The first time I traveled to Africa I was 16 years old.
I was on a service trip to Tanzania with a group of students and teachers from my school. I loved my time there and when I left I felt like I’d left a piece of my heart buried in the deep red dirt. Fascinated by the rich cultural, political and geographical diversity across Africa, I minored in African Studies in college and found my way to Mali, Ghana and Nigeria before I graduated. Through my various studies and summers spent in West Africa I continuously discovered the same thing – the people with whom I talked, laughed, told stories and shared meals were not people to be pitied but rather people to be respected.
It was easy to see that in many ways, despite our differences in culture, we weren’t really that different after all.
The image of Africa so often portrayed in the media was a poor generalization of perhaps the most diverse continent of the world. Years later, as a mother, I often find myself looking for ways to begin exposing my daughter to the countries and cultures I’ve grown to love and respect so deeply.
Enter Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke.
Anna Hibiscus is a young girl living in modern, urban Africa, or as Atinuke writes “Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” Her father wakes her up one morning with news – she must come and see her twin brothers that were born in the night. After Anna’s met her brothers, her cousins quickly warn her that the babies mean trouble, “big trouble!” for Anna. Anna soon finds her whole morning routine thrown off by the babies. Frustrated, Anna turns to her father declaring,
“Everybody is busy with Double Trouble! Nobody has time for me!”
As he gently explains that Anna will have to share her family with her brothers now, she hears her aunties, uncles, grandmother and mother all calling out for her. “’You see.’ Papa smiles. ‘Everybody has time for Anna Hibiscus!’”
What I like about it
It leads into a series of award winning chapter books written by an international author
Atinuke, a British Nigerian author and storyteller, originally wrote Anna Hibiscus as the star of a series of early-reader chapter books. Frustrated to discover how little British children knew about urban, affluent, middle-class Africans like herself, Atinuke wanted to give them a picture of the Africa she had grown up in as a biracial child living in middle class Nigeria. Awarded the Boston Globe Horn Book Honor in 2011, her books feel authentic but not so wildly foreign that a young child can’t relate to Anna and her adventures. While I’m excited to read the chapter books with my daughter when she gets older, I was delighted to discover Atinuke had released a picture book starring Anna Hibiscus as well. I love that Atinuke has given us an interesting character that can grow with my daughter as she gets older.
It addresses the change in family dynamics that can occur with the birth of a new baby (or babies in this case)
In about two months my little girl is going to become a big sister. While she loves talking about her baby sister and the things she’ll do with her (“I can hold her in my arms when she’s born!”), I know she doesn’t quite understand how different things will be once the baby comes. I find reading Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus with her is an easy way to help her begin to understand that while she will soon have to share mommy and daddy’s time with her sister, we will still love her and have time for her individually, too. It’s a good reminder for me to be sure to make special one-on-one time for my older daughter, too.
It celebrates loving multi-generational family relationships
Like many families throughout Africa, Anna Hibiscus lives in a large compound with many members of her extended family. In addition to her own parents and brothers, Anna lives with many aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. They all work and play together as one big family. While I didn’t grow up near any of my extended family, I recognize the benefit of building strong multi-generational relationships as my daughter has gotten to know and love her many aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. It’s rare to see extended families so celebrated as they are in Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus.
Anna’s family is biracial and multinational
While Anna lives in “Amazing Africa” with her father’s African family, her mother is a white, redheaded Canadian. I love being able to show my daughter that families come in all different shapes, sizes and colors and in the often whitewashed market of children’s literature, diversity in characters can be hard to find. Growing up with dual American and Canadian citizenship and a Swiss high school experience, I also appreciate characters that offer a more global experience to the reader (or in the very least can relate to my inability to answer where I’m from).
What I don’t love about it
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.”
I don’t love that Anna Hibiscus lives in a generalized “Africa,” rather than a specific place IN Africa. I feel like it perpetuates the homogenized view of Africa as one giant mono-cultural country, rather than the vastly diverse continent that it is. In her own defense, in an interview Atinuke has explained, “I chose Africa because I did not want to write specifically about Nigeria. I wanted to inhabit a more fictional world. And for people to know that Anna’s happy middle class world exists all over Africa.” She talks about her struggle to decide on a setting a bit more in-depth in this interview, too.
While I appreciate the details in the illustrations (like Anna’s maple leaf blanket to represent her Canadian side of the family) and the bright use of color, Lauren Tobia’s style just doesn’t really resonate with me. I think the artwork is fine but with a picture book I really want to fall in love with the artwork. I don’t mind Tobia’s style as much in the black and white artwork featured in the Anna Hibiscus chapter books but in a picture book it comes off as a bit unpolished.