In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Village life

Dear Annie,

Thanks to Holly for her How to Train Your Dragon guest entry.  It's a fun series, and plays into my prejudice that British writers are often just better with language.  Even when they're talking about dragon snot.

Today, though, I'm going in another direction.
On the continent of Africa, you will find my country.  In my country there are many cities, all with skyscrapers, hotels, offices.  There are also many smaller towns, all with tap water and electricity and television.  Then there is my village, where we only talk about such things.
Atinuke, author of the wonderful Anna Hibiscus books (see here, here and here) is introducing us to new territory.  She has said she wrote about Anna Hibiscus because when she moved from Nigeria to England, she met too many people who thought all Africans lived in mud huts in lion-infested jungles.  Anna Hibiscus is a middle class girl in a large, prosperous urban family -- Atinuke wanted to bring the reality of her own African life to children elsewhere.

She's started a new series, The No. 1 Car Spotter.  It's set in a village that makes me think of your brother's Peace Corps time in Mauritania.  Most of the men of the village have gone to cities to find work, leaving mothers, children and grandparents to raise crops and get them to market. The boy narrator's full name is Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, "but everybody calls me No. 1.  The No. 1." The superlative stands for his prowess at spotting and identifying cars:
  Who can help spotting cars when the road runs directly past the village?  It is what we men do.
  Grandfather, sitting under the iroko tree in the center of the village, shouts, "Firebird!"
  Uncle Go-easy, waist-deep in the river, pulling in his nets, shouts, "Peugeot 505!"
  Tuesday and Emergency, clearing the bush for a new field, hear an engine and shout, "Mercedes 914!"
  Coca-Cola and I, high in the palm trees collecting nuts, shout, "Aston Martin DB5!"
(Kind of makes one think of my car-obsessed brother, your Uncle Al, who would be right at home with these guys.)  The stories are about No. 1's little community and how they use the few resources they have  imaginatively.  A junked car is converted into a cattle-drawn wagon when the town's only wooden wagon falls apart.  Wheelbarrows given by the NGO man "to improve life in the village" end up in the city where No. 1's father uses them for a delivery business -- and the earnings from the business bring happy changes to the village. 

Atinuke's language is always so lovely to read -- and her story-telling turns out (not surprisingly) to be wonderfully high-energy.  Here's the beginning of the book, story-teller style:



1 comment:

  1. Something about this makes me think of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books.