about snakes, especially the black mamba.

Linus spots black mambas all over, even in the residence courtyard, when others don’t see them at all. He even goes so far as to bring his black mamba into his closet to keep it close by as a pet. Then a local vendor tells him of ‘kaseng’ – the idea that some people have a deep connection to certain animals, perhaps even sharing some characteristics with them. Slowly, Linus becomes more assertive and self-confident much like the black mamba he has come to know. Could he really share a ‘kaseng’ with the friendly black mamba who begins to visit him?

When their parents go away for the weekend, Law decides to throw a party, and things go farther out of control than either brother could imagine. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.