We both have several books about, set in, or written by authors from South Africa. From the children's version of Nelson Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom" to the classic "Journey to Jo-Burg" by Beverly Naidoo, Toby has realised for a long time that this is a complex country. Some of the reviews we have carried together here are therefore a bit older :)
Toby: Journey to Jo'Burg, by Beverly Naidoo (read when Toby was 6)
We bought this book when Nelson Mandela died, but it took us a while to read it. I didn't like how people weren't all treated the same, because that isn't right. Naledi and Tiro were very brave to go travelling all by themselves.
Toby: The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela (written when he was 6)
I wrote a letter to Nelson Mandela when he was sick, because I wanted to thank him for making the world a better place. I had several non-fiction books about him, but after he died, this book came out, which is all about his life. I liked reading about his childhood.
Toby: Operation Rhino, by Lauren St John
I think you should read the rest of the series before this one, because there are lots of references to the other books in this one. Lauren St John was born in Zimbabwe, but because the book takes place in South Africa, we are putting it here, and we have another book by another Zimbabwean author for Zimbabwe, too.
'Race you to the bottom of the hill,' said Ben, reining in Shiloh, his new pony. 'Last one there washes the dishes after breakfast.'
Ben and Martine are best friends, and always love to race. However, Martine is not riding a pony, she is riding a white giraffe, who got saved in a previous book. Martine used to live in England, but her parents died in a fire, and Martine came to live with Ben and his family in South Africa. In this book, Martine and Ben go on a rhino-saving adventure. It all starts on the Stars and Stripes Safari. Martine's favourite band are there, as well as some hunters and some surfers. The hunters say they have hunted bears in Romania, but that they don't want to kill any African animals. Right at the end of the tour, Martine shows Jayden, the leader of her favourite band, the hidden spot of where the rhinos are, a mother and a child. But she doesn't know what's about to happen.
A few days later.
BANG! Martine wakes up in the middle of the night and runs downstairs. There is a big helicopter, and in it, she sees the shadow of a man with a gun. One of the rhinos has been hit. It was the mother! Martine and Ben need to take the baby to another reserve!
I liked this book because it is very action-packed, and when you read it, you get a very good picture of what is happening. It was very enjoyable to read, and probably in the age range of 7-15. This isn't just an adventure book, it's a bit of a magic book, too. Martine has healing powers, and my favourite part of this book was right at the end - you'll have to read it to find out.
Sabine: The Cry of Winnie Mandela, by Njabulo Ndebele
I was a teenager when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and, like many others of my generation, I read the books that were popular in that era - I read Donald Woods' "Biko" and John Briley's "Cry Freedom" (though I never watched the film), and Winnie Mandela's "Part of my Soul". Around the same time, I also read another book, Doris Lessing's "Desdemona, if only you had spoken". Out of all books, this one stayed with me the most, even though it isn't (at first glance) related to the topic here. Doris Lessing gave voice to female characters - both in history and in literature - allowing them long monologues where they had a chance to explain themselves, to flesh out their characters, to be "more". I always thought they were the perfect monologues - innovative, fairly unknown, and interesting. Ndebele's book reminds me of this. Four women, at first disconnected from each other, are waiting. For various reasons, they are finding themselves without a husband - one went away to study, one went away to work, one died, one went into exile - all legitimate reasons, but as months drag into years, the women experience a kind of limbo. Society has certain expectations, and they are trapped in their existence, no matter what they do. When they meet (it is not described how, nor does it matter, there is a "meta" quality to this book, where the characters themselves seem aware of their imaginary existence), they decide to play a game, each looking to address Winnie Mandela, a waiting woman like they are, but waiting much more publicly. They ask questions, they draw out things they have heard, seen and read, and they engage with their own experiences in relation to Winnie's, inviting her to join their circle. When she does, she becomes one of them - questioning, searching, reflecting, acknowledging.
