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South African Children's Books

South African Children's Books

Let's talk about South African kids books! At Our Ancestories, we love creating and curating different African-themed book lists. They are a fun and insightful way to introduce your kids to the African continent through books. We have looked at bilingual children's books, books by African authors, African history and culture books, and so much more!

We have also focused on storybooks from one African country. We have a list of Kenyan and Nigerian kids books. Today we are shifting the focus to South Africa.

Join us as we explore the many wonderful books from South Africa.

 

At the Crossroads

At the Crossroads - the children of a South African village eagerly gather at the crossroads to welcome their fathers, who have been away for months working in the mines. The children wait, but the men don't come.

So the children keep waiting. And waiting. They wait all through the night, until the dawn brings both the day and the longed-for loved ones.

Recommended Age: 4 - 8 years 

Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Desmond and the Very Mean Word is based on a true story from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s childhood in South Africa, Desmond and the Very Mean Wordreveals the power of words and the secret of forgiveness.


When Desmond takes his new bicycle out for a ride through his neighborhood, his pride and joy turn to hurt and anger when a group of boys shout a very mean word at him. He first responds by shouting an insult, but soon discovers that fighting back with mean words doesn’t make him feel any better. With the help of kindly Father Trevor, Desmond comes to understand his conflicted feelings and see that all people deserve compassion, whether or not they say they are sorry. Brought to vivid life in A. G. Ford’s energetic illustrations, this heartfelt, relatable story conveys timeless wisdom about how to handle bullying and angry feelings, while seeing the good in everyone.

 Recommended Age: 6 - 9 years

Goal!

Goal! celebrates soccer and the world cup.  

In a dusty township in South Africa, Ajani and his friends have earned a brand-new, federationsize soccer ball. They kick. They dribble. They run. They score. These clever boys are football champions! But when a crew of bullies tries to steal their ball, will Ajani and his friends be able to beat them at their own game?

Recommended Age: 6 - 9 years 

Gogo's List

Gogo's List features a universal story in an African setting that any child can relate to – the story of wanting to help

Fatima is a young girl who is determined to save the day. She wants to help Gogo with her to-do list so that everyone will realise that she is a big girl now! But things don’t go exactly as expected ... Fatima, what have you done? Winner of the Golden Baobab Prize and first published in Ghana, Gogo’s List has now been brought to South Africa to delight children and adults alike.

Recommended Age: 5 - 8 years 

Grandad Mandela

Grandad MandelaZazi and Ziwelene’s great-grandad is called Nelson Mandela. Once day, they ask their grandmother 15 questions about him and his life. As their conversation unfolds, Zazi and Ziwelene learn that Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter, a President, and a Nobel Peace Prize–winner, and that they can carry on his work today.

Recommended Age: 4 - 7 years 

Hector: A Boy, A Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid

Hector: A Boy, A Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid is a heartbreaking yet relevant, this powerful story gives voice to an ordinary boy and sheds light on events that helped lead to the end of apartheid.

On June 16, 1976, Hector Pieterson, an ordinary boy, lost his life after getting caught up in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. Black South African students were marching against a new law requiring that they be taught half of their subjects in Afrikaans, the language of the White government. The story’s events unfold from the perspectives of Hector, his sister, and the photographer who captured their photo in the chaos. This book can serve as a pertinent tool for adults discussing global history and race relations with children. Its graphic novel style and mixed media art portray the vibrancy and grit of Hector’s daily life and untimely death.

Recommended Age: 8 - 11 years 

How Cheetah Got His Tears

How Cheetah Got His Tears Cheetah boasts that, because he can run faster than any other animal, he is the real king of the beasts. Wining a race against the other animals only reinforces his posturing. He boasts that he can even run faster than the wind. The wind takes up the challenge, leading to an outcome that keeps cheetah’s tears running down his cheeks as a permanent reminder of his place in the natural world.

How Cheetah Got His Tears is a story that warns of the perils of boasting, yet shows that the capacity to accept defeat with grace and humility can lead to reconciliation and acceptance.

Recommended Age: 4 - 7 years 

I Have Brown Skin and Curly Hair

I Have Brown Skin and Curly Hair - Everyone in this family looks different. Dad is tall and dark. Mum has light brown hair with green eyes. Some of the children have straight hair; others have curls. People regard them curiously until, one day, one of the children musters the courage to speak up proudly about her identity after she learns where she comes from and why she looks different.

This rhyming picture book is about the identity crises many children face when they look different from their family members. The book takes children through the unique and often untold history of South Africa, explaining how a mixed-race heritage can contribute to their physical differences and yet they can still be part of one family.

Recommended Age: All ages 

Ink

Ink - Tinka becomes aware of words, language and writing. She names her family members one by one: her mum, her dad, her little brother Slip, sister Rosie and baby Jas. She draws a paper doll resembling a girl like herself on a sheet of newsprint. The paper doll is named “Ink”. Tinka introduces her new friend to all her favourite story books, because, “A book is like a friend, with the best stories to tell”. 

Recommended Age: 4+

Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story

Journey to Jo'burg: A South African Story  starts with Mma who lives and works in Johannesburg, far from the village thirteen-year-old Naledi and her younger brother, Tiro, call home. When their baby sister suddenly becomes very sick, Naledi and Tiro know that they need to bring their mother back in order to save their sister’s life. Bravely, secretly, they set off on the long journey to the big city to find Mma.

It isn’t until they finally reach Jo’burg that they see up close what life is like for black citizens across South Africa—and begin to really question the unfair and dangerous laws of apartheid.

