BUSY PATTERNS. Bold hues. Strong images and words. All define Amazing Africa: A to Z, a children’s picture book co-authored by Minnesotan Dr. Artika Tyner and Ghanaian Monica Habia and illustrated by Reyhana Ismail of the UK.
For a community like mine, with a sizable Somali population, this book proves a natural draw. I always appreciate learning more about my new Faribault neighbors from the east African country of Somalia. The more we know about each other, the more comfortable and connected we feel. Disconnect and conflict often arise from lack of knowledge, fear of the unknown and differences. Differences in dress, food, language, culture, faith.
This book bridges differences via facts and art that carries a signature African style of intense patterns and colors. With every new bit of information, with every turn of the page, I feel more and more connected to this continent of 54 countries. For example, the word hospitality, chosen to represent the letter “H” in this alphabet book, strikes me as exactly what I hope for in Faribault. Africans believe no one is an island; rather everyone is part of the community, the text reads in part. Two clasped hands visually reinforce that belief.
Events like the Faribault Diversity Coalition’s summer International Festival Faribault and now occasional public talks by immigrants and others are ways we join hands and grow community. I’ve seen the art of my neighbors from Africa. I’ve heard the music, tasted the sambusa, admired colorful clothing… Faribault’s newest residents add a depth and richness to my southern Minnesota city.
Consider African proverbs, chosen in Amazing Africa: A to Z to represent the letter “P.” These wise sayings span cultures. The authors include this powerful Swahili proverb, among several, at the end of the book: “Unity is strength, division is weakness.” If only we all read and take those words to heart. I firmly believe that we, as individuals and as community, need to be here for one another. We truly are stronger when not divided.
As I read of 1,000 languages spoken throughout Africa, I think of the Somalians now living in my community. Many have overcome war, poverty and other unimaginable challenges to settle in Minnesota. And now they must also overcome language barriers and resentment. If only we would all pause for a moment and remember that, for most of us Minnesotans, English was not the native tongue of our immigrant forefathers. Mine spoke German. Others spoke Norwegian, French, Dutch…
I certainly can’t pronounce all of the words published in this book about Africa. Words like Uhuru, Yamoussoukro, Ugali and more. But I can appreciate the beauty of language, the way these words speak the rhythm of the continent of Africa.
Africa is the story of slavery, of dancing, of the world’s largest waterfall, of greatness, of so much richness and depth. You’ll find that, see that, read that in Amazing Africa: A to Z.
FYI: Dr. Artika Tyner, co-author of this book (and many others) and also a motivational speaker, educator and attorney, will speak on her journey towards justice from 6-7 pm Tuesday, May 16, at Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. She is part of the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating 2023 Minnesota Author Tour. In her work, she focuses on racial and economic justice and social change. Tyner founded the nonprofit, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute.
I previously reviewed Tyner’s children’s book, Justice Makes a Difference—The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire. To read that book review, click here.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling