dreamI love inventive picture book rhymes, snappy refrains, and fantastical figurative language as much as anyone, but sometimes a story works best just simply told. In this book, Thompson tells us the story of a disabled Ghanaian man beautifully but without any bells and whistles. It’s unadorned storytelling:

“In Ghana, West Africa, a baby boy was  born: Two bright eyes blinked in the light, two healthy lungs let out a powerful cry, two tiny fists opened and closed, but only one strong leg kicked.”

So begins the moving story of a disabled boy who fights to convince the people around him that “being disabled does not mean being unable.”

The “Author’s Note” at the end gives an update on what the title character is doing these days (and you can follow his blog here), but even without the back matter the story is uplifting and inspiring, a story well-told.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls. Schwartz & Wade: 2015.

plasticThis is the inspiring true story of how a Gambian woman finds a way to recycle plastic shopping bags. In the process, she earns money, creates bonds with the women working with her, improves the health of her community, and makes her village more beautiful.

I especially loved that the refrain fit so seamlessly with the themes in the book:

“One…then two, then ten, then a hundred.”

It’s fun to read–as every refrain should be!–but it also reiterates the main themes of the book. Problems start out small and become big. Solutions to those problems can also start out small and become big. And, of course, one person’s actions can inspire many others to act, too.

The back matter has maps, snapshots of the actual people, and an interesting note that tells how the author became interested in this topic. And don’t miss the wonderful endpapers–a collage of plastic shopping bags.

A trailer for the book.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Millbrook Press: 2015.

Deep in the Sahara

We lived in Khartoum, Sudan with our children. We’d lived several places in Europe before that, and I thought i was an experienced expatriate. Sudan, however, stunned me. It was so very, very different from any other place I had ever lived! I watched in surprise as my children fitted themselves comfortably into the rhythms of this strange and lovely place.

Deep in the Sahara is set in a non-specified African country, but to me it screamed, “Sudan!” After the first time I read the book, I immediately turned back to the beginning and read it again. It captures for me the beauty, mystery, and awe of that haunting place.

The story is simple. A young girl wishes she could wear a head scarf like the older women around her. They listen patiently to her–she wants a head scarf so she can be beautiful, mysterious, older. Slowly, in the course of the book, she comes to a new realization of why she wants to wear a head scarf: as an expression of her deepest faith.

Technically, this book isn’t nonfiction, but it deals so sensitively with the question of religion and why women wear headscarves that I think it deserves to be read with nonfiction books about the region and about religion. The “Author’s Note” at the end is excellent at putting the book into cultural context. I wish I’d had this to read over and over to my children when we were in Sudan, but I’m glad it’s here now to pull out as we talk about other people’s faith practices.

Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi. Schwartz & Wade: 2013.