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Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke





Have you all met Anna Hibiscus?

She lives in Africa, probably near Ibadan, in South-West Nigeria, where author Atinuke was born and spent her early childhood with her father, a Nigerian University teacher, her English mother, her siblings and her extended family: her 'very old and wise' grandparents and whole host of uncles and cousins.
Atinuke now lives and writes in Wales, in a house overlooking the ocean that she and her husband built themselves and that is, or at least it looks like to me, perfection. Although only written and published much later, in 2007, the best-selling series Anna Hibiscus was born during the years of homesickness spent in a boarding school in Oxford, where the author moved when she was only 10 years old.

The vivid memories of amazing Africa, with its dusty roads and bungalows and flowers are all there. Anna's real-life adventures are such a pleasure to read and it's a shame that such a lovely series has not been translated abroad yet.

I was looking for a new chapter book series to read after having read like ten times 'My Happy Life' by Rose Lagercrantz, and I was wandering in the children's section at my local Daunt Books store desperately looking for something 'unicorn-free' or without any silly mischievous girls trying to keep themselves busy to the detriment of siblings and parents (snobbish? maybe, but I seriously can't read that stuff). I wanted a free-spirited, wild little girl, like Dani was.
So seeing me looking around restlessly, my lovely bookseller offered to help. After listening to my (very) demanding description of what I was looking for, she took the Book 1 of Anna Hibiscus from the shelf.
Dani lives in Sweden with only her dad and cat, she knows the snow very well, Anna lives far away in Nigeria with her big big family and she dreams to see the snow.
Very different surroundings and family experiences, still Dani and Anna Hibiscus are very much alike.
In the first book Anna Hibiscus leaves the city for a beach holiday with just her parents and baby brothers: after less than 24 hours her parents realise that they can't cope with house chores and kids by themselves, and still be enjoying their holiday. Anna Hibiscus is bored too, without her cousins to play with, without her grandparents whose wiseness and authority silence everyone.
Dad will go back back home to fetch everyone until the big family will be reconstituted in the little holiday home as well as order and peace for everyone.

Sweet, meaningful, engaging and thought provoking, these tales from faraway Africa reminded us that it takes a village to raise a child: that there's nothing wrong with us as parents, struggling alone, away from our families, it's just that we've gone very very far from the nature of things.

Anna Hibiscus is ultimately like any other little girl, however, these stories inundate us with new, unfamiliar and therefore important scents and landscapes. They offer a different point of view to the child.
It's here that I realised the importance of having diverse books on our bookshelf and actually reading them, as much as we read all other stories.
So take these good books and rotate them out there on your child's shelf, so that they are accessible, that they can leaf through them independently. It sounds obvious but I myself wasn't doing it enough.

Anna Hibiscus is waiting for an Italian publisher! come on then :)
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Anna Hibiscus [2007]
by Atinuke
English-language edition published by Walker Books
Reading age: 5+
Themes: Faraway Cultures, Growing up, Chapter Books, Family









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