Sunday, May 21, 2017

I Love Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus is a little girl growing up in Africa. Amazing Africa. Before we go any further, what sort of life do you think Anna Hibiscus has in Africa? I did a little experiment and asked three people who'd not read the six Anna Hibiscus books by Atinuke. They all answered variations on the theme of growing up in a village, poor, coping with drought and famine, fighting to receive an education as a girl, working on the meagre homestead, etc, etc. One of my subjects forgot that this is a children's book and started guessing themes such as child brides and other horrific practices associated with this.

WRONG WRONG WRONG! Let's start again. Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa. She lives in a big city in a big house surrounded by a big walled garden. She lives with her father's family. All of them. Her Grandparents, her aunts and uncles, and her cousins (the big cousins, the middle cousins, and the little cousins). They all have wonderful names like Uncle Bizzi Sunday, big girl cousins Joy, Clarity and Common Sense, and Anna Hibiscus' twin brothers Double and Trouble.

The family are comfortably off and there is a constant rubbing along throughout the stories between African tradition and modern times. This in itself is a subtle lesson in which the Grandparents who grew up in the village, are revered and respected. They guide the family with their wisdom and experience, through all sorts of adventures and dilemmas.

Each chapter of each book tells a story with a moral. But the morals are not the old and hackneyed lessons that are repeated over and over from Huckleberry Finn to Milly Molly Mandy to Angelina Ballerina, et al, such as be helpful and you will get your reward, be loyal to your friends, be honest, be kind.... Yes Anna Hibiscus is all of these but in these books the challenges are completely different to any I have read in modern English children's literature.

For example, Anna's mother is Canadian and she wants to go on a short holiday with just her husband and children, as we do. We see how much harder life is when you don't have your whole extended family on hand.

What happens when Anna wants to sell oranges from their trees outside the garden gate with the other child street sellers? The other children have old and damaged fruit to sell and they need the money to help feed their families. Anna comes out of her wealthy compound with wonderfully fresh and succulent oranges from their healthy, watered trees. You can guess the rest.

She visits her Grandfather's ancestral village and teaches the children to read. With her cousins she rescues a homeless orphan whom they adopt after saving his life. There are real challenges faced in these stories and not one of them has charity workers from the Western World coming to sort them out. Just little Anna Hibiscus and her big, lovable family.

When Anna Hibiscus goes to Canada to visit her maternal Grandmother, everything is a bit weird. Fancy being made to sleep in a room all on your lonely ownsome. I mean that's no fun is it?

Every story is a delight. Every lesson learned is a revelation. You are made to look at the world from a stance you'd never considered before. There is a way of life you've never read about, a culture full of tradition and wisdom and pride. Even a certain amount of sympathy towards the Western World which seems to have lost it's way compared to life in Amazing Africa.

Does this review show my prejudices and maybe even some latent racism? Probably. I'm still working on seeing the world from all angles and Anna Hibiscus was an education even for my adult self.

I was lucky enough to be lent all six books in the series by a pupil who passed them on to me as she finished each one. Thank you Hodaya, your books taught me a lot this year.



  1. These books sound lovely. I adore the idea of them teaching as they go along and exploring all different themes. Mich x

    1. Thanks Michelle, they are a real delight in their originality and fun story telling.