I found this book utterly fascinating - like the monologues composed by Doris Lessing, here are women who are given a voice to express themselves. But of course, it is their imagined voices, imagined by authors who have a way with words (at the time of the publication of the book, Ndebele was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town), and who can make us listen. This book reminds me of people whose stories need to be told, and consider the complexities of who might have the right, the ability, and the connections to tell those stories.
There is something odd growing in Stanly's garden. Bit by bit, bone by bone, a skeleton grows out of the ground. The grown-ups can't see it, but Stanly's sister Miren can. She calls it Princy, because, according to her, Princy wears a gold hat and has a black cape. When Miren gets really sick, Princy is the only one who can make her smile. Stanly thinks Princy is bad news, and his sister is getting sicker and sicker. But Princy makes her happy. Is he bad or good? This book is very emotional - I cried for a really long time when I finished it, and I don't normally cry about books. I had a chat with my Mum, because I was very angry at Princy. Together, we worked out that the book is about hope, or maybe about how death is sometimes harder for the people left behind, than for the person dying. It is hard to say what my favourite bit was, because it was so sad, but it made me feel very strongly, and that is what a good book does.
I reviewed this book for LoveReading4Kids, they are amazing! You should check them out, and you can read all reviews here.
As has happened quite a few times, we actually have more books than just one each for Nigeria. However, since both these reviews have been "hovering" in the draft folder for a while, we decided to get the first "tranche" of Nigeria books out, and we will follow up with a Part 2 in a while. We are still catching up with each other, and must co-ordinate our reading better! :)
Toby: Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
This book is about a normal girl who has a friend, who has a friend, and they all become friends together. Suddenly, Sunny, the main character, gets taken into a world of magic, because her two friends are magic. She passes the test to start working magic, but nobody else in her family has magic, she is a "free agent", somebody who doesn't come from a magical family.
Sunny is an albino, so her skin has no pigment, and in several African countries, being an albino is linked to lots of superstitions. So to have a character like this, and a girl, who is strong and powerful is really cool. I think this book would be great for anybody who understands that life can sometimes be hard - Akata is a word used to describe African Americans in the Yoruba language, and Sunny was born in America, although her parents were born in Nigeria, so Sunny is a little bit of an outsider. People say it is the Nigerian Harry Potter - I think this might be true, especially if you understand that the context is very different, and that's what I like about it. We have pre-ordered the sequel (it's coming out 3rd October), and I can't wait for it to come out!
Sabine: Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi
This book wasn't at all what I expected. I have had it for a few years (swapped in a coffeehouse with a bring-and-swap shelf), and when Toby decided on his challenge, I looked at my (rather large) To Be Read pile and pulled it out. Originally, I was intrigued by the references made to a child inhabiting two cultural worlds, but upon opening the novel, I realised there was much more to it than a child trying to find her identity.
Jessamy is eight years old when, on a trip to Nigeria, she first encounters the mysterious Tilly, a girl only she can see, but who nevertheless seems to have some power to interact with the real world. Over time, Tilly's intentions appear more and more sinister, hurting and threatening anybody who might stand in the way of her relationship with Jess, but Jess struggles to distance herself from her. The boundaries between reality, dream, magic and imagination are constantly shifting, and readers who expect an "explanation at the end of it all" will be disappointed.
Helen Oyeyemi was four years old when she moved from Nigeria to England, and still at school when she wrote the book. The Icarus Girl is a powerful and disturbing debut novel, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Oyeyemi's work.
Toby: William Wenton and the Luridium Thief, by Bobbie Peers
William Wenton and the Luridium Thief by Bobbie Peers is a brilliant book which can be read by children at any age. The story is about a boy who is hunted. He is a code-breaking genius, but doesn’t know that yet. One day, he gets attacked, because he succeeds in breaking the unbreakable code. He then gets chased and taken to an institute which helps people who are really good at code breaking carry on their lives in a good way. He is also on a search for his grandfather.
