I had read a chapter when the first Anna Hibiscus came out, and thought it was cute. But I didn't "study" it. Finally, I picked up the fourth one, "Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus," by Antinuke. And I read it. And I smiled. And I wanted to read more. And then I knew why it had won so many awards, with many more to come, I'm sure.
Voice. Antinuke has an amazing voice. Anna Hibiscus is found in this writing. You know who she is by the first page. The first sentence introduces that she is from Africa. "Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa." I have always plugged these books as a great peak into another country and another culture. Every book begins the same, and then tells us what is going to happen. "But now Anna Hibiscus is going far overseas."
All of the sentences are simple, or they read that way. She doesn't use fancy language, or extra descriptors. She makes every word count (which is advice my editor gave me). This is great for struggling readers and comprehension. Yet the story is real.
In this book, Anna Hibiscus is going to Canada to visit her grandma who she has never met. The reader gets to experience so many first with her, and this is what makes it magical.
- Her first time leaving her family.
- Her first time meeting her grandma.
- Her first time feeling cold and seeing snow.
- Her first time eating chocolate cereal.
- Her first time being in a new culture.
- Her first time with a pet dog.
- Her first time making new friends.
I smiled. I laughed aloud. I even cringed, and then applauded.
What makes this book so amazing? It's a story, told with a unique voice. When I read that the author, Atinuke is a storyteller, I knew why it was amazing. Her training comes from natural story telling. If you have ever heard a story teller, it's amazing to listen to them. I brought in Susan Arnold two years ago to present to our school, and I could have listened to her all day. The kids were enthralled.
The story is simple, not forced. There are no aliens, no toilets, no violence, or magic. It's believable. And it's precious. It is one that should be read aloud, and introduced into classrooms as a chance for kids to travel somewhere new.
If you are an author, I highly recommend reading this as it is a great example of something that works.
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