Recommended Ages: 8 - 12 years

Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song

Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her SongMiriam Makeba, a Grammy Award–winning South African singer, rose to fame in the hearts of her people at the pinnacle of apartheid―a brutal system of segregation similar to American Jim Crow laws. Mama Africa, as they called her, raised her voice to help combat these injustices at jazz clubs in Johannesburg; in exile, at a rally beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and before the United Nations. 


Set defiantly in the present tense, this biography offers readers an intimate view of Makeba’s fight for equality. Kathryn Erskine’s call-and-response style text and Charly Palmer’s bold illustrations come together in a raw, riveting duet of protest song and praise poem. A testament to how a single voice helped to shake up the world―and can continue to do so.

Recommended Age: 6 - 10 years

Mr Hare meets Mr Mandela

Mr Hare meets Mr MandelaMr Hare finds a R200 note on his doorstep. When he turns the note over he sees Mr Mandela’s face and decides to brave the big city of Johannesburg to return it to Mr Mandela. But Mr Hare cannot read and he comes across many people along the way who want to get their hands on Mr Mandela’s money. Mr Hare also cannot work out why the note keeps changing colour!

Recommended Age: 0 - 3 years

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey‘My daddy is a great big bear. He gets out of bed and grumbles and grouches, scratches and yawns!’

This charming picture book for younger children portrays a day in the life of a dad and daughter in a single-parent home, as they get up, have breakfast, go to school, go swimming, make dinner and prepare for bedtime. Dad is a great big bear, a silly monkey, a crocodile, an octopus and, at bedtime, a scary monster for a little while, but in the end it's Daddy being Daddy that the little girl loves best.

Recommended Age: 3 - 5 years

Not So Fast Songololo

Not So Fast Songololo - A touching tale of young and old, full of the colours and smells of an African township. Songololo goes into the city with Gogo to help her do the shopping. Gogo walks very slowly, but Songololo likes to take his time as well. Grandmother and grandson enjoy a leisurely stroll around the busy African city, ending with a special reward for Songololo, for helping Gogo so well.

Recommended Age: 2 - 6 years

Refilwe

Refilwe - A retelling of the classic fairy tale, Rapunzel, with a uniquely South African twist. Refilwe is the story of the dreadlocked beauty who is stuck in a cave on top of a mountain awaiting her prince, Tumi. This take on the classic tale will have the children chanting, “Refilwe, Refilwe let down your locks . . . So I can climb the scraggy rocks!” Based on the original version but reimagined for African children, the tale is enriched with magical illustrations by Tamsin Hinrichsen that will keep all children entranced and foster in them a love of reading.

Recommended Age: 3 - 5 years

Sharp-Sharp! Thoko

Sharp-Sharp! ThokoHere comes Thoko again!. Thoko is resourceful!. Thoko is full of fun!. Thoko is kind-hearted!Thoko skips through life, leaving behind a trail of laughter. With adorable illustrations and four heart-warming easy-to-read stories, Niki Daly has created a second book about Thoko - who is sure to become one of his most beloved characters. Look out for Hooray! Thoko.

Recommended Age: All Ages

Six Blind Mice and an Elephant

Six Blind Mice and an Elephant - One day a tired old elephant plods out of the forest and falls asleep in a farmer's barn. Amid the ensuing commotion, six curious blind mice enter the fray. '... An elephant is like a wall,' says the oldest mouse, as he falls against the elephant's massive, solid side. 'No,' says a younger mouse, touching one of the sharp tusks. 'An elephant is like a spear!' A tree... a rope... a snake?

Each mouse has his or her own interpretation after touching different parts of the elephant. But then the huge creature awakes - and only then is the full wonder of his being revealed.

Based on a classic Indian fable, Jude Daly's new picture book, set in the South African countryside, is an inspiring, multi-layered allegory.

Recommended Age: 4 - 6 years

Surprise! Surprise!

Surprise! Surprise! - Mrs Tati wants a baby and when no baby appears, Mr Tati comes up with a jaunty solution! He brings his wife a sweet little piglet with a rosy face and curly tail.

How Mr and Mrs Tati love their piggy baby, but should he be brought up as a boy or a pig, and what will happen if he goes to school?

And could this tale have one more twist at the end of it…?

Recommended Age: 5 - 6 years

The Mother of Monsters: A Story from South Africa

The Mother of Monsters: A Story from South Africa - Mischievous Ntombi is not at all afraid of the fearsome Ilunge River. But when she goes to swim there, she enrages the Mother of Monsters, with her gigantic head, bulging eyes and thick, slimy scales, causing more trouble than she could ever imagine!

Recommended Age: 7 - 9 years

Zulu Dog

Zulu Dog - An honest and compassionate look at post-apartheid South Africa.

Vusi, an eleven-year-old Zulu boy growing up in poverty in rural South Africa, is enchanted by the helpless puppy he finds in the bush. He names it Gillette for its razor-sharp teeth and hides it from his mother, who disapproves of bush dogs as pets. His devotion to Gillette only grows stronger after the puppy is mauled by a leopard and loses a leg. But as boy and dog play carefree games, storm clouds are gathering over Vusi's family - ruthless rival taxi owners are trying to drive his father out of business. While Vusi and Gillette learn to hunt together, they meet the daughter of a neighboring white farmer. Gillette becomes the catalyst for their unlikely friendship, which has a decisive impact on the fate of Vusi's whole family - and the larger community

Recommended Age: 10 - 15 years

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