There are currently seven Anna Hibiscus books published – two picture books and five chapter books – with at least one more chapter book in the works. They are all wonderful and I can’t praise them highly enough.
Atinuke wrote the stories because she found that in the UK children weren’t aware of the Africa she grew up in; the affluent business Africa of big cities and business deals full of traditions and family customs. So she wrote about Anna Hibiscus, who has an African father and a Canadian mother, and her adventures in a middle class African home. Atinuke is from Nigeria, but she chose to write about Amazing Africa rather than a specific country.
Lauren Tobia illustrates these books with warmth and humour and makes you feel like you are in Africa with Anna and her family. The illustrations are spot on and essential to help children who don’t come from this culture to visualise the world Anna is growing up in.
The chapter books are lovely for emerging readers, being short enough for early readers but with enough interest and layers to work for older readers too. Each book contains four separate stories, which can be read as individual stories, but also builds up into a longer tale. For example at the end of book one Anna discovers she can visit her Granny in Canada; in book three she shops for winter clothes; book four is the Canada visit; and book five contains her return.
There are many other stories contained in these books as well. These cover Anna’s brushes with the poverty that exists in the city side-by-side with the more affluent world she inhabits; lots of family love and excitement; the horrors of hair brushing and more!
Anna lives with all her family in one house: parents, grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles. She has cousins called Benz, Wonderful, Chocolate, Thank-God, Sociable, Joy, Clarity, and Common Sense; and twin brothers called Double and Trouble. This quote from the first Anna Hibiscus chapter book gives an explanation of the names by way of a conversation between an Auntie returning to America and talking to Anna’s grandparents:
“Welcome, Comfort!” Grandfather said.
“Thank-you, Father,” Auntie Comfort replied. “But I am now called Yemisi.”
“Why?” said Grandmother. “What is wrong with Comfort?”
“I wanted to have an African name, Mama,” said Auntie Comfort.
The aunties started to laugh.
“Comfort is an African name,” said Grandmother.
“But it is an English word, Mama,” said Auntie Comfort.
“It is an English word, but an African name,” said Grandfather. “Have you ever heard of any English person being called Comfort?”
The importance of family and caring for people is deeply rooted in all the stories, which can be enjoyed by all ages. The chapter books are lovely read-alouds for younger children but there are also the two picture books.
In Anna Hibiscus’ Song, Anna is full of so much happiness but she doesn’t know how to express it. She asks her family, who tell her all the different things that they do when they are happy, and then discovers her own way, which is to sing. A wonderful book full of joy, and also good for helping children find ways of dealing with all the big emotions that come along. We try to help small children with emotions like sadness, fear, and anger; but happiness is big too and deserves attention.
In Splash, Anna Hibiscus, the family have gone to the beach. Anna wants to splash in the waves but all of her family is too busy. She wants to splash with somebody, but the pull of the waves gets her splashing and giggling, which fills all her family with joy too.
I love this double page spread especially, it perfectly captures the feeling of aloneness:
But soon after, Anna is joined by her family and this spread captures family togetherness and joy:
There are so many reasons to love the Anna Hibiscus books as wonderful stories with beautiful illustrations; but the inclusion of a mixed-race family and unfamiliar cultural setting (for the UK) make these important books to share with every child.
If you’ve not read any before and you’re not sure which one to start with, I recommend Splash, Anna Hibiscus for toddlers & up and Anna Hibiscus for pre-schoolers & up; but once you’ve read those, you’ll want to read them all. We all love amazing Anna Hibiscus here, and we hope you will too.
Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of Splash, Anna Hibiscus! by Lauren Tobia for review, but had already bought the other Anna Hibiscus books independently. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.