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When I ran across A Stork in a Baobab Tree: An African 12 Days of Christmas in the library recently, I knew I had found a real gem. It is a delightful holiday book that can be enjoyed by children of a wide range of ages.
The text, which follows that of the traditional carol, tells of the different ways Africans celebrate Christmas and more broadly about some of the elements of everyday life there, such as the traditional markets and houses. So on the third day of Christmas, for example, “my true love gave to me three woven baskets.”
The illustrations are stunning and well-researched. Each new page gives us a rich panorama of a different region of Africa, from Morocco to South Africa. At the same time as these illustrations showcase what is “exotic” about Africa to Western readers – thatched huts and native dress, for example – the artist makes the people in these paintings seem very familiar despite the distance. My favorite page, for instance, is of the seventh day of Christmas, since the “seven children playing” look much like children anywhere, though their toys may be different. I particularly like the little girl playfully putting a baby animal on another girl’s head 🙂 Some tricks are universal!
The story can be read on several levels. Young children will enjoy the new version of a familiar song and delight in the beautiful artwork. Yet each page also includes a more detailed explanation of the verse for that day, such as a discussion of the importance of drumming in Africa and how traditional drums are made.
I must admit that at first I was very put off by the constant mention of “African” markets, “African” houses, etc., since Africa is a huge, incredibly diverse continent that should not be generalized so broadly. (I highly recommend Kid World Citizen’s review of the book “Africa Is Not A Country” for more on this topic). I found this generalizing trend especially surprising considering how intimately familiar both the author and illustrator were Africa’s diversity, given that both have lived in various African countries for many years.
I can only guess that this was a strategic move to make the book more accessible to Western audiences, who tend to know very little about different countries in Africa. The illustrations show a wide range of African cultures, and for those that wish to know more, there is a list in the back of the book about the specific countries on which each page in the book is based.
I highly recommend this book as a fun way for kids to learn more about Christmas in other cultures, as they enjoy a twist on a favorite holiday song.
This post has been shared at Christmas in Different Lands from Multicultural Kid Blogs.