Monday, January 29, 2018

Read Africa

by Karen Leggett Abouraya

It’s almost Read Africa Week – that first week of February when Africa Access encourages everyone to kick off Black History Month with great books about Africa. There are lots of resources and booklists online, including the 2017 Children’s Africana Book Awards.

Let’s look at Chicken in the Kitchen, by Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (Lantana Publishing). Okorafor shares the masquerade culture of West Africa through a young Nigerian girl who fears – then adores – the giant chicken in her kitchen.

·       Ask students to write about someone they didn’t know or someone who scared them (even just a little) who later became a friend (or at least less scary). How did the change happen? How does that affect the way you meet new people now?

Chicken in the Kitchen also provides opportunities to talk about visual literacy. With Instagram stories and Snapchat images, television news and Twitter photos, images can galvanize a nation and even the world.  Are young people learning to interpret, gather information and take meaning effectively from images?

·       What does this image in Chicken in the Kitchen tell the reader about Anyaugo’s community? Here’s what the Africa Access reviewer  noticed. See how many of these observations your students notice.

o   “To the left we see two couples in traditional dress symbolizing gender parity in the production of yams; to the right musicians, also in traditional dress, play local instruments. The backdrop shows a town with houses and apartments rather than a rural setting. The children attending the masquerade sport Western dress and local designs.”

·       How do pictures help tell the story of Anyaugo and the chicken? Notice for example, how the Wood Wit appears in images before being mentioned in the text. How many Wood Wit images can your students find?

o   Ask children to write a letter to the Wood Wit asking for help with a task – and then pretend they are the Wood Wit and write a response. This could be a group project as well.

In my book Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books (a 2013 CABA winner) and its accompanying website, there are news photos from the 2011 Egyptian revolution that illustrator Susan L. Roth translated into cut-paper collages, adding rich interpretations to the story. 

·       Ask students to choose an interesting news photo or image and re-create it as a drawing, painting or collage. You can also provide random news photos to students and ask them to write a caption or paragraph; then compare their writing to an actual news account of the event in the photo.

Read Africa Week is an opportunity to focus attention on individual countries and stories from a continent many Americans know little about. It is also an opportunity to begin adding these stories to your year-round reading lists – along with attention to the increasing importance of visual literacy.

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