I like this book because it has loads of tech-stuff in it, and you can follow the storyline really well. My favourite character is Iscia, but I can’t tell you why, you’ll have to read the book! This book was originally called “Luridiumstyven” in Norwegian, and the translator Tara Chace did a brilliant job! I would say this would be good for age 8-15 years old. It is a really proper good storyline, and I just couldn’t put it down! I can’t wait to read Bobbie Peers’ next book!
Sabine: Naïve. Super by Erlend Loe
This book came out originally in the mid-1990s, and there is some reference to technology that makes that obvious, however, it doesn't prevent this book from being a gem. It doesn't take long to read at all, and the plot is deceptively simple. A 25-year-old protagonist suddenly questions what he is doing with his life. He decides to drop out of university, cancel the lease on his flat, reduce his belongings to the contents of a manageable backpack - and a bike - and thinks. A lot. About time. About what it means to be a person. About what is important to him. He thinks carefully about each item he adds to his life, once, he decides that he needs an item which:
- Is small enough to carry easily
- Costs no more than 100 kroner
- Can be used many many times
- Can be used indoors as well as outdoors
- Can be used alone or with someone else
- Gets [him] active
- Makes [him] forget about time (p.12)
Thus equipped with his list, he goes in search of the perfect item, and decides that a cheap plastic ball meets all his requirements. While his brother is out in the world, making money, he flat-sits for him, throwing his ball, and thinking about life. And time. And when his brother invites him to spend time together in New York, it is a big step from throwing a ball in a flat to the top of the Empire State Building (where time passes slightly faster at the top, than at the bottom of the building).
In a way, this book reminds me of a modern version of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" - a search to live life simply, to remember the joy in life, to take time to think a thought all the way through to the end. In my favourite section of the book, the protagonist stands in the bustle of Manhattan, realising that he is not so different from anybody else: "I feel I am starting to care about all these people. I understand them. Of course they have to walk in the street, they have to get somewhere. Things have to work everywhere. I am thinking, we're in this together. Keep it up. It's going to be just fine" (p. 122).
Okay - Brazil is getting a special treatment :). Partially because we visited the country, and partially because we found it originally quite difficult to find a translated children's book. As a result, Toby read one book not by a Brazilian author, but then we found two! But then, one was a bit too old for Toby, and Sabine read it instead. So, overall, we each read two books for Brazil.
Toby: Me in the Middle, by Ana Maria Machado
Belle's family is very unorganised. Her mother usually drops things around the house and then, when she needs them, she does something which she calls 'a general clean-up'. And that is where our story begins. Belle is coming back from school in Rio de Janeiro, and goes into her mother's room. Her mother is doing her general clean-up, and Belle kisses her and then looks in her mother's closet. In the closet. there is a trunk, in the trunk, there is a box, in the box, there is an envelope, and in the envelope, there are pictures. Her mother and her look at the pictures. There is a beautiful picture of a little girl: 'That's my grandmother', says Belle's mother, 'and your great-grandmother.' Belle loves the picture and wants to keep it, but her mother says no. But Belle is allowed to take the picture to school. At school, Belle is playing with her friends, and Bisa Bea, as she now named the picture, is held by the elastic band in her shorts. When she gets home, she realises she has lost the picture. She tells her mother, that when she was playing, she got really sweaty, and Bisa Bea got absorbed into her body, behind her heart. She and Bisa Bea start talking to each other, and eventually, it feels like her great-grandmother is really there. Bisa Bea tells her what life was like when she was young, and it was quite different from Belle's. But soon, there is going to be a new arrival to talk to Belle...
I like this book because it is very fun and gives you a lot of historical facts about Brazil that you probably won't know. Bisa Bea was alive in a rich family during the slave trade in Brazil, and in a time when your parents would decide who you would marry. When we went to the National History Museum in Rio de Janeiro, we saw the pen that signed the "Golden Law" that ended slavery in Brazil.
My favourite part is the concept of "Me in the Middle" - it would be great if we could talk to our ancestors, and find out what their lives were like! I also liked the book because it was set in Rio, and I've now been to Rio - that was cool!
Toby: Grk and the Pelotti Gang, by Josh Lacey
The Pelotti Gang are on the move - they are off to steal more money. These famous criminals are the best in the continent, always escaping the police!
Grk, Tom, Max and Natasha decide to put an end to the Pelotti Gang: they are off to Brazil, or, more specifically, they're off to Rio. When they arrive there, they stay in "Copacabana Castle", one of the best hotels in Rio. One day, Tom decides to go on a walk, but his Dad and Mum say no. After a few days, Tom and Natasha are at a football match, but Tom gets bored and starts walking around, without telling anybody. But great dangers await him!
This book is very easy to imagine, and extremely fun to read. It is part of a series, with a different location in each book. I don't think I learnt a lot about Rio, but the story still was really fun! This book is recommended as reading in the back of the Rough Guide to Brazil - it is great that they have reading suggestions, but I think they should also suggest "Me in the Middle", because that book told me a lot more about Brazil.
Sabine: The Shape of Bones, by Daniel Galera
This book follows Hermano, a thirty-something plastic surgeon, as he sets off early one morning to climb Cerro Bonete, a mountain in Bolivia. But it also follows Hermano, a kid growing up in Esplanada, pushing himself and his body to the limits with daredevil bike races, where the winner is the kid who falls most spectacularly. Through the dual timeline, the reader sees the world through Hermano's eyes - his friends, the complex negotiations involved in friendship, his thoughts, and his character. Hermano (both boy and man) is a complex individual, both insistent on doing his own "thing" (like being the only one in his circle of friends not touching alcohol), and keen to fit in. In some cases, "fitting in" is a case of survival, in others, it is simply a case of not rocking the boat. Hermano (both boy and man) is searching for something, an,d realising that he will not find it on a mountaintop in Bolivia, he returns to the neighbourhood of his childhood to seek it there.
This coming-of-age story was an interesting read - Galera describes the Brazil of the 1990s in great detail, down to the cobblestones, the smells and sounds, making this novel deeply insightful - not only offering insights into Brazil, but also into what matters to us as we grow up, and how this shapes us into the people we are today.
Sabine: The Head of the Saint, by Socorro Acioli
This book is classified as Young Adult - we had originally bought it for Toby, but I think at 9, it was just a few years too old for him, so I read it instead, and I'm glad I did. Samuel is 15 when his mother Mariinha dies, and, on her deathbed, she makes him promise to light three candles for her, in three different locations, and to take her rosary to his grandmother, in a bid to find his father, whom he never knew. With no money for the journey, Samuel sets off to walk for 16 days through the harsh heat of Brazil, only to find that there is no warm welcome awaiting him, and the town where his grandmother lives has been slowly dying ever since a disastrous incident with a giant statue of Saint Anthony. Devastated and injured by a pack of dogs, he sets up home in the Saint's head, only to discover that he has the unique ability to hear people's prayers...and possibly the power to do something about them.
This book mixes the realism of Brazilian culture and religion with hints of magic and belief in miracles, a fine balance that could easily tip over in either direction, but is balanced beautifully by Acioli. The book overall is very understated - the drama unfolds without much sentimentality, the characters are well defined and wide-ranging. I had the occasional problem with the timeline, but if you accept other magical aspects of the book, what a bit of a disrupted timeline among friends? :) Overall, a very enjoyable read.
My name is Toby, and I am 9 years old. I have written letters to every country in the world - you can read about that adventure at my other website, Writing to the World. Some letters are published in a book called "Dear World, How Are You?". In order to learn more about the countries I am writing to, I am reading books, and I am reviewing them here. I also reviewed books for LoveReading4Kids, and those reviews are on here, too. I am trying to find one book set in each country, or by an author from that country. My Mum is doing the same for grown-up books, and I am reviewing mine, and she is reviewing hers. So whether you are a child or a grown-up, you can explore the world with us :)